Where were you when the towers fell?
September 11, 2004 11:18 AM   Subscribe

Where were you on 9/11? How did you find out what was happening and what do you remember about that day?

I was home with the TV and radio off and logged into some work related, non-news sites over the telephone so no one could even call me. Sometime around mid-morning, after the towers had alreaddy fallen, I checked my email and saw a message saying that all corporate travel had been cancelled due to the planes which had crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Needless to say, I turned on a television straight away. Intense pain and sadness swept quickly over me that morning.
posted by caddis to Society & Culture (65 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is pretty geeky. This had just been posted to talk.bizarre before I woke up, and when I saw it I turned on the TV. Then my client called and said not to bother coming in to do the work we'd been planning - nobody could concentrate - and I flipped between TV and net for the next 18 hours. Peter Mansbridge (CBC) did a terrific job of holding it together for the longest news shift I've ever seen.
posted by zadcat at 11:33 AM on September 11, 2004

I had to go into work early on 9/11, because the Presidential motorcade was going to shut down the bridge into work for a couple hours that morning, and I did not want to be late. I saw that some friends from university had also arrived early and were hanging out on the corner, getting their banners and posters ready to wave feebly at the limousines when they passed. There were police at every corner, and even boats patrolling the bay along the bridges. I kind of pitied the poor officers, standing around their vehicles. The noxious stench of dead fish was pervasive, since we had one of the worst red tide outbreaks I can remember, and the experience must have been unpleasant. At the time, I thought that having all these cops was overkill.

Later in the day, my wife called to say a plane had hit the towers. I did not have a TV, but checked out CNN and Metafilter for news.
posted by piskycritter at 11:36 AM on September 11, 2004

My story, stolen from my 9/12/02 website entry (self link, duh)

Up until today, I've never actually written a breakdown of my day on Sept. 11, 2001. Never really felt the need. My story isn't any different from many others. I knew nobody, there was no one in particular for me to fear for. I learned it all from the news, like everyone else. Besides, who would really want to read yet another telling.

But I like to think, in my head, that this will be here forever, and if one day the next generation in my family (be it my brother, or theoretical children of my own) ever look at this site, it is inevitable they will look up 9/11. And they'll find haikus about ex-girlfriends.

SO, for the record. this is how my day went, that day. Just briefly, and purely from memory. There are a million stories in the naked city. This is one of them.

Standard day. Was still going to Chubb in North Brunswick to learn programming. Got up, went to the train station, went to school. I often shared the train with Tony DiBernardo along the way. Honestly, I don't remember if he was there that day, but I suspect he was not, as I managed to write out an entry for the diaryland site that preceeded malcontents.

There was a test that day at Chubb. If it had been a normal day, we would have been sitting in class with our Thinkpads (in my case iBook) connected to the internet all day, and would have known within moments that something was up.

But it was a test day. So we were all in another room, testing. Some of us would take three hours for the test, some of us would take one. The ones who finished early would go to the cafeteria to hang out and wait for afternoon for class to start up again. I, was, of course, done early.

I really have no idea exactly when this was, but I remember there were only two or three people there before me, and the cook guy, with his radio. "The Trade Center's been hit by a plane" they told me. "Both of them." I'll be honest with you. I thought it was them messing with me. And, I dunno. Even when they told me, well, i didn't care all that much. It was just, you know. Another day in New York. I guess I just didn't quite grasp the whole 'hijacked airliner full of people and fuel' thing. Maybe I just figured Cessnas or something. Besides. Not the first time a New York skyscraper was slammed into by a plane.

Of course, as the day went on, and more and more people came up, we realized this was a much bigger deal than we thought. And by the time we heard about the Pentagon, we knew we were under attack. More and more reports came in. Camp David had been hit. A building in Los Angeles had been hit. A plane was down in Pennsylvania. Possibly shot down. No one knew what was real and what was not.

I tried to plug the iBook into the ethernet and pull up cnn.com, or bbcnews.com, or some such. But nothing came up. What had happened was that these sites were getting so badly hit that they just weren't responding at all. If I had realized that, I could have pulled up news from any number of sites that had switched to a more serious tone for the day. Had I pulled up, say, Slashdot, I would have had quite a bit more news than we were getting from huddling around this one radio. I guess I just assumed the whole 'net was down, not uncommon for Chubb. And I didn't want to be away from the radio enough to fool with it, so I went back to the radio.

It was at this point that one of my classmates piped up. "Hey, I have a TV in my van!" Which he should have realized far earlier, but oh well. Out we all went to the parking lot. Many of us squeezed in the van, many others were already loitering around outside and scrolled over. After a great deal of searching, we found one, staticky channel. It didn't occur to me at the time, but what had happened was that the antenna powering most of the stations of the area was, in fact, on top of the trade center.

The footage showed one of the towers had fallen, though one could hardly tell between the smoke and the static. Also, keep in mind there was no audio. Somewhere around this, I said something that I will remember forever. I looked up, saw the screen, and called to a few people around me: "hey, they're replaying the collapse". I don't know why it really hadn't hit me before, but I cannot, cannot, discuss the realization of horror as the smoke began to clear, and I realized that it wasn't a replay at all, but the other tower falling down.

At this point, It's mainly just a blur. I remember going back in where many people were still taking the test, completely unaware. I picked up my books to leave, hearing the teacher's snide "Where are YOU going? We're going to be going over the test later." And me just looking at him. "What's wrong?" asked a classmate. I think I just muttered "Nothing. Just finish your test."

Mike Funicelli drove me home that day. All I did was watch CNN for many hours. Eventually I just walked down to the beach to see the smoke coming from Manhattan.

For days after you could smell the burning.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:49 AM on September 11, 2004

I woke up late that day, probably around 9am pacific time, so it was pretty much all over. I remember looking at metafilter first thing while new email was downloading, and how the initial posts sounded like really odd airline crash accidents. I thought "you hard can it be not to hit a building in downtown NYC?" and it didn't sink in for about 50 comments that this was terrorism related, and purposely done. I remember I couldn't get to any news sites and had to turn on a TV to really get a handle on just how bad it was.

I went into work around 10, didn't do anything but read more online, and went home at 1pm. That day, the company I was working for was supposed to have a huge meeting with some new big-time investors. It could have been a really amazing moment for the company, but the people didn't make their flights that day, and put a hold on all new investments for about a year afterwards.
posted by mathowie at 11:55 AM on September 11, 2004

"how hard" not "you hard"
posted by mathowie at 11:56 AM on September 11, 2004

I was in San Francisco staying with a friend getting ready to head to the airport in the afternoon to fly home to Vermont. I'd just gotten back from Burning Man a few days earlier, sent my boyfriend home the day before, and had to return my friend's car keys before I left to get on a plane. When I woke up, I thought it was strange that my friend had the TV on really loud, since I don't remember him watching a lot of TV. He was just getting in to the shower and said "You are NOT going to belive this..." and directed me towards the TV, this was a bit before the towers fell, before people really knew what was going on. I spent the next few hours glued to the TV, getting ahold of my friends and family and telling them I was not in the air already, and making back-up plans to get back to the East Coast [solution: borrowed a Jeep from someone on craigslist that had to go to Chicago, drove to my b'friend's in Milwaukee startong on the 14th and stayed for the next three weeks]
posted by jessamyn at 12:02 PM on September 11, 2004

I was laid off from my job shortly before September 11th, so I was home in bed. I lived in Mahattan on 14th and B. Early that morning, my girlfriend went to work, breifly waking me to tell me that a plan or something hit the WTC. In my mind I pictured a small bi-plane or something. I went back to sleep.

My parents called me later hysterical. "It's World War Three - Get out of New York!" It took a while for my skepticism to subside. A plane hit the Pentagon? Another on it's way to the White House? I looked out my window and saw the streets were filled with people. Already I knew it would be too hard to leave the city that day, if possible.

I called my girlfriend and told her to come home. She was crying. Something about "they had to make their thing the most important thing in the world". I had no TV at the time, so I went out and made my way to a nearby laundromat.

The streets were peppered with men with in three piece suits, covered head to toe in white ash. One of them came up to me and asked where he was. Then he asked me how to get home (some place in another state). Then he asked what happened. He had a shell-shocked quality about him. I told him to try and find a hotel room - that I didn't think he was going to go anywhere.

At the laundromat I saw the towers fall on TV. Outside I could see the black smoke. As many times as the TV played it, I just couldn't cognitively accept it. It was like being shown footage of the sky falling or something. I think I had previously been told as a kid that the towers were indestructible and could even withstand being hit by a jet full on.

The rest of the day I listened to the news on the radio. It was confusing, a lot of contradictory reports, fall starts, etc. Guiliani was the only public figure whose voice seemed to register the pain I felt.
posted by xammerboy at 12:06 PM on September 11, 2004

I was a sophomore in college and I had a 9:55 (central time) class. I got up and my roommates had the TV on in the next room. I saw the buildings on fire and asked, "where is that?" thinking it was Israel or something.

