On a Tuesday, 20 years ago…
on the 11th of September, I drove to work (which was right by the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey) on my usual route — Garfield, Lodi, Hasbrouck Heights, Wood-Ridge. Coming off the ridge in Wood-Ridge on the Moonachie Ave. overpass over the Route 17, right in front of me I had (as always on the clear day) an amazing view — the Meadowlands with the Giants Stadium to the right and beyond that the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan with twin towers of the World Trade Center shining with the sun coming up behind them. A wonderful sight, but also so obvious that I never thought of actually taking a photograph from that spot — it would be too easy, too touristy… and besides — why take a photograph of something that always be there…
I remember the guy, Chris, who first told us at work that a plane hit w WTC tower after he heard it on the radio. I remember joking about a blind pilot — how can you not see those towers? Everybody just assumed it was a lost small plane like a Cessna that crashed. I turned on my radio as well to listen to my sports radio station (660 WFAN) for an update on a finish to a baseball season and prediction for the upcoming football season, but they were not talking about sports. There was confusion and panic in a DJ’s voice — that plane that hit WTC tower was apparently an AIRLINER. And soon after there was yelling and screaming that another airliner hit the other tower! The radio reception was bad, so I switched to 10101 WINS (which is a local news station from NYC). Now they were saying that another plane hit the Pentagon and other planes are reported hijacked as well. No one knew what the hell was happening, but one thing was clear — it was an organized attack on the USA. No one at work was pretending to do any work anymore, everybody was glued to radios listening for updates. I and Chris and Danny from work ran to the overpass over Route 17 (my workplace was located right there by Route 17 and the NJ Transit tracks) to check what we could see themselves — and what we saw was dark smoke and fire coming from both towers. That was beyond our comprehension, what was happening in front of our eyes. We ran back to work, where now we found out that another plane was shot down over Pennsylvania (the United 93 flight was reported as downed by US Air Force on that day, only later was the narrative changed). We ran back to the overpass, but now we couldn’t see the towers anymore — everything there was engulfed in a dark cloud, we ran back only to found about that the towers had collapsed….
Since we had a lot of employees who commuted from New York City and there were reports about shutting down tunnels and bridges and subways there, the plant manager closed our facility and send everybody home. In 2001 Internet wasn’t as prevalent as it is now as a source of news, and servers couldn’t handle the influx of people who were trying to find out what was going on, and news sites like CNN or NBS crashed — I spend the rest of the day watching the news on the TV, switching between NBC, CBS, and ABC. I couldn’t comprehend what actually happened. I knew that I was witnessing a life-changing event, something that will influence our lives beyond anything we can imagine, and yes — that a lot of people (mostly innocent of course) will pay with their lives for American deaths on that day.
A person I knew personally died in the North Tower collapse, she worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. She was a very nice girl I met in high school — we had common friends and went to the same parties and liked to hang out together by Dunkin’ Donuts on River Drive or the hill in Belmont Park in Garfield, NJ. She was beautiful and smart and way beyond my league, but she always treated me well, and I still remember her.
Twenty years after that attack, I see that the memory of that day is fading away. Yes — there are memorial services and articles on that subject posted, new documentaries and conspiracy theories are still peddled, but it seems the world has moved on — and rightly so, so many things are happening everywhere in the world. That was THE BIGGEST story and event in the USA in recent history, but not many people now (event those living in America) realize the gravity of what happened on that day. As for me — even as my memories are fading, I remember that day very clearly and every year I try to have a moment of reflection for those who lost their lives that day. Those who died in the public eye jumping from the burning towers and whose deaths were captured on camera. Those who died in smoke and fire-filled corridors in the towers, the firefighters who ran there to save others knowing that the building are about to collapse. Those whose remains were never found and identified. I am not a religious or praying person, so those few words and thoughts from me will suffice.