The towers were iconic. For a generation they represented NYC and the USA on a global scale. And, of course, that also made them an exceptionally high value target.
I moved to New York City in 1999. By 2001 I had adjusted well enough by 2001 that I considered myself a New Yorker. I never expected to leave.
The towers defined the skyline. It was not hard for me to find a few photos I’d taken over the years, trying to capture these icons.
But I was working in DC that day, at the Georgetown waterfront. The long-term project meant me and a coworker shared a 2BR suite in a long-term stay hotel.
A couple colleagues took the early flight down from LGA for meetings at the client. They ended up sleeping in our room that night with everything shut down.
We watched the action unfold on a TV in a partner’s office. With high uncertainty and no good DR plan, we shut down the computer network just after the second tower went down and packed the hard drives into a car, prepared to drive them out of the city. We had no plan for how they’d be used, but that was the best we could come up with at that moment.
No more work that day, so we wandered around Georgetown. Traffic was gridlocked trying to get out of town. I tried (laughably) to convince drivers to use the inbound lanes as well.
We had an early lunch at Mr. Smith’s (Goes to Washington), a Georgetown tavern. I kept a souvenir.
I recall going to the CVS on M Street to buy a couple gallons of water, just in case. They were sold out long before we got there. I bought some snacks anyways.
We wandered somewhere to try to donate blood. The line was hundreds of people long. And I’d had a couple beers. We went back to the hotel.
I remember being unable to make a local call. But somehow we could get through on our office 800 number. And from there I could patch back out to tell my family I was OK and wish my dad a happy birthday. There was very little to be happy about.
A pair of coworkers were in NYC from the SFO office. They drove home across the country. My NYC colleagues in DC drove home as well. Or maybe Amtrak?? They got out early Wednesday morning.
I caught a train home on Thursday, after it was clear no work would happen that week.
I kept commuting between NYC and DC. Mostly by train, then by plane when DCA reopened. I remember my first flight back into LGA, looking out the window as we came up the Hudson.
A month later I headed south from BWI for a quick vacation. I started chatting with my seatmate.
He said he was on one of the affected flights. I didn’t quite understand what he meant.
His pager went off after he boarded. He deplaned. And survived.
A cousin of mine worked in the towers. She had a doctor’s appointment and took a few hours off that morning.
I lived in a basement apartment in Chelsea at the time. My bed was ~125 feet from the 1/2/3/9 train.
I’d grown accustomed to sleeping with the dull rumble of a passing train every few minutes. I had to unlearn that in a hurry.
The initial shock eventually wore off. Work returned to something resembling “normal” though we did a LOT more DR/BC planning. External data centers and replication became a big deal. Clients moved offices, in part based on perceived threats. I still commuted to DC.
The jingoism and racism backfilled the gaping wound cut through the skyline. It was not pretty. It still is not pretty.
For years I resented the tourists who, after a lovely walk through Chelsea Market, would ask how to find the WTC site.
We would joke among ourselves that the answer was to get in a taxi, go back to LGA, and go home to wherever you were visiting from. We were not a fishbowl and the visits generally seemed performative, not sincere. I’m not sure if I ever really got over that. Probably. Maybe.
A decade ago I wrote about my memories. Plenty has changed since then. But much of what I wrote there still rings true.
I’ll get on a plane later today, because work on Monday is in Germany. I get to call my dad today and know that it is a much happier birthday, though still plenty of challenges.
And I’ll remember what happened 20 years ago. But also my anger at the response, much of which we’re still living with today.
I hope I never get over that.
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