As you’re probably already aware, today is the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington DC. It being a nice round number, half a century, grants it a little more significance in our hearts, so I’ll write about my own experience on 9/11 and what I remember of what it.
My story isn’t the most dramatic, but took place in Tysons Corner, VA. That Tuesday morning I awoke before the first plane struck the North tower at the same time as my friend Zach, who was coming to work with me. I had gotten him a job at my office and he stayed at my house the previous night so we could go to the office together for his first day. Listening to the CD in the car and not bothering to turn on the TV or radio, we remained blissfully unaware of what was happening until walking past my boss David’s office where he was seated intently in front of a 9″ television. Generally the television was reserved as a late-night still-working comfort and not a morning distraction, so I walked inside to see what was going on. He relayed the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center as I saw on the TV what looked like a smoke stack. The significance of what had happened was evident in David’s voice.
And then, while standing there, the second plane was flown into the South tower. I could hear gasps from other offices as I stepped out of the corner office and walked down the halls witnessing a handful of employees experiencing varying levels of denial. Some continued to work and didn’t want to hear or talk about what was happening, while others were becoming hysterical. One employee fearing for her safety, Jamie, a recently married marketer in her early 30’s, called her husband and quickly formulated an escape plan to rural Maryland. Another employee, the ex-Marine Manny, showed a tender, vulnerable side after years of being the defacto ex-military office brute.
Eventually, all of us who stayed watched TV and read reports on the internet of what was happening while trying to render conclusions from the buzzing rumors. The Capitol had been bombed. The Sears tower had been evacuated. LAX had been attacked. Not five minutes would pass without another indication of the mounting threat, until the Pentagon was struck. Only 15 miles from where we were, this seemed to hit us the closest. Shortly afterwards, a fire alarm went off in the building. I felt a rush through my body as I felt a threat not from fire, but from hysterical people in this building.
Zach and I stepped out into the 11th floor lobby to see fifty Merryl Lynch employees milling around amidst the loud fire alarm as one woman loudly screams “There’s a bomb in the building” with a quivering lip. Knowing that uncontrollable fear had captured so many peoples minds, this no longer seemed like such a safe place. Moments later the building was evacuated, with the fire alarm still going off. The elevators were crowded to capacity as Zach and I took the fire escape down 10 flights of stairs to the ground floor. The echo of the fire alarm and of our hasty steps down the stairs filled my ears and mind until we arrived at the ground floor to find the door locked. With the insanity fully enveloping us, Zach and I looked at each other and shared a laugh as we pounded on the door hoping someone would hear us and open the door from the outside.
After two minutes of pounding the door is opened, we’re released, and we take our final steps out of the building with the fire alarm still buzzing behind us.
I found this video last night. It’s a 30-minute unedited capture of the attacks in New York, filmed by local residents. It captures the surreal nature of the unexpected attacks perfectly.