I drove 5 hours to my grandmother's house that day and I was frustrated because the only thing I could listen to on the radio was the CNN feed.
posted by Coffeemate at 12:12 PM on September 11, 2004

Coffeemate, your story matches mine exactly (just exchange "grandmother" for "boyfriend's parents"), and I'm also from Minnesota.
posted by Zosia Blue at 12:17 PM on September 11, 2004

My wife and I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan. I had the day off, but I got up early to spend some time with Lisa. After she left for work, and I sat on the sofa drinking coffee and watching the Today Show.

She takes the 2 train, which ran right under the Towers (there's was a 2 stop in the Mall that used to be beneath the World Trade Center).

At just about the time her train would be passing there, the Today Show abruptly stopped -- without commentary -- and the TV cut to a shot one of the Towers with a huge hole in it and smoke pouring out.

Soon, local commentators started talking about this breaking story. They said that there was a rumor that a plane had crashed into the tower, but that it wasn't confirmed. I assumed it was some sort of horrible accident. "Terrorism" never occurred to me.

Immediately, I was concerned about Lisa. I called her work number but just got an answering machine. I left a message, asking her to call me.

I continued to watch the TV, which now had a camera trained on the towers. Suddenly, the other tower -- the one not hit -- exploded. My first thought was how can a plane wreck in one tower cause an explosion in the other tower? Then, about half a second later, I KNEW it was terrorism. Everything changed. I didn't yet know it was a second plane -- I had just seen an explosion. But I knew we were under attack.

Again, I called Lisa but she didn't answer. I started to get really scared. For some reason, I popped a tape into the VCR and started recording the events. I haven't wanted to watch the tape since, but it recorded the story unfolding from before anyone knew what was really going on.

After about 45 minutes, Lisa called me. There had been train delays, but she had made it into Manhattan without incident. Having been on the train, she had no idea what had happened. When she emerged from the Subway to where she works (in Midtown) huge numbers of people were standing around on the street, looking towards downtown where a great plume of smoke was visible. Many people were yelling into cellphones. When she got to her office, people were crowded around the TV in the cafeteria. I continued to watch at home and Lisa and I talked to each other every ten minutes or so.

Then I saw the towers fall. I couldn't believe it. I wanted to freeze time. I wanted to DO something to stop it. Lisa saw the same thing at work. She's an emotional person, and she almost became hysterical. A co-worker grabbed her and insisted they pray together. Lisa and I are both atheists, and this kind of snapped Lisa out her frenzied state. I'm much more pent up than Lisa. I just clutched my stomach. I remember thinking of the towers as an animals, dying animals.

I used to work in the towers. I used to go there every day. After that bombing attempt in the 90s, they tightened security, and it was a pain in the ass to get into the offices there, unless you had all kinds of ID. I used to get so frustrated with the security guards there.

During lunch hours, I would go to the Boarders in the Mall under the World Trade Center. There was a cafe there, and I liked to sit and drink coffee and read. They had an awesome computer-book section. There was this one really comfortable armchair, and I always wanted to sit in it. But there was this old guy who was ALWAYS sitting in it. He sort of made Boarders his home. He was always sitting there, reading his newspaper. How I wished he would go away. I wonder where he is now?

At about noon, Lisa's boss suggested that she (and the other employees) go home. The subways weren't running, so Lisa decided to walk across the Manhattan bridge into Brooklyn. I told her I'd meet her halfway across. I walked to the bridge, but the cops weren't letting anyone into Manhattan. So I waited for her on the Brooklyn side.

There were thousands of people crossing over into Brooklyn by foot. It was one of the most amazing sights I've ever seen. It reminded me of pictures I'd seen of refugees fleeing during Word War II, but these people were all in business suits.

I don't think I've ever been so happy to see someone as I was seeing Lisa, as she stepped of the bridge.

Going into work the next day, my train crossed the bridge into Manhattan, and I saw the Ground Zero site, still smoking. The whole train car went silent, except for a middle eastern woman, who looked out the window and sobbed.

For about a month after, I got really scared whenever I saw a plane. It's hard to imagine now -- even though on some intellectual level, I know there could be another attack any time -- but back then it didn't feel like the 9/11 was an isolated incident. I was primed for more horror all the time. I really felt like my city was under attack. I felt like I was continually crouching.
posted by grumblebee at 12:18 PM on September 11, 2004 [1 favorite]

I walked to work that day, it was an incredibly nice day. I got into work, and my co-workers were all huddled around one person's desk, I said "What's up?" and someone said "A plane just flew into the World Trade Centre", and I said something about how it had happened before with the Empire State Building, but it soon became clear that this was very different.

Most of the news sites were overloaded, and this one co-worker was the only one who had a feed, from Yahoo! Financial News, if I recall correctly. So we watched as the second plane hit, and then as the buildings eventually fell. I remember clearly thinking that all those people in those buildings had started their morning just as I had: hit the snooze bar, eventually get up, shower, dress, grab a coffee and a muffin - and now here I was sitting at my cozy desk watching them go, in the space of an hour, from wondering whether to have bran or blueberry to trying to decide whether to burn to death or jump. At some point we all meandered back to our desks, to look for information ourselves, and I selfishly thought about the fact that I was due to fly on American Airlines in less than a month, wondering what would happen. I clearly remember everyone calling out the latest news and rumours to each other (a plane hit the Pentagon, a plane crashed, a dozen planes had been hijacked, a car bomb had gone off at the White House, there could have been as many as 20,000 people in the WTC, etc.). I called my then-boyfriend (now husband) in the US (I was in Toronto) over and over again until he answered, and I told him he probably wanted to go turn on CNN, and at one point we got cut off and I had a horrible feeling that something had happened to him.

I got most of my news from Metafilter that day - it seemed to really work as a clearinghouse for all the infomation, accurate and inaccurate, that was flying around that day. But after that, the clearest memories I have are of sitting in a meeting, looking out at the clear blue sky and trying to understand what must have gone through those people's minds, in the planes and in the buildings, how they must have remembered choosing what to wear and hurrying so as not to be late, how they had no idea of what they'd be facing in just a short time as they'd brushed their hair and locked their front doors. I remember being so angry that these people could consciously choose to kill secretaries and stockbrokers and children who were probably so excited about flying on a plane. But mostly I just couldn't quite get my head around it (I still can't). And I clearly remember the next few days, when the skies were eerily empty and quiet. My apartment was directly under an airport approach path, I remember the first plane I saw, days later, and even though it should have been a symbol of things getting back to normal, I knew that things would never be the same as they were before.
posted by biscotti at 12:19 PM on September 11, 2004

I was with a bunch of anarchist punk kids. We were all rousted out of bed by someone yelling something about how the Pentagon got bombed.

So we drank beer and sat around the TV full of horror over the death and fear of the aftermath and amusement at someone attacking symbols of American greed and babykilling. Then we played "Speculate Which Country Bush Is Going to Bomb First", and none of us guessed Afghanistan.

Later that day someone gave me a hard time on the bus about my "Fight War Not Wars / Destroy Power Not People" CRASS patch, which was a pretty decent indicator of how America was going to behave in the coming years.
posted by cmonkey at 12:20 PM on September 11, 2004 [1 favorite]

I was in undergrad at the time. I had an 8AM (central time) class, so by the time it was over the planes had hit. On my way out of the classroom, I noticed there was a TV on in a faculty lounge down the hallway. I didn't even glance at it, and kept walking. A girl stopped dead in her tracks and her mouth hung open at the TV, but I paid no mind - come on, it's just TV!

I went on my way to my 9AM Italian cinema class. The professor was kind of late, mumbled something sort of under his breath about terrorsts and the World Trade Center. I thought he was talking about the 1993 bombings, and quickly forgot about it even though it seemed quite random. Class went on as usual. After it was over I talked to someone in the class and he said he heard some planes hit the WTC. Whoah! I went on to a student commons area where they had gigantic projectors set up, tuned into CNN. That's where I first saw the images. I kind of stuck around and saw the same images of the second plane hitting over and over again.

I left to go to another class that had computers in it. After finally getting MSNBC's site to load (it was the only one really working at the time) it mentioned something about one of the buildings collapsing. Collapsed? What? Did some floors collapse? I went home and saw that the buildings were actually completely gone. I sacked out on the couch and watched CNN with my roommates.

The latest Wired Magazine had also come in the mail that day, and in the CD reviews section was a review for The Coup's Party Music with the infamous exploding WTC cover. Crazy.

