September 11, 2011
Ten Years After-Thoughts of the days leading up to, during and after September 11, 2001.
It was Saturday, September 8, 2001. My friend Angeli was coming to town and wanted to go to the top of the Twin Towers observatory. She was flying in Wednesday, September 12, 2001. I’d been to the top of the Empire State Building (86th Floor observatory) but only been to Windows on the World Restaurant and offices in the Twin Towers. I’d worked a block away at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza where the towers were easily viewed from our 55th floor cafeteria-well the middle of them but never decided to go to the top. This was a chance to be a tourist in New York with an actual tourist. No New Yorker goes to the top of the Twin Towers unless it’s with a class field trip.
I jumped onto the website to see about getting tickets for Thursday, September 13th, 2001. Every single time slot was available so I decided we would just go and buy tickets when we got there so we wouldn’t be tied to a schedule.
Monday, September 10, 2001, the New York Mets minor league team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, were playing their first season and were playing the first of a series of 3 games for the Penn League Single-A Championships. I had my ticket in hand. I left work. Got home, changed and started the drive from Melville to Coney Island. For whatever reason I decided I would jump on the Van Wyck off the Northern State/Grand Central but missed the exit. It was a gorgeous evening-sun still up and clear and perfect weather. I had to jump onto the dreaded Brooklyn-Queens Expressway which could have been a huge delay. Instead, for whatever reason, it was clear and moving fast.
As I drove down towards Coney Island I neared the portion that runs under the Brooklyn Heights promenade and was treated to a spectacular view of lower Manhattan. This is a time photographers call the Magic Hour or Golden Hour, when the sun begins to set and the light is magnificent. With no wind, few clouds and still water, the view of lower Manhattan was nothing but spectacular. The Twin Towers shown bright surrounded by the Winter Garden American Express headquarters and other new and old buildings of lower Manhattan. It was a treat that is burned in my brain like a frame of now-gone Kodachrome film. It was a happy accident missing the Van Wyck.
The Brooklyn Cyclones won that first game and I headed back home. I was tired and got off to a late start for work on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. Getting ready I heard on the radio-“Don’t go near downtown Manhattan this morning-a small plane hit one of the Twin Towers.” I continued to get ready and then turned on the Television about 15 minutes later to see if there was any more coverage.
Tuning to WABC Channel 7 in New York I could see the footage of the first tower burning. I immediately thought to myself, that was no small plane. I called my dad to let him know. He said this is a terrorist attack. I doubted him. I figured it was a bad accident. I called into the office to let them know I was running late and mentioned what I saw on the television screen. I continued to watch when I saw a plane fly into frame and hit the other tower. My first thought was “Wow someone got footage of the plane that hit the tower,” followed by that “Oh shit” moment when I realized both towers were hit and also the TV signal dropped and became fuzzy as the feeds from the Twin Towers were interrupted. This was all in maybe 2 or 3 seconds. I knew then my father was right. His insights were always clear and amazingly accurate.
I drove into work-it was only 10 minutes away to get to Nikon. I got upstairs and the television was on in the conference room on the 4th floor. Most of the company was packed into this tiny box of a room-maybe 200 square feet, watching quietly in horror. I peeked in and said morning (no “good” in front of it). I went to my desk and began to attempt to work. Actually I used our high-speed connection to open up a newsfeed (blocky and choppy in those days) and some web browsers. I started reading emails.
Then I got a call or maybe I called Patti, my friend and travel agent. Her older son Cookie (a name Rudy Giuliani gave him I believe) was deputy director then of the Office of Emergency Management for New York City and was not heard from. Her other son, “Little” Jimmy was early on in his time at the NYPD. Like any mother would be, she was a wreck. I kept calling her and back to make sure she was okay. In that time the first then second tower came down. Finally Cookie had been found. He and Mayor Giuliani along with the OEM team had been trapped in the tunnel of connecting buildings in lower Manhattan as they tried to establish an Emergency Command center.
A large number of my co-workers were in Japan meeting with headquarters. I was supposed to be with them but was excused as my mother’s retirement dinner celebrating her years of service as a New York City School Principal and teacher was during the week. The dinner was rescheduled. My friends were stuck in Tokyo watching with no way home. A week later they got out on any flight in any seat they could. Our President, Jack Abrams, spared no expense to make sure they got home as soon as they possibly could.
