Lifestyle

Open Thread: September 11, 2001

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I was a Public Relations Consultant, and my anchor  client had a press conference scheduled for that morning. I’d spent weeks and weeks on it.  Logistics, and writing, news alerts, handling the press list  I got the call at 8:30 in the morning from a friend that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Our TV was broken and my husband and I figured it was some little prop plane. We remembered when a helicopter flew into the Pan Am building. These thing happen and I shrugged and thought “there goes the press conference.”

Nightmare Details 

Then the nightmare details began to accumulate. I got another call about the second plane. We turned on the radio and heard the nonstop reports.  It was like Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast.  Only it was real.

Every new detail brought its own special horror, racheting up the fear. A plane hit the Pentagon. A plane downed in a field in Pennsylvania. All the planes in the sky now flying missiles, aimed at…what? Everyone I knew calculated the odds.  We lived near Gracie Mansion – could they try to get the Mayor?  The Stock Exchange?

What about the bridges?

For me the worst part, the event that certified for me that we were off our moorings, was when the radio reported that the first Tower fell.

That was inconceivable. I was the press representative for the World Trade Center at one time; I was so proud. I had watched those magnificent buildings go up, a challenge to the world, a brash challenge from America in general and New York in particular.  (In the 90’s there was an informal ad campaign heralded by the Daily News: ‘My City Can Kick Your City’s Ass.’)

When I looked out the windows when I lived in Brooklyn, I could see those two shining tall Twins, reflecting the morning sun, silhouetted at night. I took the Windows on the World wine course. My husband and I took out of town guests there for dinner; I still have the photos.

When the second tower fell, I took out my rolodex and found the business cards of my former clients and wondered if they were alive. Every breeze brought the acrid smell of burnt rubber and chemicals that made our eyes water and our lungs burn. I looked south from the street and saw the long, unending plume of smoke, saw the steady trickle that grew by the hour, of  stunned people, covered in dust, staggering home.

The Nightmare Aftermath

The aftermath, those terrible days that followed. I grew to hate the sound of bagpipes, which signalled another funeral of a policeman – 71 in all.  Every church lined up for funerals of firemen – 343 of them, including my cousin’s husband.  His shift had just ended, and instead of going home, he went to the Towers. The newspapers full of obituaries day after day.  The hopeful flyers outside of bus shelters and hospitals.  “Have you seen my son. My husband. My sister. My wife. My mother. My dad.”

I know NYC rallied in the following days and weeks. So many people tried to donate blood they were turned away.  Floods of union tradesmen – carpenters and ironworkers, electricians, contractors, men with equipment and men with their bare hands – came to the Pile to help and stayed for weeks.  Many of them now have cancers and lung diseases from the smoke they inhaled day after day. We are still living with the impact of that awful day when the world changed.

That’s my 9/11 story. What’s yours?.

Virge Randall is Senior Planet’s Managing Editor. She is also a freelance culture reporter who seeks out hidden gems and unsung (or undersung) treasures for Straus Newspapers; her blog “Don’t Get Me Started” puts a quirky new spin on Old School New York City. Send  Open Thread suggestions to editor@seniorplanet.org.

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