I watched CNN for the rest of the day until my then girlfriend (now wife) got back from her teaching job, and she told me about having to tell the children, long gas lines and high gas prices. I spent the rest of the night with her.
posted by zsazsa at 12:21 PM on September 11, 2004

I was lying on my back in my bed in my basement at about noon, high on an insubstantial dose of painkillers for my recent wisdom teeth removal; insubstantial because my insurance wouldn't cover the full amount, which resulted in not so much a high or a painkilling as it was a numbness unless I moved. My mouth was open and filled with saliva and blood and with padded, soaking bandages. I heard a news report from upstairs stating that planes had crashed into New York City, and I thought to myself "That sounds like a really good movie." So I got up, went up stairs, and stared at the TV for a few moments. I tried changing the channel to make sure that HBO or Cinemax hadn't been moved to the current channel. My mother was outside for whatever reason. I sat down and watched a bit more. I'm not sure what I did after that – I barely remember any of what I just typed. I think I went back to bed.
posted by bitpart at 12:33 PM on September 11, 2004

I was at work when the first plane hit, and one of the firm's partners came out to the main office space and told us one of the towers had been hit by a plane. I was so stunned that at first I didn't believe him. Once I started to become aware of the intent and magnitude, I wanted nothing more than to go home, but I spent the day at work, not working but feverishly reading updates on Metafilter and other forums, since the news sites were almost entirely inaccessible. I was frantic about friends in New York, and was terrified that the situation would keep escalating.

When I went home, my then-boyfriend had the TV on. It's the only time we ever watched television together, and it's not been on again since. We broke up the next day because he couldn't understand why I could not stop crying "over people I didn't even know".

I still remember the eeriness of the silent skies afterwards.
posted by vers at 12:41 PM on September 11, 2004 [1 favorite]

I was working at The Huddle at Notre Dame. After they cancelled classes, I went to an outdoor Mass with 7000+ people. I mourned their deaths just as much as I mourn the violent or unneccessary deaths of people all over the globe. But I still don't think the event has bothered me as much as it has apparently bothered so many other Americans. Perhaps because I've never felt like I was part of something materially invincible and unchanging. I guess I have always thought that America is vulnerable, I'm terribly disappointed in how we reacted to the situation though. I'm an idealist bastard I suppose.

Reading these responses has gotten me thinking about my own. Thanks folks.
posted by sciurus at 12:43 PM on September 11, 2004

It happened about two or three weeks after my diagnosis.

The whole world had gone mad, not just me.
posted by konolia at 12:49 PM on September 11, 2004

I was getting ready for class, having a bowl of cereal in my girlfriend's co-op with my girlfriend and a housemate. The housemate received a phone call from a friend that said a plane had struck the world trade center. All three of us went and turned on the TV and were watching CNN. My housemate and girlfriend had to leave for class but I decided to skip and I kept watching. I then learned that the Pentagon had been hit and while watching CNN, I saw the 2nd plane hit.

I watched for a few hours and then headed to class. Around 1 pm, I had an Islamic Studies class where the professor made an annoucement about what had happened but he decided to teach anyways. I remember that the class was full that day and no one left even though they could have. I forget exactly what topics were covered but I remember that it was eriely similiar to what was happening in New York.

After class I headed back to my dorm room and watched more TV coverage with friends. I knew several people from New York and I learned that one of my friends had lost his uncle (who was a firefighter) in one of the towers. We learned that it was terrorists and we began debating what the US should do. Everyone I know said that we should find out who is responsible and take them out.

I didn't know about metafilter at the time and I didn't pay attention to blogs. I remembering going to bed and staring at the ceiling wondering what the future was going to be like. I remember feeling afraid as I fell asleep. I wasn't afraid of more terrorists attacks. I was afraid about what the US was going to next and what the US was going to become. And it saddens me that a lot of my fears have come true.
posted by Stynxno at 12:55 PM on September 11, 2004 [1 favorite]

I had just moved to NYC about 2 weeks before, for grad school at NYU; I was sharing a studio apartment with another grad student, in the village. That day was supposed to be my first day of classes, but they were all in the afternoon so I had decided to sleep in. I woke up 'early' without realizing why; my roommate had just gotten up, and he asked me, "did you hear that?" I said "what?" He said something like, "It sounded like a low flying plane, and then an explosion, like something out of news footage from a war zone." I didn't believe him, and still being groggy I went back to sleep. I guess he left; and sometime later I got up, and left the apartment building. Only a few steps out the door I knew something was up, only because everybody was just standing there staring downtown; so I turn and look -- there was only one world trade tower. and it was spouting smoke. I couldn't move, I could only stand and gape. I overheard a conversation some guys in suits were having near me; one of them said that there had been two planes that crashed into the towers. I remember thinking, "there's no way this could be an accident, it has to be terrorists." I stood there staring for another 5 or 10 minutes. At that point I headed for the university library, to email friends and family about what was going on (I didn't have phone service at that point), and see what the news sites were saying. After I was done with that, just having left the library, there was sudden screaming -- I ran to the street corner where the screaming people were, to see what had happened -- they had just watched second tower fall.
posted by Mark Doner at 12:59 PM on September 11, 2004

I was at work in Philly. And I was hitting F5 in the mefi thread like crazy. And I was worried about my dad, who was supposed to be at Windows on the World for a meeting that was taking place there. He was running late, and was in the plaza and walking to the meeting when the plane hit. He caught the last ferry to Jersey City.

I went home to Philly early from Pennsauken, NJ and picked up my son from day care.
posted by adampsyche at 1:01 PM on September 11, 2004

I had just awoken. My mother phoned, told me to turn on the TV.

I spent the next 24 hours or so in absolute shock.

My ability to work was pretty much destroyed for that week.

I also spent a lot of time in community discussions like this trying to keep people level-headed. During that week there were a lot of people wanting to go kill 'ragheads' all over the place. It was pretty ugly, the amount of blind hatred against people completely unassociated with the attack. Very shameful.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:18 PM on September 11, 2004

I too was one of those unemployed people who was still in bed at the time. I had a habit then of turning on my clock radio to hear the news if I happened to be even slightly awake near the top of the hour. So a little before 10am, mostly still asleep, I turned on the radio and heard local news instead of national news.

I heard a mention of the border between Washington state and Canada being closed, which I didn't think was all that unusual. Then I heard mention that Ft. Lewis was not allowing anyone in, and that seemed a little strange but I remained mostly asleep. I may have heard a mention of a plane crashing into something, but again didn't think too much of it. Then I heard mention of "a 4th plane is missing..." and that woke me up. Fourth plane?! Got right out of bed, found that someone sent me a CNN link via AIM, read a quick update online, and then began the non-stop TV watching.
posted by gluechunk at 1:21 PM on September 11, 2004

I was living in the dorms at the time. Somebody came in and was like, "John, turn on the TV." Turned it on and just sat there. My door was open, as was everyone else's and every TV on the hall was on some station reporting about the events. Classes hadn't been cancelled yet, so I had to go to English as we talked about what was going on. Obviously, not much productivitey occured during that class. It was the period of the day before they were cancelled for the rest of the day and the next day.
posted by jmd82 at 1:23 PM on September 11, 2004

I was in the subway when the first plane hit and didn't hear about it till I got up to my office in midtown Manhattan, where a woman said "Did you hear about the plane hitting the World Trade Center?" I tried to assimilate that (thinking about the plane that hit the Empire State in WWII); when I got to my desk my wife called to tell me she was watching it on TV, and as we talked she said a plane had just hit the second tower, and we knew it was terrorism and started being very scared. Very quickly no one was doing any work, and in the late morning the bosses said we could go home -- but the subways were shut down and I had no desire to try to make my way through the crowds to the Queensborough Bridge, so I stayed at my desk, sent e-mails to everyone who might be worried about me, and kept refreshing MeFi (I wasn't a member yet, but Songdog had gotten me addicted to it). Eventually, around 4 PM, the subways started running to Queens again and I left the office (when I went out of the building, saw the plume of smoke, and smelled the faint reek, I truly believed it had happened) and went home, where I joined my wife in watching CNN continuously, seeing the towers fall over and over (which I hadn't seen till then, not having TV at work). I think we ordered Afghan food for dinner.

As soon as the police let people below Canal St. I went down and got as close to the site as I could; the air was thick with what smelled like burning computers (as someone said -- it's the best description I've seen), and I finally began to understand what had happened to the city. I still haven't gotten over it.
posted by languagehat at 1:35 PM on September 11, 2004

Self link
posted by SuzySmith at 1:41 PM on September 11, 2004

My sister called to let me know that a plane had hit the WTC, she heard it on Z100, a radio station here in NYC. I was supposed to be leaving to go to my college in Manhattan right when it happened, so my sis wanted to make sure I didn't go into the city.

I turned on the TV, about two minutes in the second plane hit. I couldn't believe it. I was sad at first not because of the people involved, but because I really love the NYC skyline and I was sitting there thinking it would change forever with the two towers damaged at the top, sort of like in some movie that shows NYC in the future with the tall towers having broken tops.

I logged on to MetaFilter, read the thread that was posted and started to add what I was hearing on TV. My landline was hard to use, I did manage to get in touch with my family both here in the US and my mom back home in Mumbai. Thankfully Time Warner's cable was working just fine, so my internet connection was alive and well and I used that to keep in touch with everyone.

I think it took me a while before the realisation that so many people are dying live on TV hit me.

About at noon or so I went out to the grocery store to stock up on supplies because I've been through terrorist attacks in Mumbai before, and the days immediately following the attacks, no one was willing to go out and so the stores were closed causing trouble with food. So I wanted to make sure we were stocked up if something similar happened here in NYC.
posted by riffola at 1:46 PM on September 11, 2004

I woke up, made a cup of tea, and turned on CNN like I do most mornings. The north tower was already burning on-screen and I was still watching when the south tower was hit. Then I went out onto Fifth Avenue and stood with the NYU kids (including Mark Doner, apparently) - many of them freshman who'd moved to New York the previous week - and watched the towers fall down.

