Wednesday, September 10, 2003

September 11, 2003

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of 9/11.

Other bloggers are writing about their experiences. Michelle at a Small Victory has a Voices series, where individuals can write about how 9/11 changed their lives. She loves this topic. To quote Lileks, ... pitbull/bone. I don't think I am sufficiently self aware to write about how I'm a different person as a result of the 2 Boeing planes hitting 2 buildings. Maybe I'll sort that all out 20 years from now.

Instead, I'm just going to give you the facts. Who. What. Where. When. How. Where was I when the planes hit? How did I find out? What was the first thing I said?

Where was I? I was at 69th Street and Lexington at Hunter College giving a quiz to 52 students in my Introduction American Political Science class. I give this quiz every semester. It's the weed-out-the-dead-wood-before-the-drop-deadline quiz. It never seems to work. I should probably abandon it.

I was 4 weeks pregnant, and I had done my ritualistic purging before the class. I was terrified of vomiting during class, so I made sure that if I had to puke, I would do it in the secrecy of the faculty bathroom.

After collecting the moutain of blue books, I raced out of the building at 10:30. I was stressed out about Jonah. On that day, he was too sick to go to his regular babysitter, so my mom was watching him at our place. I was insanely worried that mom was was going to get locked out of our apartment after a morning walk. It requires an experienced hand to work the antique lock on the door. I was also worried that her allegies were plaguing her. That she was going to have a hard time getting Jonah up the stairs. That Jonah's fever had gone up. All those things.

Looking back on that I'm not sure why I was so stressed, as I ran out the building towards Madison. Mom can handle a sick kid. Maybe the pregnancy hormones were working overtime. Maybe I could sense the stress of a million people just south of me who were running as fast as they could away from the twin towers.

When I got to Madison at 10:35, there was clearly something going on. Two M4 buses roared past my stop. Too full to stop. My first thought was that the 6 train was on the blink. That does happen. There were some extra people running around on the street, but it didn't flag my attention yet.

I was enough uptown so that I couldn't see the buildings. And the wave of people migrating northward hadn't hit yet.

After the fifth bus roared past me, I was starting to think that this wasn't a normal 6 train track fire. The bus was so full that people were falling over the driver. When the sixth bus stoppped to let someone out, I screamed at the driver, "What is going on?" He pointed behind him, and for the first time, I saw a mountain of smoke. That must have been the second building going down.

Still, I had no idea what was going on. NYC experiences thousands of mini-crisises every year -- water main breaks, fires in old warehouses, track fires. That's what I expected. Who would have thought that terrorists had hit us?

Meanwhile I was still waiting on Madison Avenue totally clueless. And having a hissy fit because I was stressed out about getting home. I imagined my mom with a red nose sitting on the front steps of my apartment with a wailing 2 year old.

Full cabs flew past me. I did manage to flag one down, but three other women asked if they could share. I got out, because I wanted to get home so badly that I couldn't wait. I'm still ashamed that I was so blind.

I walked further west, and finally got on a cross town bus. Now I knew that something was happening that couldn't be blamed on the 6 train. I turned to the other people on the bus and said, "What is GOING ON?" An older woman said, "you don't know?" And I said, "no." And she scoffed, "Well, if you don't know, then I'm not going to tell you." There are all these stories about how good New Yorkers were in the crisis. But there was still a lot of bad behavior, too. What made that woman turn her back to me at that moment? Was she too full of horror to tell a stranger the truth?

I heard from a young Latina in the seat next to me who wore a walkman. I gasped. She said, "don't panic. don't panic" as much to me as to herself. It took me a long time to say anything. I thought about waiting on line to take the elevator at the WTC to the observation deck. It was so crowded. My first words were, "all those people."

The bus dropped me off at 59th St, Columbus Circle. There were no more buses. And the wave of people from downtown were now in midtown. I started my long walk home along Central Park West. Mute crowds trudged north. No one said a word. I stopped at a sidewalk vendor to buy a soda and a chocolate bar. I had to feed the sleeping baby inside of me.

At one point I stopped next to a parked car where the owner had turned his radio on full blast. Howard Stern was telling listeners to not panic. Howard heard that people were pulling Arab drivers out of their cabs and beating them. He told people to stop it. Other walkers stopped to rest against a tree and listen with me.

Then I headed back on my walk. I had no idea where my husband was. He works at Times Square, so I was sure he was safe. But we didn't have a cell phone, so I couldn't call him. Not that cell phones were working by that point anyway.

After forty blocks, I again was lucky enough to get a cab. The driver stopped right in front of me to let someone out. The Indian driver was very upset. After he dropped me off, he went back to Wall Street to help more.

When I got home, my husband was already there. They had evacuated his building very quickly, because there were great concerns that Times Square would be the next target. He had walked all the way home, but still had beat me back.

My dad was working in the city that day. Before getting my mom, he drove his office secretary to New Jersey.

We called family to say we were okay. We ran through our list of friends to think who might have been there. All were okay. Ut was late for work. Eliza was outside. Thank God.

Then we watched TV for two days straight until our two year old started smashing his cars into piles of blocks. Those next two days are another story for another time.

UPDATE: On Crooked Timber, they have David Letterman's 9/17 monologue.
From Tim Blair, there's this article from a NY journalist.
Steven Green doesn't get it yet either.

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