Monday, September 11, 2006

Recollections, Five Years Later

It's amazing how five years can seem like five minutes, but it surely can.

Five years ago today, on September 11, 2001 my day started out like pretty much any other day. I said goodbye to Mon and boarded the 6:50AM bus. On a normal day, this bus would have gotten me to Port Authority by 8:30.

But this day, there was a disabled bus in the "express bus lane" to the Lincoln tunnel. From the loop of the Helix, I sent a text message to work to let them know I was probably going to be late. It was such a perfect morning, I didn't care. I took a few extra minutes to marvel at the Manhattan skyline and its' majesty in the morning sun.

As luck would have it, no sooner did I text my message when the traffic started moving. As the bus entered the mouth of the tunnel, I checked my watch: it was 8:45AM.

Running late, I purchased a new MetroCard, took a short cut through the 42nd street tunnel and ran up for the 1 train. As I hit the platform, an ominous announcement was being made overhead. "There is no 1, 9, or 3 service due to police activity at the World Trade Center". "Damn", I thought to myself, and prepared to walk up to get the M10 bus instead.

Strangely, as I turned to head up the stairs, a nearly-empty 1 train pulled in to the station. "Next stop, 50th Street". What luck, the train IS running. I jumped on and got off at 66th street like every morning.

As I emerged from the station to the street, my pager went off. Expecting it to be work, it instead read "Breaking News". I hit Enter and read, "Small plane hits the World Trade Center. Smoke visible for miles". I sped up 66th towards West End. At Amsterdam Avenue, I saw the guys at Engine 40 / Ladder 35 speeding out towards downtown.

As I raced up the elevator, I entered the lobby at 9:10AM. Staring at the TV monitor, I grabbed a co-worker by the arm and asked, "What the hell happened? Did a plane go through both buildings?". White as a sheet he replied, "No - there were TWO planes".

That's when I knew.

The rest of my day was a blur. The phone rang off the wall from radio stations in search of information. I remember not being able to get a dial tone, and the helplessness of not being able to call anyone. Finally, a call from Mon. I had to fill her in on what was going on as she had no TV at work. A frightening call from my Dad in Brooklyn, telling me that debris from the crash impact was landing in his backyard in Brooklyn.

Call after call, all day long. The Tower collapses. The Pentagon. Shanksville. Couldn't eat - no appetite, just a sick, queasy feeling. The next ten hours went by like a blur. The phones never stopped until President Bush came on. It was as if everyone stopped to hear what he had to say. It was then that the phones fell quiet.

With no way in or out of Manhattan, and an "all hands on deck" call at work, all of the day staff was still present. As the clock struck 10PM, we decided to venture out to stretch out legs and maybe find somethine resembling food. That was when the reality really hit me.

As the adrenaline rush of work subsided, I became aware of what was happening around me: armed National Guardsmen guarding the utility building; sharp-shooters on the roof; spotlights outside the Red Cross building; barbed-wire laden roadblocks in front of Lincoln Center; and a Broadway that was eerily dark and desolate.

This was the sort of thng you got used to seeing on TV in a war-torn nation - NOT in Manhattan. I felt sick. The combination of the ghostown-like Broadway combined with reality sinking in - oh, and "the smell" wafting up from Downtown - I probably couldn't have eaten anyway.

Our little group found a restaurant - kitchen closed, but bar open. We ordered a drink and said a prayer. The world as we knew it would not be the same again.

I decided to head back to work so I could call home before trying to get some sleep. After being scared to death by a low-flying fighter jet, I RAN back. I called home, tried to shut my eyes, and thought about everything that had gone on, not knowing when I was gonna get home, unable to sleep on the cot they set up for me because my mind was racing. Whenever I would drift off to sleep, I'd be awakened by the nightmares.

I finally gave up trying at about 3AM. I wandered into the newsroom with a hat on my sofa-headed hair and asked if I could do anything. I got put of coffee duty. Once the coffee was made, I sat and checked out the forums on NYYFans.com. It was almost theraputic.

After working another half a day came word that the trains were running to New Jersey. I finally got home at 7PM on the 12th, a trek that started around 1PM. NJ Transit was letting people on the trains for free, and I ended up taking three different trains (transfers at Newark and Bridgewater), with long pauses at almost every stop along the way so the police could walk the train. At the time, everyone was expecting another attack (I still think there was probably something else planned, but they cancelled it), so they were being super cautious with the trains. All cross roads the tracks went over were blocked with construction or farm equipment.

I stumbled into my house, ate my first real food in over 40 hours, and promptly collapsed on the sofa. As exhaused as I was, it was still the worst sleep I ever had.

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, I replay that day in my head, minute by minute, in great detail. I guess in some way so I won't forget. None of us should EVER forget. I know I personally changed that day, as so many of us have.

As I sat and watched President Bush earlier this evening, I was reminded of how much we came together after 9/11, and how far we seem to have come apart at times since then. First and foremost, we should always remember the victims, the heroes and the fighting men and women that are still working to keep us free (even the ones that don't appreciate it).

We may never have that same naieve view of the world that we had on September 10, 2001 again, but in reality, we shouldn't. We must remain diligent and steadfast - and remember that our best plan of action is STILL to Defend, Protect and PREVENT. Freedom, as they say, is never free.

God Bless the United States of America. God Bless us all.

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