That afternoon - not knowing what weirdness the night would bring - I went up to my folks' place in Chelsea and my father and I went out and joined hundreds of people buying bottled water and canned food. But that night all that had changed was that I had to show identification to get past 14th Street and home.

I had e-mail waiting from friends, including one prescient federal agent who wrote "My money's on Osama. Let's bomb Afghanistan." On the 13th I replied:

I've been back and forth across 14th Street five or six times in the last few days, and having to show ID to get through the checkpoints feels just like living, well, in one of those countries where you have to show your ID to cops and soldiers all the time. And then you get downtown and the streets are empty of cars and full of people, most of whom live there (although you can perfectly easily take the subway into the Village or Soho, which makes the checkpoints on the avenues seem a little silly).

Also weird: the checkpoints are each manned by a sort of random collection of NYPD and NY, NJ, and PA state troopers, Newark cops, cops from LI towns like Hempstead, National Guardsmen - did I really see a car marked "State of Pennsylvania Constable"?

But weirder still - I went up to my dentist this AM for an appointment I made back before the war, and everything was totally normal! Traffic, newspapers, not a lot of cops and Humvees, the air smelled nice - it smells like someone ate a tire and farted to death down here - it was just a normal day in the east 60's. I had some KFC and read the papers about the mess far away downtown... Pete Hamill in the News had me misting up about the union guys lining up to pitch in.

One more thing: the paramilitary occupation of 8th Avenue and 14th Street leaves a bunch of state troopers and Guardsmen eyeing and being eyed by a lot of Chelsea boys. Thought bubbles: "Those uniforms are cute!" "Those fags are huge!"

Speaking of movies - HBO had the sense not to show "Turbulence II: Fear of Flying" today - but went right ahead and showed "Fight Club" last night - are they dim?

posted by nicwolff at 1:48 PM on September 11, 2004

I was getting off the M train at the Forest Ave stop, and I stepped into a little deli to grab a Yoo-hoo and some sort of Little Debbie cake for breakfast. When I entered the deli, one of the guys who worked at Big Apple Pizza (right across the street) said, "Helicopters are attacking the world trade center." I was deciding he was crazy when I noticed that the shopkeeper was too busy staring at his radio to ring me up. I couldn't hear what the radio was saying.
I got his attention, paid, and went across up the block to the library where I was working at the time. The custodian had been vacuuming or waxing the floors or some other such noisy thing all morning, so even though his radio was on, he hadn't heard. I got his attention, and we listened to the radio while our co-workers showed up. On Tuesdays, the public libraries in Queens don't open until 1PM--it creates a specific time when everyone that works for the library system can be available for meetings--so there were no patrons in the library yet. We turned on the tv, then the custodian remembered he had keys to the roof, so we went up there. We came back in before the towers fell.
I posted on a couple of Yahoo! groups, imploring my friends, especially a little group of them who lived in Jersey City and were known to take the PATH to the WTC on the way to work, to check in. I emailed my sister so she could tell my mom that I wasn't really near the part of NYC that needed worrying about; the phones were already tied up.
Sometime after 11, the library administration finally told us we could go home.
The trains weren't running, so I took a bus through Bushwick. The people on the bus were all anxious. Somebody on the bus said, "They shouldn't have done that. You shouldn't fuck with New York City." Not in a plaintive way, but in a threatening way. The other people on the bus agreed that someone was in for a harsh lesson for fucking with New York City. I began to fear that there would be many incidents of racial violence in the city that night.
I asked someone if we were going to pass a hospital. She said we were approaching the Williamsburg hospital, so I got out and asked if I could give blood. They didn't have the facilities to take it, so they sent me to a room where about 30 other people were waiting to give blood. The hospital was trying to organize a shuttle to Kings County Hospital, where they could take blood. A guy who was there said, "does anyone know where Kings County Hospital is? I have a car." I had a Hagstrom 5 Borough atlas, so I said I knew where it was. 5 or 6 of us went to the car. I split my pants getting into the car, but it seemed stupid to worry about my underpants showing just then.
We drove to Kings County Hospital. They told us that the medical students there had all given blood that morning as soon as they had heard, so the blood bank was full. It was really, really difficult for me to deal with the fact that I couldn't even do something as small as giving blood to help.
I walked home to my apartment on 6th ave just above the Prospect Expressway in Brooklyn.
When I got home, one of my roommates made me some fried plantains. We had a houseguest who was really bugging us. He seemed almost pleased to have been in the city for the event, like it was going to make a cool story for him to tell.
That night, we hung out with the girls who lived next door, and a couple of their co-workers (one whose apartme nt had been very very close to ground zero, so he couldn't go home; one who just couldn't bear to be alone) and had very good food and drank wine and tried to feel normal.
I had to work the next day. I resented it terribly, but I felt awful for resenting it because the library really should be open in situations like that.
I was on my way to the train stop when I noticed that all the cars parked on my street were covered in ashes.
posted by willpie at 1:53 PM on September 11, 2004

I was two months into a job at one of the largest online news sites in the world (I still work there) and it had been a slow summer... I was late in to start a shift at 1400, and hadn't had any lunch. I didn't get any. Until my boss bought sandwiches about ten hour later (for the first and last time). All day we were effectively working blind, as there was so much traffic to our site we couldn't see it properly ourselves!

I know it was tough to watch for everyone, but in a newsroom filled with monitors and TV screens, it was pretty intense. Plus, our base was/is in a pretty recognisable building - so we couldn't get it out of our mind that we'd be targeted as well (there had been a terror attack on our workplace about 9 months previous).
posted by ascullion at 2:00 PM on September 11, 2004

At College. Went down to the student lounge to take a break from another pointless class and saw it on TV. For the first few minutes I thought "Ahhh, some crappy movie I can pass the time with." As more people walked in and started watching, and as I saw more and more newscasts, I started to realize it was, in fact, real.

I then went to my next class and told the other students there before it started. They didn't believe me so I unhooked the TV in the room from the VCR and managed to sorta get the local TV station on it (which was a pain in the ass, considering all the security locks on the stuff). Then it dawned on them what had happened and about 15 minutes later we started classes after having thouroughly discussed the issue. I think about half of the students went down to the lounge to watch the rest of it (this class was also pointless, "Learning why passwords are good security" was the topic, IIRC).
posted by shepd at 2:01 PM on September 11, 2004

I was working in a retail establishment frequented by wealthy people.

I am still amazed by how nonchalant and flip the afternoon customers were.
posted by Kwantsar at 2:09 PM on September 11, 2004

I was temping at the big-ten university 'round these parts. I think I was compiling the information packets for applicants for Fall '02. Some sort of mailings, to be sure.

I heard about the first plane when my then-girlfriend-now-wife called my cellphone. Together at that point we were a little short on details, but assumed it was some guy in a Cessna whose controls had locked up, or, heaven forbid, committed suicide or something. Maybe I was a little jaded, but when she called a few minutes later to tell me about the second plane, then I assumed a terrified-but-professional mode.

My girlfriend's boss called her mid-morning, and told her the NOC was closing for the rest of the day and not to come in for her shift, so she sat in front of the TV for the next few hours.
I spent most of the rest of the day at work, periodically making half-hearted attempts to finish the mailings while continuing to listen to the radio and click "reload" to get as much info as I could. [Fun fact: CNNfn.com was much easier to get to than CNN.com.]

My boss told me to go home at 4:00. So I met my girlfriend, my brother [then a student], and his girlfriend at Subway in the student union. After a sandwich, we went home, up to our bedroom, and sat on the bed and watched the shaky collapsing footage over and over and over, praying for a commerical break. Come on, dammit, just three minutes.

The school I worked for is internationally famous and admission is sought from around the world; I was touched by the number of application-packet requests I processed in the ensuing days that contained words of sorrow and comfort from Europe, Asia, the Middle East -- everywhere. So if any MeFiers or other readers applied for fall '02 and said something nice, thank you from the guy who read them all.
posted by britain at 2:24 PM on September 11, 2004

While everything that happened happened, I was getting ready for work and riding the bus as part of my 1.5+ hour commute to work. I noted the banality of two guys on the bus arguing whether Jordan would come out of retirement.

When I walked into the front door of my building, I was met by one of my coworkers, who had clearly been crying for a while. What was said was a blur, but included phrases like "terrorists" and "30,000 dead". I dumped my crap into a chair and, finding most news sites inaccessible, logged onto MetaFilter, #blogirc (on delfuego's server) and #news (on slashnet), where I spent the rest of the day in a sort of dumbfounded haze. The overriding thought in my head was "So, this is how World War III starts..."

Out of curiosity, have any of you who were in New York at the time suffered from respiratory ailments since 2001?
posted by Danelope at 2:25 PM on September 11, 2004

I was working deep in the wilderness of northern Minnesota. A coworker saw the news on the (satellite) internet and called over to tell me what was happening.

