Last Sunday, I refused to turn on the TV. All the networks
were airing footage of 9-11, so I chose to honor those lost (some were my
students from the time I taught at Berlitz) by not reliving what had happened
that horrible day. Sure, I understand that the networks have a job to do, and
that ignoring the 10th anniversary of that tragedy – or treading
lightly about it – would bring the ire of viewers. But I chose not to watch.
I remember well what I was doing that Tuesday. I took the
Staten Island ferry to go to work and walked through the mall at the World
Trade Center enroute to the E train that would take me to my job in
Queens. I was supposed to teach there
and then return downtown to teach a Portuguese class to a French woman who
worked at Cantor Fitzgerald – back in those days, I was still getting used to
the pace of living in New York and the long commutes that came with that.
About a half hour after I started teaching my class, I heard
about that first plane. Like most people, I just thought it had been some kind
of accident (a coworker said ‘terrorist attack’ almost immediately, but I didn’t
think it was the case). I headed downstairs to call my then-wife, who had been
getting ready to go to a job interview. She sort of dismissed it as well, but
then I heard something like a loud bang – that was the second plane. From then on, I kept my ears glued to the
radio (there were no TVs at work) and heard about the third plane in the Pentagon
and Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. I also
called Berlitz (which was and still is located on Rector Street) and learned
that the whole area was in chaos and that they were suspending classes for the
What came later was unthinkable – the collapse of the North
Tower, followed shortly after by the South Tower. All of a sudden, the city was in lockdown and
the subways were temporarily suspended – leaving me to wonder how the heck I
would get home (after that, I realized I needed to figure out the bus routes –
which came to be useful two years later during the citywide blackout). I then
heard the rumble of a train under me, and noticed it was the G train – the only
line still running because it doesn’t cross Manhattan.
I made it as far as the last stop, and slowly made my way to
Bay Ridge, where I finally found a bus that would take me home. Incredibly, in
those areas of town life seemed normal. I even stopped to buy a sandwich
somewhere along the way, and the girl on the other side of the counter behaved
as if nothing had been happening.
When I got home and looked across the harbor, I could
finally understand the magnitude of what had happened. There was a giant cloud of dust that would
not subside for many days. Cargo Café was filled with people who quietly sipped
their drinks as if they were still stuck in a bad dream – who would have
thought such a beautiful day would end up being so bad?