There are many fellow New Yorkers (and New Jerseyans- they might have even had a better view) who might have a more up close and personal recollection of September 11, 2001. I think there is value in sharing our memories.
Ann and I were in Rego Park Queens. Our wedding was 18 days away, and her parents were in the air on their way to NY from Korea. I was going to drive her into Manhattan to work on the Upper East Side and then head up to Westchester. When the first plane hit, we all thought it was a horrible accident- I thought it was like some private guy who had a Thurman Munson-like accident. On the way in to work, we could see the smoke coming from the towers from Queens Boulevard, and it honestly looked like a big chimney a few hundred yards away (That's how large the WTC was- dominated the skyline), billowing a big black cloud of smoke.
When we got to Ann's office at Rockefeller University, I accompanied her upstairs, which was something I never did before. Everyone was watching TV, in shock. We saw the second plane hit on live TV. I remember the commentators not saying anything initially, and then another talking head describing it calmly, I think even saying the word "apparently."
This went from a terrible accident to realizing I was on the edge of a war zone. We were in a war, and worse, in a battle zone. They are flying effing airplanes into the effing world trade towers. We have to get out of here. Then word comes that the Port Authority is closing bridges into Manhattan. Ann wanted to stay at the office- she was afraid for her parents' plane and wanted to be where she could be reached by phone.
I wanted no part of sticking around. If the bridges were closed, we could be stranded.
What would happen next?
What would they do to the subways? What if the destruction continued uptown? Were there planted agents with suitcases of gas ready to blow in buses or crowded buildings? I remember thinking about these things.
The very first (and last) time I ever gave Ann a direct order was to get out of the building with me. I suddenly wondered if this was the feeling my dad felt when he was a GI overseas. I think what convinced her to come was that she couldn't reach her aunt in Chinatown on the phone- maybe they had already sabotaged the phones. And she wasn't going on the subway after this. Ann's last protest was that the bridges were closed, but I told her the Port Authority bridges were closed, not all bridges. We'd take the 3rd Avenue Bridge and drive through the Bronx.
Our cell phones didn't work (it would take Verizon months to restore the phones in lower Manhattan as a matter of fact. I still remember those stupid trailers people had to use), and the highway driving north was empty- I felt like I was in a post apocalyptic movie. But it was real. And we didn't know what was happening next. If the AM radio didn't work I don't know what I'd have thought.
When we got home to my mother's house in Ossining There was a test pattern on some channels. My Mom, who lived Pearl Harbor via radio in 1941, just shook her head all day. Ann's parents, we learned from the airline, were grounded in Minnesota and in a high school gym.
My older brother called to check in and all Farandas were OK. My nephew, who went to college in Manhattan, was also OK. We were lucky.
It was hellish, but not the hell some went through, and I am thankful my loved ones are all intact. 17 or so fellow Villanova alumni died that morning. My brother lost a client who was never found. So we cried with everyone else for weeks, and on September 29, got married in a subdued ceremony, all things considered. 2 days later we boarded a plane for Aruba, and that was strange as well.
Today I will attend NYSAR BAR camp at the Rye Town Hilton, and live my life and work fully. But I will do it mindful of that day, and thankful that I got the rest of my life. I will never forget, and I hope we end the threat somehow. It still feels raw to walk myself through my memories of that time, especially those black clouds in the distance, framed against an idyllically blue sky.