The most surreal part was having to inform people coming off of wilderness canoe trips up to a week later of what had happened.

I also remember feeling very safe.
posted by bonheur at 2:28 PM on September 11, 2004

At work, we all gathered in front of the boardroom TV, watching in disbelief. The boss, for some strange reason, ordered pizza and wings for everyone (!?). After lunch - my office mate and I were scolded for still watching. Here's the exact quote: "I know this is interesting, but let's get back to work, OK?" It was just about then that I realized I was working for a someone who was slightly less than human.

Pizza and wings!!??
posted by davebush at 2:31 PM on September 11, 2004

I was getting off the train in Geneva to meet a friend (I live in Toronto, and I had taken a plane to Paris and the train from there)...she met me at the station with the words, "Did you hear what happened?" Like some others here, I assumed a small, single engine plane.

We got to her place and turned on the television. We saw the second plane hit.

To be honest, I don't remember a whole lot about the rest of my week in Geneva. Coming back home was surprisingly uneventful. The only difference at CDG in Paris was that two people checked my passport...one used what appeared to be a jewler's loupe to examine it.
posted by bachelor#3 at 2:32 PM on September 11, 2004

i was in the hospital
so fittingly i was in the hospital when i realized it at 5am.
(sprain/broken foot)
just remebered to send messages to the many people whose birthdays i now will always remeber.
posted by ethylene at 2:38 PM on September 11, 2004

I was working from home in London (at the time) and a journalist friend called me to tell me a plane had crashed into the WTC. I switched on Sky News and as we talked, we watched the second plane coming in - live behind a reporter. We realised simulataneously that what we had though was a tragic accident could now only be terrorism.

My girlfriend, who works in the City of London, was sent home from work in the afternoon as rumours and speculation of other attacks brewed. We sat on the sofa, watched the news and discussed how the world would change because of this. Sadly, neither of us were bleak or paranoid enough to get it on the money.
posted by benzo8 at 2:48 PM on September 11, 2004

Woke up, showered and continued reading Utopia by Thomas Moore, the Penguin edition with Brueghel's The Tower of Babel on the cover.

At about ten or so I turned on the television and saw the endless loop of the second plane hitting the tower.

Went to the computer and checked Plastic.com, because at that time it was the site I favored. It was down, so I came to Metafilter and was rathered touched by the thread that was being made. After that, I pretty much came to Metafilter exclusively.
posted by Hildago at 2:58 PM on September 11, 2004

I was 20 years old and working part time at a drycleaners that didn't see much business. I was alone and without customers as usual.

I'd been listening to the "wacky morning DJs" on the radio when the news broke, and suddenly the MJ Morning Show became the epitome of serious journalism. My jaw dropped. I didn't have anyone around to say "Did you just hear what I heard? What the hell?" to, so I just sat at my desk, dumbfounded, and thought that this was probably the turning point of history and the probable end of civil liberties as we knew them.

Now, I live in Lakeland Florida, which isn't all *that* far from Sarasota, where Fearless Leader had been at that same time with his copy of "My Pet Goat". After I heard on the radio that all flights had been grounded, I walked outside just to see if I could see any planes in the air.

I shit you not, Air Force One flew over my little drycleaners. I never get tired of telling that story.
posted by ScarletSpectrum at 3:14 PM on September 11, 2004

I thought the US was under literal military attack. I was in class at the time and the school refused to turn on the TVs that were installed in every classroom. All I had heard was that the Pentagon had been attacked by a plane. I was in disbelief at first, thinking a bomber or fighter jet had attacked the Pentagon. Only a few nations of course have this capability, all of which are nuclear. I thought China or some rogue Russian general had gone nuts. I figured no country in their right mind would attack the US and expect survive without going nuclear.

I was probably one of the few people relieved to see a passenger jet crash into the towers. I immediately knew then it was some sort of terrorism related attack and that it was over (knowing that terrorists can't operate when everyone is on edge, that there'd be no other attacks in the immediate time frame).

Oh and even though the TVs eventually went on, the two towers had fallen and by lunchtime the school instructed us to go back to normal and there was the futile attempts for teachers to make us pay attention to their now meaningless lesson plans.
posted by geoff. at 3:41 PM on September 11, 2004

I was working at a coffee shop, and had been there since 5. I went in the back room at 7:09 (I'm on mountain time) for a break and turned on the radio. It was on some local station playing a morning show, and the morning show got interrupted by a public broadcast stating that a plane had just flown into the WTC. I remember going back out front and commenting to one of my coworkers that there had been an accident in New York.

I'll never forget the woman who turned pale, dropped her coffee cup on the floor, and then very calmly stated, "My husband is a firefighter in New York," a few minutes after everyone began speculating the accident was deliberate.

I'll never forget how silent the skies were that night. I live near the airport. Every twenty minutes, a fighter plane would fly overhead. Nothing else.

My sister, 17 at the time, flew from Alaska to serve soup to the cleanup crews for a month after it happened. I still wish I would have gone with her. Maybe I could have made it easier for her to deal with. She ended up with PTSD, and we thought we were going to lose her for a long time.
posted by littlegirlblue at 4:19 PM on September 11, 2004

I was on a bus to work in downtown Minneapolis, listening to radio on a walkman. Just after the bus crossed the river, the DJ said that it looked like a small plane had hit the WTC. This would have been about 10 or so minutes after the first hit.

It was about another hour before word got around of how serious the situation was. By noon, we had wheeled a TV cart into our office to watch. I set up an emergency web page for folks with links to English-language news sites that weren't becoming unreachable due to heavy traffic (RTE, Sydney Morning Herald, Straits Times Interactive, etc.).

For a couple of days, there seemed to be a lot of retired Asian couples wandering around downtown Minneapolis --apparently stranded Northwest Airlines passengers who had been trying to head home. I heard that there was a hotel meeting room full of stranded Koreans on cots and mats down in Bloomington somewhere.
posted by gimonca at 4:31 PM on September 11, 2004

The first inkling I had that something was wrong was when the plane I was on didn't take off for 20 minutes after taxiing out onto the runway.

I had been in DC for the weekend prior, as a finalist for the Apker Award. The APS flew me down to give a presentation to the award committee on the 10th, so I flew down on the 8th, and spent the weekend seeing some sights and getting together with my old college roommate who was working for some think tank and had an apartment somewhere in the Virginia suburbs. While my old roommate and I were talking, our conversation drifted to the Selective Service; he said that he was still registered at his parents' address, and that it didn't really seem like it would matter since it didn't seem likely that there would be a war any time soon.

On the 11th, I got up around 7, had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and took a cab to National. I still have a very clear memory of the way the light and the mist were interplaying right when we got off the bridge and onto the road along the river. Checked in at the Air Canada desk, went to the newsstand and bought a copy of the Atlantic Monthly, and waited about 45 minutes to board a plane for what I think was a 9 AM departure to Pearson.

Everyone got on the plane, and we taxied out onto the tarmac as usual. And then we sat there for about twenty minutes. This didn't seem like that big of a deal — flights get delayed on the ground all the time — until the pilot came on the intercom and said, "Folks, I'm afraid we're going to have to return to the gate. There's been a terrorist attack in New York, and the FAA has shut down U.S. airspace. Also, we're going to have to evacuate the airport, so please take all your personal items with you when getting of the plane." The connection between "terrorist attack" and "shut down U.S. airspace" was not made clear to us at the time — I reasoned that they wanted to limit the terrorists' mobility if they were still in the country.

We turned around and started back to the gate. I spotted a plume of thick black smoke rising from somewhere beyond the terminal building, and asked one of the flight attendants if she knew what it was. She didn't know, and went to ask the pilot. A few minutes later the pilot announced, "Folks, some of you may have noticed the smoke rising on the right side of the aircraft. I don't know for certain what that is, but that is the direction of the Pentagon."

We got off the plane and were told to "get out" by several airport security guards. We went past the baggage claim carousels and out of the building... stood there. A crowd of people formed outside the airport, not knowing quite what to do. I called my father at work, told him I was all right, and gave him my e-mail account password so that he could retrieve my old roommate's phone number (which I had stupidly left in the hotel room.) While I was instructing him how to do this, someone yelled at me to get off the phone, there were other people waiting. I waved him off and finished the conversation as quickly as I could.

I milled about with a couple of hundred other confused people, not sure what to do. Someone told me that a Cessna had flown into the WTC. The father of a Korean family who was on my flight asked what we should do; his English was marginal, and it took me some time to figure out what he was asking.

About ten minutes after I got off the phone, security guards came through the area where we were all standing, and told us to "get away from the airport, another plane is coming." I walked — not without some haste — towards the Crystal City Mall nearby. On the way, there were small groups of people gathered around car radios being played at maximum volume. I stopped briefly at a couple of these clusters before moving on. When I got to the mall, I noticed that a McDonald's in the mall had a row of TV monitors playing ABC; people were crowded into the restaurant, standing room only, all staring wordlessly at the TVs. I watched a brief recap of the second plane hitting, the first tower collapsing, the second tower collapsing. Peter Jennings sounded absolutely stunned. While I was watching, a guy in his late teens/early 20s tried to change the channel; everyone yelled at him to change it back.

