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9/11 -- All I Had to Do Was Turn Around

Submitted by Leo Klein on Sun, 9/11/11 (12:41am)

Everyone has their own story about 9/11; here's mine.

I was living on 12th St. between Avenues A & B in lower Manhattan. That day, a Tuesday, was like any normal work day. I was getting up, listening to the radio. Suddenly reports started coming in of an airplane crashing into one of the towers at the World Trade Center.

How could this have happened? I had just been there on the preceding Saturday if only to use the bathroom in the basement. The twin towers were a prominent fixture in the skyline whenever I looked south. How could something like this have happened?

Speculation on WNYC, the radio station I was listening to, ran the gamut from pilot error to intentional attack. One way or the other it was still too early to tell. Then the second plane hit and all doubt was put to rest.

I left the apartment stunned.

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As I walked up 1st Ave., I ran into people equally as stunned. Many stared in my direction or beyond me further down the street. One woman just leaned against the wall crying. She didn't move or go anywhere. All she did was look down the street. I turned my head to see what she was looking at and it dawned on me: everything I was feeling up to now was based on what I had heard on the radio but there behind me in the distance, as visible in the skyline as always, were the actual towers, only now burning and giving off huge plumes of smoke.

It's this association -- the association with the literal horror of what I had only been hearing about -- that I'll never forget.

And what to do? The only thing I could think of was to go to work and in a sense 'report for duty'. Not that there was that much to do once I arrived. For most of the day, I followed the news as best I could. On occasion the Internet would go down. In lower Manhattan, the subways were shut down so at one point thousands and thousands of people flooded the streets, all walking north, trying to get home.

Next day pretty much everything shut down. You couldn't get south of 14th St without an I.D. due to a police cordon. Getting south of Houston was unthinkable. I went to Washington Sq. and Union Sq. Something stood out that seemed to exemplify the utter tragedy of this event -- something I couldn't find links to online which meant quite possibly that few outside of New York were aware of it. I posted the following comment on the popular group blog at the time, Metafilter:

To Those Not in New York City: You can walk down the streets of Manhattan and see handbills taped to the streetlights with the pictures of loved ones, their names, a sentence saying they were last seen in one of the WTC towers and, lastly, contact information just in case anyone has seen them. (I don't have a link for this but this describes the one I saw at Lafayette and Astor).

It was very quiet in Manhattan. It would remain so for many weeks to come.