My 9/11: Afternoon

Continuing from yesterday’s posts. Rather than dig up faulty memories, I’ve decided to quote myself (writing as Burt Worm) from 2003:

The city felt like Berlin 1945

I felt like I was in a Graham Greene novel, especially when I was waiting [on the Queens side], with hundreds of tired, worried people, to be allowed to cross the 59th Street Bridge. No one was crossing any bridges at all, by car, train, bicycle or foot, and I wasn’t sure I was even going to be allowed into Manhattan. There was a rumor that Manhattan was being evacuated–I swear to the gods! I had images of my wife and daughter being taken to a tent city in Westchester or New Jersey, and I was wondering how the hell I was going to find them. Huge lines were waiting to use the pay phones–cell phones were not working, all circuits were busy. I didn’t get through to my wife, whom I hadn’t spoken to since I’d left work about two hours before. One woman waiting on line with me told me she had been able to account for everyone she knew who worked in the Towers, except her sister. (I knew a few people who worked there, not well enough to need to check in with them that morning. I later found out they were all okay. I was mainly worried–sick–about a friend who was flying from DC to California that morning. We found out a day or two later that he was safe in California, too.)

Finally, sometime around five, the word went out that we were allowed to cross. I ran, with dozens of others, onto the bridge to try to get as far across it as I could before they changed their minds. And of course, as I’m walking across the bridge, I and everyone else had their eyes riveted to the hole with smoke pouring out of it that used to be the WTC. And there was an eery feeling in the middle of the bridge, a realization that we were all kind of vulnerable there if someone decided to do something terrible to [the] bridge. But of course we made it. And I called my wife at the first payphone I could find. The streets were utterly, utterly empty. No cars, no cabs, very, very few people. I had to walk all the way across town to Columbus Circle again, and luckily, just as I got there, the trains started running again. I just remember quiet, exhausted, haunted looking people. Finally home, my wife and I hugged and spent the evening shielding our then five-year-old daughter from the news. (The next morning, when she saw WTC in flames on the cover of the Times, she was enraged. She loved the Towers.)

And I was up late that night, like most of America, watching the news. I have almost no memory of Bush’s address. I didn’t think much about him over the next few days, but every time I did I was annoyed with what looked like cowardice to me. I never liked Rudy Giuliani or George Pataki, either, but I was completely impressed with the way both of those guys handled themselves during those awful couple of weeks. And the Bush boy suffered by comparison.

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