I tore myself away from the TVs, found a pay phone, and called my roommate. I got his answering machine, and left a message saying that it looked like I would need a place to crash for the next few days, and could he meet me at the Metro station near his place where we'd met the previous Sunday? Then I got on the Metro. It took me past the now-deserted National Airport, but we didn't stop there. The train was absolutely packed. I commented to a fellow passenger, "This wasn't what I thought would happen today when I woke up this morning."

I got to my roommate's neighbourhood Metro station and sat there for an hour reading the copy of the Atlantic Monthly until my roommate got my message and came to pick me up. I commented to him, "What were you saying yesterday about there not being a war any time soon?"

I ended up sleeping on my roommate's couch for four days, watching events unfold on TV, having to tear myself away every so often and think about something else, anything else, unable to fly back to my hometown and worried about how I was going to make it to my graduate student orientation in Chicago on the 17th. Finally, my aunt (who lived in Toledo) drove down to Breezewood, PA on Friday night; my roommate drove me up to Breezewood Saturday morning; my aunt and I drove to Ann Arbor, MI, where my grandparents lived; and on Sunday morning, I took Amtrak into Chicago.

Oh, and I found out a month later that I hadn't won the Apker Prize either.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:04 PM on September 11, 2004

I was just about to go to sleep after a late night (around 6PM pst), and wanted to quickly look over the news on the web. None of the news web sites I tried would load, but strangely, I didn't have trouble with any non-news sites I tried. So I turned on the tube and saw the burning WTC 2. My first thought was that it was an accident. A few minutes later the second plane hit.

I remember CNN kept showing soon after that some shot around the White House. As if something had happened there. Anyone remember this?
posted by shoos at 5:26 PM on September 11, 2004

Shortly after waking up that morning I was tasked with delivering something to my Dad's construction site. I dropped off what was needed - I don't even remember what it was anymore - and from a steel girder above me my Dad shouted down that they'd been hearing about someone flying a plane into the World Trade Center. I drove to the mall nearby and went into Radio Shack, just in time to see the wall of televisions show the collapse of the towers.

Customers and salespeople alike stood silently, and we all watched as events unfolded on what was, by a wide margin, the least imaginable thing to occur that day.
posted by Monster_Zero at 5:35 PM on September 11, 2004

Monday, Sept. 10, 2001: After a full day of work in midtown NYC, I hung out in Chinatown with friends all night. Chinatown is situated in the shadow of the towers, as the neighborhood is a 10-minute walk from the WTC. Going home, we walked to the WTC and took the PATH to Newark from the WTC tower footsteps. Lower Manhattan was so quiet and dark, the crisp night filled with the promise of upcoming Fall NYC events: museum openings, central park walks, new restaurants to sample...Who knew this was to be the last of idyllic evenings?

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001: 8:48am: Riding NJ Transit from a NJ suburb (where I lived) into midtown NYC, where I had been working for 2 years. Everyone was sleeping, reading, and listening to ipods on a normal Tuesday morning commute. A conductor suddenly made an announcement over the intercom system: "If you look outside of your window, you’ll notice the WTC is on fire." His tone was jovial and sarcastic, inappropriate for even a small fire (which is what we all thought had first been the culprit). I looked and gasped with the others: The WTC tower had a thin plume of smoke rising from the upper facade. It must have only been about 20 seconds after impact, as we could see the NYC skyline clearly (NJ Transit runs along the same path as NJ Turnpike, which boasts a magnificent view of NYC). We all stared until the train disappeared into the tunnel, ushering us towards NYC Penn Station (34th & 8th).

Upon leaving the train in the belly of Penn Station, everyone was buzzing something about a plane crashing into the tower, relaying information from friends and family who had called on cell phones. However, being commuters, we all still rushed off to work, intent on getting to the office on time. This was the time of year where everyone was back from summer vacation, and eager to start new projects. No one considered terrorism or attacks; we assumed it was an unfortunate case of misguided aviation or an office fire.

I wasn’t so concerned with what had happened, and was more focused on getting to work on time. Midtown was miles away from Lower Manhattan, and the chance of anything in Lower Manhattan interfering with Midtown was very slim. Therefore, I took the 1&9 subway to my office on 53rd & 7th, and got to my desk by 9:30 am. No one knew it was terrorism at this point, and I performed bland morning tasks such as checking messages and picking up the mail. However, as the events of 9/11 progressed, it was all too apparent that something terrible was unfolding. By 10:00 am, my mother called and told me to quickly secure either a hotel room or stay with a friend/relative because she had heard that they were sealing-off the city, with no egress to NJ.

However, in my office, I was in a virtual vacuum. All reports from colleagues were sketchy. There was no definite information. The rumors seemed impossible, deniable and I was in disbelief. There was no television or radio at work. Internet was jammed because there was too much traffic, and I couldn’t get onto a single news site.

The later it got, the worse the phone lines became, and no one could anymore call into Manhattan. I called my boyfriend, family, and friends intermittently to get updates, when I wasn’t stressing over how to proceed. When they told me that the towers fell, I didn't believe it. I just couldn't fathom the incident, and wasn’t witness to the event. My windows on the 31st floor of my office looked uptown, and central park sprawled green like Arcadia. This was NYC to me. There were indeed views in my office of Lower Manhattan, but I felt like it was gratuitous gawking, so I didn't bother seeking out the view. I wasn’t obsessed with getting a view of the fallen towers. I knew there were plenty of people to bear witness, and I didn’t necessarily want the memory.

Since they didn't evacuate my office building, I stayed. I had nowhere to go: I wanted just to be home, but there were no trains, cars, or buses running out of NYC to NJ. I didn’t want to be getting drunk, didn’t want to be partying with my NYC friends, and didn’t want to wander down to the WTC for a peek. I need to be home. I was stranded, which is the most demoralizing feeling I had ever experienced. All my loved ones were across bodies of water, miles away, with no way to get there. It sucked. I can't remember exactly how I passed the time, and I was exhausted from partying the night before in Chinatown, so I just carried on like normal. As the hours got later, my entire office left, setting out in small groups to walk across various Brooklyn bridges. I stayed.

Around 4pm, I’d had enough of being alone. I ventured out of the safety of halcyon Midtown and decided to gauge the viability of getting home. It was impossible to get any information about transportation online or via phone, so I figured I would look for the police. There were large groups of cops hanging out at every subway entrance to deter people from using the MTA. Every police officer gave conflicting information about the feasibility of public transportation to NJ, so I decided I had to take matters in my own hands. The ferry was working, but boasted 5+ hours lines.

It was when I was strolling towards Time Square that I began to see peoples’ shoes covered in the white dust from the fallen towers. This is the only direct confrontation I had of the terror of that day. Midtown couches NYC in a sort of surreal tint, and it was definitely comforting in a sense. I walked to Port Authority, a major bus hub on 42nd & 9th. There was no car traffic, and only a smattering of taxis, so everyone was ambling aimlessly through the streets. Port Authority was completely closed, and stranded commuters loitered on the sidewalk and streets at least 50-people deep...all of them waiting for the doors to open. Walking downtown, every single bar was packed with office workers. It seemed like of all of Midtown NYC was drunk, and watching Sept 11 unfold on NBC. I think now that the severity of the situation still hadn't settled, and we all thought that scores of survivors would brush the chalk from their shoulders, and emerge from the ruins of the towers pallid ghosts.

I walked further downtown to Penn Station, and saw that the station was open. I ran inside, and was lucky enough to catch the first train running out of NYC. This was about 4:45 pm, and I finally got home at 5:30 pm. I overheard myriad cell phone conversations on the train that evening, grown men calling their mothers and wives to tell them they had survived, shaky voices and strained, hushed tones. I ran to my room and turned on the television, where I watched the towers stricken, buckle, and crumble continuously on every channel. It wasn’t until I witnessed it on television, that I began to comprehend and digest the severity of the day. Midtown had afforded me an insular reality of what had happened, and I was fortunate to have been far from Lower Manhattan.

For those of us who have endured this tragedy, each passing anniversary is a greater indication of loss. The comprehension of what occurred on that day sinks deeper, the sadness made more apparent by the disappeared who haven’t returned. Our beautiful city will never be the same. Damaged and scarred. The NY skyline remains a testament of absence and memory, missing cavities that can never be filled. It is necessary to always memorialize and commemorate the taken lives from this historical trauma.

