For a few days after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, life in Greenwich Village was far from normal. I remember having to walk north of 14th Street just to get a newspaper and basic supplies from a convenience store. There was no traffic allowed below 14th Street, so there were no deliveries to the stores and other businesses, and no subway or bus service either, for a while.
The morning of the attack, I was going down to the Hudson River waterfront for a run. Someone walking in the opposite direction was agitated about something and I asked her what was wrong. She replied that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center, and she kept going. When I got to the next block I could see what she meant. There was the North Tower, with a smoking black hole in it, but the rest of the building was unharmed it seemed, and gleamed in the morning sun and clear blue sky. I thought to myself that this was a terrible accident and probably some people were killed, but they would fix it, and soon the building would be back to normal, and someday I could tell the story of how I saw the World Trade Center the day a plane crashed into it.
In a few minutes I was at the West Side Highway. Some other people were gathered on the corner, and they were very animated in their conversation. One of them – a neighbor I recognized, but whose name I didn’t know – said that he saw the whole thing, that it wasn’t a small private plane, it was a large commercial plane, and it was no accident. He said the plane was aiming for the building. People were all talking at once, “Maybe the pilot had a heart attack”, “It must have been hijacked”, and then we saw the second plane come from the other direction and hit the South Tower in a tremendous orange fireball. Little did we know that much of the rest of the world was watching this live on television.
Like everyone else, I was numb and didn’t know what to do. So I crossed the West Side Highway and started my run. Usually I would run from Pier 40 downtown to the Museum of Jewish Heritage and back. What’s now the beautiful Hudson River Park was yet to come, so there was a lot of chain link fence and roughly-paved walkways along the river in the area near Pier 40. But as I started off in a downtown direction, where normally there were very few other people, there were now some people heading in an uptown direction. First there were a few, then dozens, then hundreds, all fleeing the devastation they had just narrowly escaped. Many were desperately trying to get cell phone reception, but to no avail. There was a lone pay phone near Pier 25 with a long line of people stretching from it.
I realized that there was no point in continuing to run any further downtown, so I reversed direction and headed home. I thought that phone service and possibly even electricity might be interrupted soon, so I went home to call my family upstate to let them know that I was fine. Then I went up to the roof of the building I lived in and watched as the towers crumbled.
A very close friend of mine who lives in Brooklyn worked in the neighborhood on Bleecker Street. I went there to make sure she was OK but her store was closed. Some employees were still inside, though, and one told me that she had gone to pick up her son from his day care. I left a message for her that I would come back to the store for her and that, since subway service was suspended, they should plan to stay with me that night.
As I walked around the neighborhood thinking about what had happened and watching the smoldering plume where the towers had stood, I thought it was like being in a war zone. All vehicular traffic had stopped, and fighter jets, but no other aircraft, were flying overhead. Sirens sounded all around. People frantically searching for loved ones started putting up posters. The West Side Highway was lined with trucks and news crews from television stations, and not just the local ones. My friend and her son did stay with me that night, but my friend was troubled because some of the other children at her son’s day care center had parents who worked in the World Trade Center, and they had not yet come to pick up their children when she was there.
The next day the street silence was broken by some construction vehicles on Carmine Street that turned right onto Sixth Avenue. At first there were a few bulldozers, backhoes, dump trucks and others, but soon it became an endless parade, hundreds of them. I heard later that they were coming in from New Jersey through the Holland Tunnel, and then funneled over to Sixth Avenue and down to what was now called Ground Zero.
Neighbors lined the streets and burst into applause for the workers. People were waving American flags. I can only speak for myself but I think others joined me in feeling that, although we will never forget the tragedy, we could already feel the healing begin.