My 9/11 Story

It is hard to believe that there is a whole generation of people now who only know 9/11 from what they learn in their history classes, a whole generation that has never met their loved ones at the gate when they got off the airplane, a whole generation that has never known Afghanistan as anything but a place where we are at war because that is where this thing we now know as terrorism seems to come from.

Here’s a real story.

On 9/11/2001 I was living with my then boyfriend and 2 roommates in a basement apartment in Hell’s Kitchen- called such for the reputation of the Irish Mafia that once made the west side home, not because now there are trendy restaurants with celebrity chefs. Again, times change.

I woke to a phone call - turn on the TV, a plane just flew into the World Trade Center. I let out a laugh. Unbelievable, right? But in my mind it was yet another rich guy suicide in a small expensive plane - someone taking their own life in a very public way. If you check out the history of NYC it has happened. It’s not just King Kong that attracts airplanes to the Empire State Building. On the other end of the phone Ryan said, “No, it’s real…turn on the TV.”

I did.

I, like the rest of NYC, was in shock. I woke up my Starbucks managing roommate, Michael, and we sat glued to the TV in disbelief. Until I remembered I had to work - and I needed to vote - all before going to tend bar for the Tuesday lunch shift, which is almost a punishment as a bartender but I did get weekends so I couldn’t complain.

As I walked to go vote - there were very few people in the street. This was unusual in Manhattan - no matter what time or day. The people that were there, well, they probably looked exactly as I did but what I saw in them was an emptiness, like zombies, walking the streets of New York. We were all in shock.

But we kept going. We were New Yorkers, nothing phased us - or so we thought. We were deep in shock. In fact, the entire country was in shock, we were just absorbing the first waves.

I went to the polling station and voted. As I came out of the voting booth a Police officer came in. “We have to close the polls,” he announced, “Varick Street is gone.” I left, a little more shaken and walked to work. That word ringing in my head…gone.

Once at the old Film Center Cafe, a restaurant/bar open from lunch to 4 am - a haunt of Broadway actors who want to escape those that just saw them on stage and old school New Yorkers who like to get a bite at 3 am - I immediately turned on all the TVs. It was 9am. I set to work like always.

Before we officially opened the doors I had a full bar. People just wanted to be together and we had news on TV. Within the hour the entire restaurant was packed out - standing room only. The owner, Bobby, who then had a couple of restaurants (last I heard he had 26 in Manhattan) and his brother Enrico and the General Manager, Joe, were all busing tables and washing dishes. I think Bobby gave away more than we sold that day, but people paid anyway just to be there. There was not a single complaint …and people had to wait on a backed up kitchen - no one cared. Everyone understood. And everyone was grateful to be together. They made it out. There were some Miracles.

Sitting at my bar were people who had been in the Trade Center, people who had walked downstairs from the 60 something floor, the 30 something floor. They made it out before the collapse. All entrances to the island were shut down - yeah, Manhattan is an island - so the people who did get out, alot of them had no where to go, so, covered in dust they walked around 80 blocks until they found us and got some news, some drinks and some connection.

In a city of 8 million people (2001) there are 8 million 9/11 stories. The one I tell is mine. What I take from it is that people, most people, are inherently good. Most people care about each other. And when our souls are tested in a time of crisis - most of us pass. Most of us just want to connect to each other in a meaningful way. Remembering 9/11 in this time in history when the news makes us feel like we are all divided and at the edge of some tragic cliff, I remember that we are really not. I remember that despite our differences, we will have each other’s backs in a moment. I remember that these silly things that divide us are no more important than choosing the Mets or the Yankees (Yankees, Obviously!). The divide may feel real - but it is imaginary. When it comes down to it, most of us would unite again in a heartbeat. Then and now, no matter the politics, we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


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