It took me 2 years to finally make it back down to Chinatown, a memory of calmer and safer times, when I could leave my house without making sure my cell phone was fully charged, or had a list of emergency numbers loaded on my ipaq, or made sure I hadn’t left anything unsaid to friends and family. I was forced to confront the WTC tower footprints only recently during the RNC when I had to take the WTC PATH into the city. It was harrowing and dense, a feeling of void I cannot quantify. I find it is akin to the same chilling sentiment when you are in a car accident: After the novelty of the accident fades, you suddenly cannot drive by that same spot. You’ll find different routes to avoid confrontation with the memory. But that spot will always be marred and sullied.

posted by naxosaxur at 5:38 PM on September 11, 2004 [1 favorite]

I was lecturing a freshman engineering class about the global positioning system that morning. One of my slides showed an aerial view of the Pentagon overlaid with targeting circles. I was making the point that the random error deliberately introduced into the civilian GPS signal by the military (until May 2000) was approximately the radius of the Pentagon. So, if the bad guys were to use GPS to target the Secretary of Defense's office with a missile they would likely miss. After my class a student came to my office and asked what I thought about the "events". I had no idea what he was talking about.

I figured out later that the Pentagon had been hit while I had that slide up. Surreal.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:13 PM on September 11, 2004

As the airspace was shut-down, I was immensely proud of the role Canadians played in providing support to the huge numbers of grounded passengers. And I was astounded at the professionalism of the air traffic controllers that made it possible to bring every flight safely into the overcrowded airspace and tarmac.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:34 PM on September 11, 2004

I was getting my Bass guitar fixed by this elderly man who ran a piano repair shop with his wife (they used to do odd repairs on my equiptment for really cheap because they wanted to support young musicians). It was late in the morning, and I went in to find them both preoccupied. The man took my bass into the back shop, and I waited in this tiny, musty storefront.

I remember not really paying attention, and then I overheard the radio saying something about the Pentagon, and hearing someone estimate the death toll to be about 10 000. I asked for clarification, and this poor old woman broke down and told me about the attacks.

The weird thing is, I am in Southern Alberta, and I remember being afraid that something could happen here too! It seems kind of silly now, but the shock of hearing about the attacks, and the uncertainty of not knowing when the attacks would end, my small corner of the world felt unsafe.

Reading these stories have been really enlightening. Thank you.
posted by Quartermass at 6:35 PM on September 11, 2004

I was getting ready for class during my senior year of college, and I was making my daily rounds of websites in the morning when I saw the first mefi thread on the attacks. I believe that thread originally said that the WTC was in Chicago, so I just bypassed it and went and watched the "Gonads and Strife Wheeeee!" video for the frist time and laughed like crazy. Then I came back to mefi, saw the link again, and turned on CNN in horror. I was glued to the tv all day, and worried about my father since he lives right by Dulles International, and works for the government in Maryland. It took me until late afternoon to get ahold of him, but I was so glad to know that he was alive.

I didn't even know anyone in NYC, but I cried more that day than I think I ever have before in my life
posted by mabelcolby at 7:05 PM on September 11, 2004

This sounds melodramatic, but it's the best way I can articulate what it felt like. Since nothing actually happened to me, these impressions are the only things I can describe.

I was a college senior in Philadelphia. I woke up at 9:00 that day; it was early enough in the year that I still tried to get up an hour before class started. I remember thinking what a brilliant day it was; after a hazy Pennsylvania summer, we were getting the first of the clear days that come in the early autumn. Looking out my window, I came up with a metaphor: a flashbulb day---everything looked so crisp and spontaneously illuminated.

By 9:45 I was eating breakfast in the coffee bar and reading the Times. My friend Allan walks up and tells me that a plane flew into the World Trade Center. Like many people, I assumed he meant a small plane and remembered the bomber that hit the Empire State building. I affected some mock disinterest and replied:

"Well, that's happened before."

I still regret that. We went over to a computer off in the corner and tried to find the news. The Washington Post was the only site we could access, and the copy there was incoherent: halfway down the page, "plane" became "planes". I figured that things would get a bit clearer in a few hours and went off to class.

The prof had made the same assumptions I had. Students were coming in late and announcing the crashes, but he decided to deliver the whole hour's lesson. Midway through, the towers collapsed. When I went to the next class, a student came in beside herself and announced the damage: both towers down, the Pentagon hit, fires on the mall, bombs at the Capitol, a crazy story. News on in the auditorium. I walked out into the sun---(my sister is in New York! where is she?)---and into the performing arts center; there were a couple hundred people there, some crying, others stone-faced.

CNN played the collapse again; the towers slid down one by one, the dust swirling around behind them like a gray plume of lake silt.

I was furious, not at anything in particular, not even "them"---maybe "it", the destruction and confusion and inevitable change. I walked around with my teeth and hands clenched---everyone seemed to be wandering around outside, going nowhere in particular. Normally on a day that spectacularly clear, people would be outside studying, enjoying themselves---instead, everyone moved slowly and looked grim or anxious. It seemed so incongruous; I couldn't stop looking at their faces. Glancing, I got a hundred of these brilliantly lit, bizarrely juxtaposed instant portraits and kept thinking flashbulb, the instant memories that stay with you forever. A couple Radiohead songs ("Pyramid Song" and "You and Whose Army?") creeped into my head as a fitting soundtrack for being shoved into vengeful and uncertain times, looping over and over into the afternoon.

(My sister in New York was fine; she watched from a distant rooftop.)
posted by tss at 8:16 PM on September 11, 2004

I was driving from San Francisco back home to Washington DC by my self (3 weeks). I was in Las Vegas in a hotel and woke up to a surreal scene on the TV. I remember going through Texas and a lady at a store told me "Don't worry, Texans will help you out". I passed armys of rental cars on the highways, and found families with all their belongings packed in SUVs hideing out in BLM lands.
posted by stbalbach at 8:56 PM on September 11, 2004

I was just barely awake here in Mountain View, CA, around 7:45 PST, when the phone rang. Calling was my sister, who lived on the Upper East Side (of Manhattan) at the time, asking if I'd heard. She sounded really upset and my first thought was that one of our parents had died or had something bad happen to them.

She said no, but wasn't I watching the TV? Looking on the web? So I turned on the TV, just in time to see (a replay of) the second crash. I was pretty happy my sister was on the phone with me, let me tell you. She was well north of the trouble though after hanging up she walked south to make sure some friends of her's were okay too (they were).

At first I thought that no one I knew was killed that day but 18 months after the fact I learned that a very sweet, wonderful woman I'd worked with, whose husband mentored me, had been in one of the Towers.
posted by billsaysthis at 9:56 PM on September 11, 2004

Was unemployed, living with my parents, sleeping late and dreaming about a girl from high school, who in my dream was floating on some sort of anti-gravity skateboard like in "Back to the Future II."

I woke up late (in California) and my brother was hearing the news from my dad. I remember watching in horror all day on CNN, and later staring in disbelief at our globe and wondering how World War III was going to start. Later that night we went to the local drug store, and ran into the longtime family doctor -- he asked if my dad was getting scans for cancer, and he said, of the attacks -- "Rough day, today, huh?" with sad understatement. I'll always remember that.
posted by inksyndicate at 10:57 PM on September 11, 2004

Freshman year of college - just out of a technical writing class, heard in passing as I was heading down the stairwell. I went to the campus bookstore where TVs confirmed the news. Someone commented that it was much like what people in the Middle East faced every day.

I went back to my dorm room, which was next to the student lounge, which was full of sobbing hysterical girls. Every time the casualty numbers went up there would be a fresh round of screaming. My rabidly Jewish roommate was convinced Palestinians were behind it and I couldn't get her to shut up so I could concentrate on trying to find new information via international news sites (CNN et al. being down). Word came around that classes were canceled for the rest of the day, and I was very relieved that I wouldn't have to deal with chemistry lab.

Then the girls started cursing the Palestinians that news channels showed dancing in the streets, words like "evil" and "revenge" and "nuke those raghead Muslims" started appearing, all sorts of Us-vs.-Them posters and paraphernalia surfaced in the dorms, including most annoyingly this piece of dreck, and that was the end of adolescent political apathy.
posted by casarkos at 11:35 PM on September 11, 2004

I had bought a condo in the beginning of August, the location allowing me to walk about three blocks to where I worked at the time. On 9/10 I got the all-clear to come in late on the 11th because I had to wait for the cable guy, who had given me an ETA between something like 8:30 and 2:30. I already had cable, but he was coming to install a cable modem and digital cable TV receiver.

I flipped on the TV that morning, tuned to CNN and caught the first reports about the first plane. And then I watched the live coverage of the second plane. Up until then all of the talking heads were talking about commuter jets, but I could tell from the footage that the second plane was no commuter jet.

Right around that time, the cable guy showed up, so I turned off the TV and answered the door. He said, "No, turn that back on." I watched the TV and he listened as he worked, stopping to tell me about being a former police officer. After the cable modem and digital receiver were all hooked up, we watched together as each tower collapsed. Neither of us knew what to say. He left shortly after that. I called home and talked to my mother. Called my dad at his office.

I couldn't bear to drag myself away from the TV and internet, so I ended up going into work around 11:00. I was working at a Macintosh computer sales and service place, and when I walked in I saw that just about every employee in the store huddled around a small TV that one of the employees there had brought in. A former employee who had recently moved to NYC e-mailed us updates all day. We may have had a few customers that day, but I only remember sitting at my computer and tracking the news on Metafilter, CNN, NYT and NY1. I had a few friends in NYC and in the D.C. area, so I was anxious to try to get in touch with all of them.

