One New Yorker, Two Buildings, Ten Years

Sometimes, there are things more important than buying used cars.
I know that sound funny coming from me; when the purchase of cars is not just my business, but my family’s business for three generations, and more than just how we make our living, but our life. But it’s true. Normally, when you say 911, it means the Porsche 911 and I would be happy that I had been able to buy one! But not this week. This week, 911 means something incomparable to a mere automobile, even a Porsche. This week, as New York, as this nation, as the world prepares for the 10th Anniversary of the September 11th Attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington DC, cars are just not as important in the grand scheme of things.

The Ten Year Anniversary of 911

Like many, I find it hard to believe that it has been ten years since that beautiful September morning when the unspeakable horror fell from the sky. Sometimes, it does seem like only yesterday and the world was a better place, a simpler place; without terror warnings, without full body scans at airports, without wars and with the Twin Towers still standing over lower Manhattan. It doesn’t seem possible that a whole new generation has been born, and will never know, the Manhattan skyline as it should be with the WTC standing guard. And no matter how much time has passed, what happened on September 11th will never, ever, be right. It still feels like something is missing whenever I Iook towards the Mahattan skyline.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On September 11th…

My day started like every other New Yorker; just a regular old Tuesday. It’s no exaggeration that September 11th, was an amazingly perfect and incredibly beautiful day. I happened to be in Manhattan that morning rather than over at the Big Bucks location and not all the way downtown on lower Broadway, but over on 23rd and 5th; close enough to see, but far enough away to be safe. Like a high budget Hollywood action adventure, I saw it all play out just like a movie; a horrible, tragic movie that we were all unwilling cast for.

photo: Wikimedia Commons

Early morning in NYC, everyone is running around, trying to get to places on time, fighting traffic, searching for a cup of coffee. NY is known for being super busy and fast paced. NY is known for its packed subways and massive crowds. NY is known for our a certain rudeness, whether real or perceived,. I tend to think we aren’t trying to be rude, we just have so much to do and are in a hurry. In any case, there is a reason that NY is called the city that never sleeps.

AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler

After the first plane hit, you could feel the energy in Manhattan immediately change. It didn’t matter where you were, or who you were, or what you should be doing or even if you saw it, all eyes moved to view the Twin Towers. I joined the fray, staring downtown with disbelief.

Looking back, it’s clear to see how innocent we all were when the first plane hit at 8:46. For 16 minutes, shocked, horrified, and scared for those involved, it seemed like it was just a terrible – really terrible, really bad – accident. So brief were those moments, when it was almost a “normal” fear, a “normal” reaction to what was easily going to be a tragic day, I long for that feeling still. It was the last of our naiveté.

Now with all eyes on the WTC towers, the second plane came in at 9:02 AM and reality hit us all with a collective ton of bricks. This was no accident. It was on purpose. It was a full on attack. It was terrorists. And I clearly remember taking a mental note; “Self,” I said, “the world will never be the same.”

Of course, I, along with every single person that was either standing and staring the at the NY skyline, or glued to the news channels, or rushing to in to the World Trade Centers to help the victims, had no idea that it would only get worse.

AP Photo/Richard Drew

Away from Ground Zero

The part that I played in this national horror was minimal. I was just an average New Yorker cast as a witness. I was in a safe area, though there were hours when we expected more planes to hit more buildings. I wasn’t in danger, and I didn’t race downtown. I am not a first responder and I can’t say I saved anyone. In fact, I actually didn’t even know anyone directly who died in the September 11th attacks on New York, though in the months that followed I found that I knew a great many people who were directly affected by the death of a loved one whether they worked in the WTC itself, or whether they were a first responders who was lost trying to save others. Aside from the emotional aspect of watching this play out, I was only immediately affected as I couldn’t get back home off Manhattan on 9-11. So rather than fight my way back to Jamaica with half of the island and little public transportation, I walked back uptown and ended up staying on the Upper East Side. Not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I know I am fortunate in that way.

Remembering 911

In the ten years since the WTC attacks, I dread the coming of September 11th. The flurry of media coverage, of new specials on TV, of the collective conscious, forces us all to remember a day that we would much rather forget. But we cannot forget it. And we never should.

I know it’s a national tragedy and one that affect us all as a whole nation and continues to do so to this day, but 911 also belongs intrinsically to New York. For the ten year 911 Anniversary, all of New York is about remembering the date this coming Sunday. I’m not sure exactly how I will spend the day this time, but I am pleased to see so many amazing tributes happening all over NY, not just at the WTC site. A sampling of the scheduled 911 events in NY can be found here. For those not physically in NY, there is a whole collection of the special 911 TV coverage on pretty much every cable and broadcast channel as well. I normally mock media frenzies, but as much as I do emotionally dread these, there is an odd comfort knowing that we will all be thinking of what was lost on that day. There is something to be said about coming together again and remembering.

The New World Trade Center and 911 Memorial

Image adapted from Village Voice cover photograph by Andre Souroujon, 2001

For ten years, every time I have looked to the place where the Twin Towers once stood, so proud, so tall; the anger and horror has risen up all over again. Like so many New Yorkers, we look to the skyline to know that we are home. It’s we orient ourselves. It is the welcoming beacon. Every time I look up, I see what has been taken away, and I want the Twin Towers back with a fierce need that just has not diminished by time. After ten years of the empty, haunting skyline; I find hope rising with the rebuilding at the WTC site.

I didn’t pay much attention to the debate surrounding the future of the site. I hadn’t really bothered looking at any of the final designs. And the times I had been down to the Ground Zero construction zone, it wasn’t anything that I could recognize. To my eyes, still, I just saw the death and destruction. In preparation for the Anniversary, I watched the Discovery Channel series Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero and I am really proud to see what is being rebuilt. Just as I applaud every single human being that came together on that day to help another human being out and just as we honor and pay our respects to all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2011, my hat goes off to the people who have put so much care and respect into bringing the World Trade Center back. I have watched 6 hours of Rising, and every time I look at what they are doing, now that I can see it, all I can say is “YES! You build that! Bring it back!” with surprising emotion that rises just as strongly as the iron used to make the new #1 WTC.

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While we can’t undo the past, I am beginning to think, when it is done, the New World Trade Center and 911 Memorial and Museum will being to really heal. Not only will the skyline of New York be repaired, but what that broken skyline represents; what we all lost on September 11th.; the buildings, the people, the freedom, the security, the innocence. I know I can’t wait and see the tallest building in NY be where it should, and until then, and forever after I know, we’ll just have to remember what we learned on September 11th. On 911 and the days that followed, we gained knowledge about ourselves that no terrorist can take away; people are good and selfless and compassionate and will go out of their way, even lose their own lives, to help another human being in need.

Yes, that’s my New York and that’s what I will remember this September 11th.