I'm Gonna Be That Guy
I woke up groggy and caught the 6 train downtown, like every other day since I started my first job out of college. All six of them.
After transferring to the 4 at Union Square, I exited the system at Wall Street, then walked towards the water. It was exactly 8:40 am when I bought my bagel and bottle of Nesquik, said hello to the security desk and elevated to the 30th floor of the Trump Building. Fewer than 23 minutes later I'd be running for my life.
Everybody's got a story, whether they were inside the World Trade Center or teaching Hapsburgs in an Austrian schoolhouse. Some people enjoy a bit of the 9/11 One-Upsmanship, bragging at how close they were or how many people they knew in the Towers. Others like to share stories for the sake of personal history. And since I've always said that in a very weird way I was actually glad to be down there, to bear eyewitness to the events that changed the world, obviously I fall into the latter camp of pro-storytelling.
I was too far away to be a true victim, yet we were way too close to feel safe. Our office at 40 Wall Street may have been located a half-mile away from Ground Zero, but our windows shook fiercely when that second plane hit the second tower. We heard it. We felt it.
The giant fireball from the second tower that's permanently etched into our collective memory seemed no more than 10 feet away (we were in that tall, pointed building on the left) and stunned everyone pressed against the windows. Finally someone yelled, "Let's get the FUCK out of here," and we sprinted down 30 flights of steps as fast as we could. I still remember wondering whether the stock market would open as we descended the stairs rapidly.
When I think back to that crystal-clear and curiously bright morning five years ago, I distinctly remember commenting on how gorgeous the weather was for a post-Labor Day morning. It's always made me wonder what would have happened if it had been raining and flights were delayed: Would 9/11 have happened on another day, like 9/21? Would it have happened at all? I mean, what if the planes had been grounded that morning? Did Mother Nature fuck us, and if so, is she with us, or is she with the terrorists?
The "What If Game" is dangerous, however, because for all the negatives you'd like to wash away, you could also erase the positives. My brother, Red Cowboy, worked at Cantor Fitzgerald in the WTC for a while, and would certainly be dead right now had it not been for a bad placement decision after his training program. More than 650 Cantor employees died that day -- I think everybody in the office at that hour -- but because my brother got royally and undeservedly screwed, he wasn't one of them.
Instead, my brother was standing directly next to me at the window when United 175 killed many of his old friends and colleagues before our very eyes. Then we ran together down the stairs and walked up the FDR Drive in the strangest silence ever known to New York. If there was ever a time to be with family...
By the time we made it to the bank around the corner from Red's apartment, the first tower had fallen. The second tower fell a few seconds before we left with cash in hand. I cried for the first time that day as I watched the last remnants of a skyline institution collapsing on television at the Chase teller window. Hours later I don't think I had any more tears to give.
I always think back to what my mother must have felt that morning with no television in her fourth-grade classroom. She had two boys in 40 Wall Street and a husband across the way in the New York Stock Exchange... and no real way to contact any of them. Thankfully, we re-united two days later when the Empire State Building received a bomb threat and I evacuated my nearby apartment to the comfort of Long Island for five days.
It's amazing to me that five years have passed, that five years have passed since Red, Slack commenter ALL CAPS ANON, and a crew of dudes ran down the steps as fast as they could, that five years have passed since cell phone service just stopped for a day, that five years have passed since I called my roommate and told him to look out our window at history, that five years have passed since the last time I crawled into the fetal position and wondered whether we'd ever be the same as we were yesterday. Can't we just TiVo back one day?
So here's an open thread: What's your story? Where were you five years ago? Who were you with and could you even find words to exchange? Who roused you from sleep or whom did you wake up with the news? Seriously, I'm sure we'd all like to hear it...