For the rest of the week, business dropped off sharply and the management began to ask people to go home early or take days off. Flights were grounded, FedEx couldn't get shipments to us, so we were almost dead in the water anyway. On Sept. 17 at the end of the workday, the owner called me into the conference room and told me he had to "let me go." The store was losing money, paying salaries and benefits to most employees, including me. The management had hired ten new employees for various positions since hiring me, but I was the first to get laid off. I didn't find a new job until January 2002. The owner eventually sold the business, but it reopened in a new location under new management last year. The old location now houses a combination tanning salon and video rental business.

posted by emelenjr at 11:56 PM on September 11, 2004

The TV was on in the background as I got ready for work. I was alone in my new apartment in Manhattan. I had a bed and a TV perched on an empty cardboard box for a stand, and a folding table and two chairs borrowed from my parents' house, but not much else, since it was my first apartment and I was fresh out of college.

I watched it happen live on TV. I called my uncle and left a voicemail that begged him to get out of his building--he worked next door to the WTC in Liberty Plaza for CIBC Oppenheimer. He called me back a little later, safe at a breakfast meeting in midtown, wanted to know what the heck was going on. I had to be the one to tell him that the towers were gone. His secretary saw the jumpers as she ran from the building; they weren't allowed back in for months. His kids, my cousins, were evacuated from his and my old high school, Horace Mann, up in the Bronx, sent with hundreds of other kids to Westchester to stay with random schoolmates and relatives until it was safe.

Up in Scarsdale, where my brother was still in high school, they showed the towers burning and falling on TV in the student lounge as kids ran up and down the halls screaming, screaming, because their parents were inside and they thought they were watching them die. A few of them were.

I made the choice not to call my boyfriend (now husband), asleep in his bed three hours behind me in California, to tell him what had happened. Let him live in that old world as long as he can was what I thought sadly. But it turned out he was awake anyway. When he got through to call me later that day and asked me how I was, I think I actually answered "Fine." I was, of course, Not Fine, and would remain so for a long time afterwards.

We were penned in on Manhattan that night, not allowed to leave except by foot, which meant my dad, at work in midtown, was trapped on the island with me. So we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant and made smalltalk among the faux-cheery fellow diners, in one of the more surreal moments of the day.

But the most surreal and terrible moment was the next day, the 12th, when I walked to work. The streets were silent, and completely, utterly empty. I walked down to work at IBM in midtown, at 57th and Madison, and stood there for a second in the middle of the street. And I mean, in the middle of the street. And there were almost no people except for the soldiers (reservists from the Armory, near my apartment), carrying large guns, standing on the corners, sometimes all four corners, of an intersection. And no cars. Which meant you could see all.the.way.down.all.the.streets, all four ways. Down to the rivers, and down to the big smelly cloud that hung over the south of the island. And it was really quiet.

There was lots of worse stuff, too, but that would come later.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:52 AM on September 12, 2004

Disconnected. I was living in Germany and had no access to braodcast or cable TV. I heard what was happening rather quickly. An American told my partner at work, who phoned me. I turned on the radio to British Forces, and learned a little. The net gave me some more news.

It was hours before I saw any moving images. I can't say how long before I saw any TV about it. I called a friend in Manhattan, I think before the towers fell. He was okay at home. We had both worked downtown but on the opposite side of the island (insurance).

I phoned another friend, and got him to simply record whatever he had on TV. It was months before I got the tape. Its a fascinating tape, mostly NBC coverage.

I fear I will forever be disconnected, out of phase, with my fellow Americans. The event is not in my gut. Its horrible, its sad, but somehow there is that disconnect. Maybe its not a bad disconnection. It was very quick that I realized that Bush was the only one benefiting from such a horrible event. Perhaps I could see that because I wasn't caught up in the horror like folks back home.

I still haven't been back to the States, much less NYC. Further disconnection I suppose.
posted by Goofyy at 1:49 AM on September 12, 2004

It was my day off so I slept in a little and made some tea and toast and wandered to the computer. I hit a community site that I frequent, reading new posts from the bottom up and about ten minutes into my morning routine, read a thread about a plane hitting the WTC. I thought I'd better turn the TV on since people were having trouble accessing news sites on line and maybe I could find out something useful. I turned on ABC, I think, just in time to see the first tower collapse.

I called my SO who was at work in the tallest building in Greensboro, NC and asked him to please come home. I was worried for his safety but mostly I was just scared and wanted him with me. Employee-of-the-month type guy that he is, he said he'd wait until they closed the office, which they did about the time the second plane hit.

When he came home, I made lunch. I was making sandwiches when people started jumping from the buildings. Before that, I hadn't processed this beyond some crazy property damage attack and seeing people jumping from the towers made me realize there were regular people who didn't have today off dying right now, and I started crying and couldn't stop for awhile.
posted by jennyb at 8:01 AM on September 12, 2004

I was sitting in Budapest taking after-school care of my little boy (where it was already in the afternoon) emailing with a NY musician (who lived across the street from the WTC but was emailing from the East Village) trying to set her up with gigs in Prague and Vienna, when she emailed me "Something bad happened. Gotta go. Looks like I might be homeless for a few months." A few minutes later my Mom called from NJ and told me to turn on the news. I listened to the BBC World Service on my old shortwave radio standing in the hall of my builing, the only place I could get a clear signal.

My son's Mother called and told me to wait before telling him. He and I had visited NY in August 2001 and one of the last places we went to was the WTC - nine year olds always want to visit the biggest, the highest, or the fastest of anything. We were at the WTC around August 23rd. Later, when we told him, he cried. He wanted to know if the people who served us at Nathan's Hot Dogs (just below the Observation deck) were in the tower, and what about the nice Jamaican elevator guy, and what about all the other people he remembered. It was his first personal confrontation with death.

That night me and another Yank buddy (we're called "amchis" in Hungarian) went to a friends' house to watch the TV news (and watching Hungarian right wing leader Istvan Csurka imply that the US deserved it...) . Afterwards we went to our local pub, where the only people who came to openly express condolences and solidarity with the US were Serbs and French.

That was also the first day I discovered Metafilter.
posted by zaelic at 8:24 AM on September 12, 2004

I had no school or work that day, but I woke up a bit early and began my morning routine of rolling out of bed and towards the computer, firing up AIM, and IM'ing my friend kv in australia.

I said goodmorning and he said to me, "robert go turn on a television. america has just been attacked." I thought this was a bit strange because america's always being attacked. after all, we've got troops just about everywhere. nonetheless, I turned on the TV just in time to watch the second plane hit live. and then

some hours later, I was able to peel myself away from the screen and check my messages, at which point I found that someone had sent me an instant message saying, "so what do you think about what's going on in new york?" it remains the stupidest question I have ever been asked.

(some of the stories here are making me cry.)
posted by mcsweetie at 9:10 AM on September 12, 2004

God, yes, mcsweetie.

What I find odd is that I don't have a lot of emotion about the dead people. I'm horrified by the nature of their deaths: the panic and confusion and desperation and heroism and randomness. But that they are dead is no biggie; everyone ends up dead.

What really stirs up my emotions are the people that were left alive: the families of the dead, the people who have a gaping hole in their lives where their spouse, parent, child, friend used to be. And heart-breaking experience of watching that happen: seeing the towers collapse and knowing that your loved one was being killed. Brutal.

A lot of the shock component of the experience for me was the collapse of the towers. They were "wonders of the world," they were so big and permanent-seeming, they were so well-established. And they just disappeared. That's a mind-boggling idea. Things like that just don't happen. Buses blow up. Embassies get bombed. Idiots launch rockets at each other. But the world's biggest buildings don't just disappear!

And, finally, what really rips me in two: the heroism and humanitarianism of that day. It was such a shocking contrast: the hate of the attack versus the charity of the cities that took in grounded airline passengers, the people who flocked to donate blood, the amazing NYC firemen and police who literally gave their lives to the rescue effort, the courage of reporters who stood at ground zero informing us all of what was going on. That was all just plain amazing: the ability of humans to pull together and do good in the face of such tragedy.

Unfortunately, the days and weeks that followed provided lots of truly shitty behaviour. Outpourings of hatred and revenge, an astounding lack of willingness to look for a root cause, random dark-skinned-citizen beatings (and killings?), incarceration without cause, and the beginning of the end of America as a country of freedom and democracy. In so many ways, the terrorists won; the USA and the world now dances to their tune. :-(

It's been a helluva life for news: I watched the first space shuttle disaster, I watched Mt. St. Helens blow, I watched the Berlin wall fall, I watched the WTC collapse. In no previous set of decades was it possible to watch these things happen live.

And there was a moon landing, another shuttle disaster, several airplanes blown out of the sky, a few tense nuclear acrisis situations, and many natural disasters. It's been interesting, I'll grant that.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:49 AM on September 12, 2004

I'm a country boy, so on the rare occassions that I venture into the city, I find myself sometimes looking at things like the bank of america tower and thinking to myself, "they took out two buildings that were even bigger than this." it gives me a chill.
posted by mcsweetie at 1:23 PM on September 12, 2004

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