The office was closed soon after. I stayed on as I was waiting for updates from Patti and frankly really had nothing to do at home. I am glad I was there. The phone rang. It was editor and photographer Rob Galbraith. We had had lunch the day before as I showed him a not-yet-released camera, the COOLPIX 5000. Although Rob covered mostly digital SLR cameras, this was a camera that had potential to be a “digital Leica” as many said before. Rob, from Calgary, Alberta Canada, was stuck at LaGuardia. He had managed to capture the towers going down with a long lens. He had nowhere to go. I told him I’d put him up for as long as needed. We also, thanks to Patti, lined up a room at the Andrew Hotel in Great Neck, New York, a nice little boutique hotel. Jeffrey, the owner of the Travel Agency, knew the owners well and they were doing us a favor. Rob was going to try to find a rental car and drive to Toronto.
Finally Rob did find one, right in Plainview. He jumped in a taxi and came to our offices. I drove him over to get the car. It was early afternoon, maybe 3 or 4 PM. The Long Island Expressway was closed. We drove along the service road. We heard just an occasional emergency vehicle flying at an insane pace every few minutes. Rob did drive to Buffalo, got a taxi across the border to Toronto Airport and flew home to Calgary.
I spoke to Lynn Goldsmith. She had heard that photographer/actress and wife of the late actor, Tony Perkins (Psycho amongst other films) Berry Berenson was on one of the flights. Later I heard that my dad’s one-time Principal, Arnold Wittenstein’s son Michael worked for Cantor Fitzgerald was missing. Then I spoke to my friend Mary Mahling. She was stuck in California. Sometime along the way, even after flying for a number of years, she had developed a fear of flying. She had just spent a good amount of time on Jury Duty in Washington, D.C. with her new friend David Charlebois, a pilot for American Airlines. David was fun and sweet. David got her over her fear of flying and off she went. David was co-pilot of American Airlines flight 77. He took off from his home airport and landed in the Pentagon. Mary eventually took the Amtrak home.
In the days that followed Little Jimmy worked day and night. He showed me pictures I will never forget but never describe. My friend Steve Heiner went down to Ground Zero as it became known and photographed the carnage on the same day Senator Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer came to visit along with so many politicians. Steve was helping the FDNY. So many photographers I knew had captured the moments. My friend Jody Dole showed me horrific 8 frames per second with his Nikon D2H. He captured the towers going down from the roof of his building on Horatio Street. I saw more than I ever planned to see, all first-hand captures.
On Saturday, September 15, 2001, I went to the birthday celebration for my friend Geoffrey Fowler. Geoff had sent out an email titled, if memory serves, “Terrorists cannot stop Geoff from getting older.” I took the LIRR in. National Guard troops and NYPD were everywhere. There was silence in the city. It was a funereal feeling. Posters were everywhere titled: “MISSING” with photographs. No matter where you turned. Those photos of those who never would be found or maybe, their remains would be found…
My friend Ben Rinzler recounted watching the 2nd Tower go down. The smell around town was a smell I can never describe but never forget. My guess is it was similar to that of the ovens of Auschwitz mixed with burning Jet Fuel and lord knows what else. Looking from Ben’s front door, where once stood the tower, was a plume of dark smoke.
We saw the worst of humanity in the form of terrorism. But those dark days brought on by the devils in the sky were countered by the angels who were there that day and the days, weeks and months afterwards. I remember the image of Father Mychal Judge, the FDNY Franciscan Father whose lifeless body was carried out-the first official victim that day. He had gone to pray and give last rites to anyone who needed it. I think of the angel Michael and all those angels in heaven, nearly 3,000 of them.
When those who wish us harm dance in the street and burn our flag, when those coopt these days for their own gain here in the U.S., just remember that in the end of days Good will overcome Evil and we will all be rejoined once more in the kingdom of heaven, in the Olam Habah-the world to come. There will be no reward for those terrorists and we will give no quarter to any of them.
May God Bless each and every person who reads this, every survivor, and all people of peace, hope and love. May the memories of those lost be for a blessing every day. And may we say Amen.