I wasn’t yet writing this blog on 9/11 (no one was writing blogs yet), and if I had had one, I’m not sure what I would have written. The neighborhood immediately surrounding the World Trade Center had been my home for more than seven years before the twin towers fell, and it continued to be my home for more than seven years after they fell. That same neighborhood was Return Path‘s home for its first 18 months or so, across two different offices. Like all Americans, the attack felt personal. Like all New Yorkers, it was in our face. But it hit home in a different way for those of us who lived and worked in Lower Manhattan.
For the seven years after the attacks, I stopped by Ground Zero on the morning of 9/11 to reflect and memorialize the event. I won’t be doing that this year — between living outside the city, the kids, and the likely overwhelming crowds, it doesn’t make sense. So this post will have to suffice as this year’s reflection on the 10th anniversary of that awful day.
My memories from that day and the weeks that followed are a little jumbled now, as memories often are. The things I remember most vividly, both personal and professional, are:
- The smell and the smoke. Up until the New Year, over 3 months after the attacks, a plume of smoke was rising from Ground Zero, and the air had a putrid smell of burning everything — building materials, fuel, fragments of life
- I had left the city that morning to drive to a meeting in Danbury, Connecticut at Pittney-Bowes with our then head of sales, Dave Paulus. We both received calls on our cell phones at the same instant from Mariquita and Pam telling us to turn on the news, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. For a while, everyone assumed it was an accident. We continued with our meeting, although it kept getting interrupted with more bad news coming in via our senior contact’s assistant, until she wheeled a TV into the conference room so we could watch for ourselves
- I couldn’t get back into the city that night, so Dave and I crashed at my Grandma Hazel’s house in Westchester. When I finally did get home, Mariquita and I met up and stayed with our friends Christine and Andrew on the upper west side and listened all night to the fighter planes cruising up and down the Hudson River, sentries on patrol
- When we finally could go back to our apartment, we had to go on foot from Canal Street south, and we had to show proof of residence (in our case, a copy of our lease) to get past the military guards. With no traffic allowed and no subways running in Lower Manhattan for a week or two, the streets had an eerie emptiness about them. The prevalence of national guardsmen and NYPD patrols toting machine guns made it feel like a war zone
- At work, where the Internet 1.0 meltdown was still in process, we were in the middle of negotiating a life-saving financing and acquisition of Veripost with Eric Kirby and George. We hit the pause button on everything, but we picked back up and dusted ourselves off within a day and got those deals done within a few weeks and saved the company
- We had one junior employee in our New York office who got into his car on the afternoon of 9/11, drove to New Hampshire, and never contacted us again. Just completely blew a fuse and dropped out. It wasn’t until we tracked down his parents a few days later that we even knew he was safe and sound
- I was fortunate not to lose anyone close in the attacks, but my friend Morten lost over a dozen close friends who were all traders from his town in New Jersey. He attended every single funeral. How he got through that (and how others got through their many losses) remains beyond my comprehension, even today
The only thing I have really blogged about over the years related to 9/11 was my post Morning in Tribeca in 2004 when the skeleton of WTC7, the first rebuilt building, was going up. Now that the Freedom Tower is rising, it finally feels like the Ground Zero site has great forward momentum and will in fact be fully renewed in a few years once the bulk of this construction is done and the tenants have moved in. That will be a great day for New York, and for America.