Jake Dobkin asked on Twitter: Where were you? Because I wanted to elaborate on my 140-word answer, I’ll give a little more.
I was on the R train from Bay Ridge, heading in to work at Martha Stewart Living. I was already late—I realized last-minute that I had to iron my pants before leaving.
Everything seemed normal until we pulled into 36th Street, an express-train transfer point, and there was the most unbelieveable crush of people on the platform. I had never seen a platform that full and haven’t to this day.
As many people as could fit transferred into the R train. I normally would have switched to the D train, but figured it wiser to stay in my seat.
“What’s going on?” some people asked the newcomers.
“There’s a fire at the Trade Center. They’re diverting trains.”
The R would have run right under it, so I knew we’d be in for a long ride. As the train crept along the line, collecting more people, we got more information.
“Don’t know. Something about a plane hitting the Trade Center.”
“What, like a little sightseer Piper Cub?”
At that point, nobody seemed too worried or thought of terrorists.
More people boarded and we heard rumors of two planes hitting the towers.
“What, like they collided in midair and went into the buildings?” someone asked.
We still didn’t think terrorism.
It wasn’t until the train stopped at Union Street that I got out. I figured I’d walk back up to 9th Street and catch the F, which went nowhere near the Trade Center. But I popped out of the station among a crowd of people staring at the skyline.
Both the towers, which were once visible if you looked down Union Street toward Manhattan, were on fire. I remember thinking they looked like two smoldering cigarettes and then wondered how a little Piper Cub sightseer plane could do that much damage.
I didn’t have a cell phone at the time, so I tried calling my boss from a pay phone, but the pay phone kept saying “all circuits are busy.”
It was the first time I’d ever heard that phrase.
I finally got through to my boss’s voicemail. “Uh, Debra, I’m going to be late. I don’t know if you’ve seen, but the World Trade Center is on fire. I’m near the F train, so I’m going to try that line. It might be an hour or so.”
And then I heard news reports on a car radio. A man had stopped his SUV and was sitting in the driver seat, door propped open, playing the report loud enough for the crowd to hear.
“Congress has been evacuated. The Pentagon is on fire.”
There was this girl there, and I think it dawned on her at the same time. We just sort of looked at each other, and I could tell we had both figured it out: terrorists.
Shortly after that, they stopped all trains and buses and traffic into Manhattan. I called my boss: “They’ve stopped all transit in. I guess I won’t be in today.”
I was close enough to my friends’ Bryan and Laura’s place on Flatbush Avenue. I grabbed a big Heineken beer from a bodega on Fourth Avenue. Still don’t know which one. I knew I’d need it.
Somewhere along my walk down Fourth toward Flatbush, I heard a woman scream above me: “Oh my God! It just collapsed. The tower just collapsed!” I looked up and she was crying and dabbing at her eyes. I looked toward Manhattan and an enormous cloud of dust rising.
I walked up Flatbush, closed to all traffic but emergency vehicles, and saw a man with a portable, battery-operated black and white TV tuned to the news (not that you could tune to anything else that day). He had a small crowd of people around him, eager to watch what whas happening on TV, even though at the moment scores of cop cars and fire trucks were screaming down the street behind us and the scene was unfolding to our left. I realized later that they were probably hungry for the official word on what was happening.
Bryan, Laura, their upstairs neighbor, Chrissy, and I all drank shots of Jägermeister and went up to the roof.
I had ironed my pants, pulled them on, and dashed down into the subway, worried that my boss was going to kill me for being late. I popped out of the station into a world that made that concern seem idiotic. I would rather have been yelled at.