9/11: Our producer remembers…
On September 11th, 2001 I had been living in New York for about five years. I met my husband Luke there. Our apartment was in midtown. We had gotten engaged six days before.
We were both running late that day, busy talking logistics for our October move back to our home state of California. Both of us got on the subway separately — me on the 6 train, he on the 4 — around the time the first plane hit the North Tower. I got off at 14th Street, as I always did, and walked south to my office at Astor Place.
Looking up, I saw the smoke trail from the World Trade Center. I got coffee from the cart outside my office and asked the man in the window if he knew what happened. He did, but like everyone else, we both chalked it up to an accident.
Soon enough we knew it wasn’t. Next, the second plane flew into the South Tower. That’s when the phone calls started. My dad and mom calling me, and me trying to call my fiance.
I did not know it at the time, but he was stuck on the subway, underground at the Wall Street/Broadway stop. He was still there when the first tower collapsed.
I was frantic. But I can only imagine his fear and that of those around him. Dust and debris spilled down into the subway station and seeped into the train cars. The passengers knew something bad had happened, but had no idea what it was. They had no way of finding out and the MTA said nothing.
I fielded more calls. ‘Have you heard from Luke,’ they would ask. No, I whimpered back. Our friend Rick called and I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I burst into tears.
My colleague screamed for me to leave, to get cash, to go home. My husband emerged from the subway by Trinity Church into the aftermath of the destruction of the first tower. The visibility was less than 20 feet. He said later that it looked like a ticker-tape parade of the Apocalypse. It rained paper and ash.
My husband crossed Broadway, and was at the doors of his office when the second tower came down. There was a crack, like a bomb. He said:
“A huge black explosion came straight at me, I barreled through the revolving doors and figured they wouldn’t hold and I would be destroyed. Ash and debris immediately came through and everything turned black. I could not breath or see anything. I realized I was stuck in the door. That I was alive. Everything slowed down. I pushed through to the lobby, and opened my eyes, took a breath.
Someone was kicking at the plate glass window to try and get in. They broke it, another mini explosion. Some guy went crazy and started swinging a metal rope stanchion at me. I backed away, told him I didn’t want to hurt him. Outside looked like a no go, so I ran downstairs. There was a subway stop in the building, but it was closed. There was a basement room with a dozen or so people. Water cleared my eyes and throat, a TV feed told me what the hell had just happened. After getting my bearings, I realized I needed to walk out and head uptown. So I did. The most surreal part was coming up to City Hall — the dust cleared, the sun shined and it was the most beautiful day of the year.”
At some point around 11 in the morning, I joined the masses on the march up town, thinking my husband, too, would head home. I still had not heard from him. Cell phones were not working.
Once home, I fielded more calls. Another hour passed. It was around noon when Luke got through on the phone. He was OK. He had actually stopped at my office on the way home. To this day I wished I had stayed there so I could have seen him sooner.
An hour later he walked through the door of our studio apartment. His mop of blond wavy hair was white with dust and debris.
I will never quite understand what he went through that day or what so many survivors of the World Trade Center and the surrounding neighborhood experienced. That is why I wanted to bring you the following stories. My husband was changed forever that day… as were these people — take a listen.
We did, by the way, leave the city in October of 2001, but we did so reluctantly. We loved –and still love — New York. The cool thing, though, as we traveled across the country to California with New York plates on our beat up Mazda, every one we passed on the road honked or waved. At road stops from West Virginia to Kansas to Utah, people asked us “How are you?” “How’s the city?” We were stunned. The country really was unified. Here’s hoping that on Sunday we will remember how much.
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