Five Years Ago – Where Were You?

Five years ago today I got up early to drive my friend, Loren, to the Long Beach airport for a flight to New York City before heading to work.

He came in for a long weekend to see a reading of a play of mine and now he was eager to get back to work at a new job he’d just taken.

I set a “flash session” on my computer which would dial up AOL and download my email and as the main AOL page appeared on the screen momentarily, it was a photo of the World Trade Center town with a large billow of smoke around it and a headline that announced that it had collapsed. I couldn’t conceive of what that meant, how it could have happened, but I assumed fire. I called for Loren to come see the TV in the other room because of this strange news.

We turned on the TV and of course it was something far worse and far less fathomable. Even at that hour (a little before 7 AM our time) it was clear that there would be no return to New York for him that day. All commercial planes were grounded. What was going on in NYC was less clear. Both towers had collapsed by that time and the word that it was domestic airplanes hijacked by terrorists was already accepted. Rumors were rampant that there were other hijacked planes still in the air hours later.

Hours ticked by as we watched the coverage on the TV in dribbles. I could stand no more than 30 minutes of it, until the anchors began repeating themselves and the numbers they postulated were too horrific I would have to switch it off. It became clear that this was not only a deliberate act, but it was a larger plan that involved multiple planes. There were no names at that hour of people to blame, so we just worried for every person who was close to the tragedy that was so huge we had no way to even comprehend it or even hope to ever understand it fully. We both knew so many people who commuted and passed through the subway station there, the list was too long to contemplate. The numbers of dead were thought to top 10,000.

Loren wanted to go to the airport, he wanted badly to get back to New York and insisted that I take him. He thought he could get a plane to Philadelphia or even Pittsburgh and take the train from there. There was no way to contact the airline, all lines were jammed and I told him he’d have to sit tight and be patient. Around 10 AM I felt like I needed to do something. So we put the dog on a leash and walked the four blocks to the polling place and I voted in the mid-term election that day. I figured if this was a terrorist act, the least I could do is show that I was still participating in the democracy where I lived. We talked briefly with the other people at the polling place, which at that time was in a private home.

I had visions that the men who trained for this act had their own 737 jet on some runway in the Middle East or North African desert that they practiced on. (At that point Libya was still being bandied about as a suspect.)

At some point in the day I was able to get a hold of my husband, who was supposed to board a plane late in the day (our time) to return from Frankfurt, Germany where he’s been working on a show. He was distraught and of course felt very alone and adrift in a foreign country watching everything from afar. We knew that he was going to have to sit tight in Europe for at least a few days.

Later in the day other folks came over to sit with us and watch the news, there was nothing else to do until we got too upset to watch and went out to get some sandwiches (I didn’t really have any food in the house).

That night was lonely and quiet. I went to bed hoping that my husband would be able to return quickly and safely. But my worries about these little things like getting him back by my side felt so insignificant and insulting to those familes who were only coming to grasp what had happened to them that day when their families were torn asunder.

The skies over LA had no usual helicopters, small planes and commercial jets but as I laid in bed I could have sworn I heard military jets flying over. I’m not a pessimistic person, but I thought that this was the day our lives would change.

Consider this an open forum – where were you?

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7 Replies to “Five Years Ago – Where Were You?”

  1. I was working in LA on Monday the 10th, and spent an amazing evening with a good friend in Santa Monica that night. The next morning, I was in a cab to LAX at 5:30a, heading home to DC. They announced a 1 hour ground stop when I was in line for checkin. They announced an 8 hour ground stop when I was heading for security. Suddenly, LAPD was there, closing the security line with drawn weapons.

    I caught a cab back downtown to the LA Marriott and stayed there for day or so. I remember most walking through downtown LA, pretty much the only person on the streets. All the stores were closed. All the streets were empty.

    It was deeply eerie.

  2. I was vacationing in Orange Beach, AL with my dad and 2 sons. We woke to images on the screen, my dad saying we’re at war. I thought he was over-reacting. I realized I couldn’t avoid agreeing with him when we watched the 2nd plane go into building.

    The beach that was usually filled with people was empty till late afternoon. I took the boys out to the water then and felt a bond with the other Americans on the beach that I hadn’t felt before. The sunset cast a pink glow on everything as if all the blood had vaporized and travelled down to where we were.

    We drove back to Colorado a couple of days later, noting a sky devoid of any air traffic. Lots of American flags all the way until we reached Boulder.

  3. I was working for a video company in Tribeca. That morning was primary voting day, so I altered my normal routine, got on the subway at a different stop than usual, and lost track of where I was. So I missed my stop at Canal St. and got off at the next one – Chambers St./WTC.

    I waited for a few minutes for an uptown train. Nothing seemed amiss. When the train came into the station, braked hard before getting to the platform, then limped into the station, I didn’t think twice about it. Got on, went up to Canal, got up to the street and saw the smoking hole in the North Tower. Stood watching in for several confused minutes, then walked towards my office. On Ericcson St. between Varick and Hudson, I heard the second plane go in. By the time I got to the corner, there was too much smoke to see what was happening.

    Got to my office, where everyone was wandering around in a daze, not sure what to do. When the first tower collapsed, we evacuated, and I walked home to Chelsea.

  4. I was annoyed to be waken up by a phone call for my roommate with a message for him not to show up in class – although he had already left. The stranger on the other end of the phone stopped me as I was about the hang up by saying, “Don’t you know what happened? Planes have crashed in to the Trade Centers and the Pentagon.”

    I rushed to the TV and called my girlfriend to tell her to let her know what was going on. She flicked on the TV, and told me she was confused – she didn’t understand why there was only one Trade Center – weren’t there usually two? I was confused, but soon caught on to what was happening before my eyes.

    Later that day my roommate, girlfriend, and I regrouped and went out for dinner. There was a different vibe out that day, and for a few weeks after. The residents of LA seemed more aware that the people around them weren’t just objects, but living organisms. The connect with each other was huge, even if words weren’t exchanged.

    As terrible as 9/11 was, it reminded everyone in the best in all of us.

  5. I had worked a late shift the day before and was sleeping in before school later that evening. I remember waking up a bunch of times to the phone ringing. I could over hear my sister saying “Yes, yes, ok, we got it, we’re fine.”

    I thought nothing of it. Got up, took a shower, made breakfast then turned on the tv. I saw the images of a large building on fire but thought it was in another part of the world. It wasn’t until someone on the tv yelled “This is whats going on live in New York.” I was shocked. I just sat there with my jaw to the ground. I coulnd’t eat!

    Turns out the person on the phone was my dad calling us over and over again telling us to stay inside and not take public transportation. I called my school to see if classes were cancelled and I remember the lady saying “Why wouldn’t they?” Uh, hello? Do you know whats going on right now?

    I went out to lunch with a friend that day. The streets were bare, and the tv’s flashed nothing but images of the attack.

    Hours later my mum came home from work early and was visibly upset. The vice president of her company was on flight 93.

  6. I worked as an office manager for a paving company in Chino, commuting from Manhattan Beach. My job was to open the office and prep for the day. I opened as normal at about 5:00am. I turned on the tv to CNN, as per normal, and set about my morning chores.

    As the events unfolded, I was caught between the mesmorizing spectacle and having to do my job, as the owner was dimly disinterested in “what was happening in New York City”.

    Three notable events/memories from that day/week:

    My sister-in-law was driving past the Pentagon on her way to work at the exact moment the plane struck. Her car was hit with debris. There were some tense emails between my brother and our family, as he couldn’t reach her on her cel and it took her hours to turn the car around and get home. Very tense.

    My mother’s birthday is September 11th. I had arranged, through a very good friend, to have a guitarist show up at my mom’s house to play some Sinatra for her. I remember trying to phone my friend, trying to talk to him about stopping his friend (who was in traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway) from making the journey into Jersey. A very surreal conversation.

    The next morning I was opening the office in Chino at 5am. I stopped and looked up and for the first time took in the reality that there was not a single plane in the air. Obviously I knew it, but this was the first time that I had stopped to take in the reality on a physical level. All the lights above Los Angeles were stars. Very spooky, very sad.

    I grew three sizes that week. I matured in ways that might have been impossible the week before. Heck, 9/11 convinced me to get married.

  7. Cooper and I were in NYC for a big party for Fashion Week. Paper Magazine had asked Coop to interpret that season’s haute couture offerings from several designers, and Jeffrey Deitch hosted a huge bash at his Deitch Projects Gallery to show off the work. Coop’s images were blown up to huge sizes and adorned the walls.

    The party was great, everyone had a wonderful time, and on the night of September 10th a few of us had the most amazing dinner of our lives at Nobu. We thought about having the car take us to the top of the World Trade Center for one last drink but were too drunk, too exhausted, and too lazy to make that happen. What’s the rush? We can always hit that bar on our next trip to the city.

    More than one time at dinner, which was mind-blowingly spectacular, each of us joked that if this was the last meal we’d ever have, so be it….

    The next morning was September 11th and we were busy getting the last of our stuff packed up so we could check out of the hotel and get to JFK to fly home. A little before 9am I got the call: my local pal instructing me to turn on the tv.

    I think everyone knows the rest.

    We were on Broadway and watched the buildings fall. Deitch Projects was destroyed. Cooper’s rep’s life was saved by his Boston Terrier waking him up. It was many weeks before he was allowed back into his apartment and once he got there he only confirmed that nothing could be salvaged.

    Sleep was impossible – I swear I thought we were going to die from breathing the “debris” which we were all too aware was Human Beings. The smell was horrendous and hung in the air like lead.

    We ended up renting a car and driving home on the 15th – it took us a little over 50 hours –

    Scary follow-up: one of the runner-up terrorists was arrested on September 13th, trying to cash in his plane ticket – on our flight.

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