MEMOIR

BACK DOWN MEMORY LANE
PART II

Catch up on part one here

I remember being taken back by the intense sunlight. We all know that jolt you feel when you first wake up to bright light. This was a brilliant, sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky. My friend was on his way to shoot a commercial in central park and told me The World Trade Center was on fire. The television was positioned in the living room against a wall on the right. To the left, were windows where we could see directly down the Manhattan skyline to the towers and across the street, was the Macombs Dam Bridge that crosses the Hudson River to Yankee Stadium. We could see everything from the window and we were getting close up pictures from helicopters on television.

For the next thirty six hours that was how we lived. We looked out the window and watched the television.

I remember being in complete disbelief. It was as close to being in shock as you could be while still being lucid. It’s so repetitive that it loses its meaning, but I just could not believe what I was seeing. It was a gradual escalation of shock, anguish and fear. When the second plane hit and it was clear this was no accident, we were under attack, it’s hard to describe what I was feeling but nothing was eliminated from my thought process: should we get out of the building, where would we go, why would anywhere else be any safer than where we’re at, what’s going to get hit next, did a bomb go off, could there be more, there are F-18’s circling Manhattan and this is real, all the bridges and tunnels have been shut down, we can’t go anywhere, I can’t reach my family to let them know I’m ok, there could be tens of thousands killed between the buildings and people on the ground, where are all of my friends, there were unmarked cars on each side of the Macombs bridge, could Yankee Stadium be a target, I can’t believe all those firemen and policemen who went into the buildings, they must have known they were running toward their death, I want to help but they’re telling everyone to stay away, can the news get the story right, the information was changing every minute and on every channel. It was like that all day.

The phone lines were completely jammed. A call would only get through maybe once in an hour if you kept trying the entire hour. One of my best friends, a reporter, got through to me. He was on his way to do election coverage when he got diverted by the fire in the first tower. He confirmed for me that WTC1 is where one our best friends worked, and no one could reach him. My heart sank.

That was a defining moment for me. That was when the shock seemed to wear off and the reality of what was happening had a tangible weight and it was overwhelming. I suddenly felt the magnitude of the personal loss for everyone in the city. I’m blessed to have many friends. Most of my friends have been in my life twenty years or more. They are truly brothers and sisters to me. The thought of losing one of them, like this, was so devastating; I had to put it out of my mind. But I knew that’s how everyone in the city and around the country felt. Almost everyone knows someone in New York. What scares us all the most is the unknown. Not knowing if your loved ones are safe and alive will shake you to your core. Not knowing if your city is next. Not knowing if your plane is next. Not knowing who or where the attack was coming from is precisely the type of fear terrorists seek to inflict. On that day, they succeeded.

My friend the reporter was one of the people on the ground that got engulfed by the wave of smoke and debris when WTC2 collapsed. The second tower hit, but the first to fall. He told me he was thinking like a reporter to “get the story” until the building started falling. Then he started thinking about his wife and children and started running. He says it was surreal. There were sirens, noise and panic prior to the collapse. Then with the cloud, there was silence.

My friend who was in WTC1 was also working there in 1996 when the fist bomb exploded. He endured the black fire and smoke on his way to safety. That turned out to be a blessing of sorts. He worked on a floor in the mid thirties and said when the plane hit it literally shook the building several feet. He saw debris falling outside the window and ran straight for the stairs. He left his cell and even if there was an available payphone, calls couldn’t get through to let anyone know he was out. He was walking home across the Brooklyn Bridge when the first tower fell. His wife and child would have to watch both towers fall and wait hours before they and we would all know he was safe.

The days after September 11 were eerie. The fire would burn for weeks and you could smell it throughout the city. The smell of the fire was different. The skies remained clear and the smoke would change direction with the wind. Every loud noise made you jump. There were pictures all over the city posted by families looking for their fathers, mother’s sisters and brothers. There was still no way to know how many had lost their lives.

I was stuck in New York for at least a week. The city was locked down and no planes were flying. By the time I had a reservation to go back to Los Angeles security was “ultra.” The National Guard was stationed curbside with machine guns. When I got on the plane every passenger took time to look at everyone around them. The flight attendant gave the usual preflight instructions with a few added details. No one was to use the first class bathrooms or approach the cockpit or be subjected to arrest. Not real comforting. No more silver utensils either. Plastic fork and spoon and no knife. It wasn’t until we were airborne that I began to think about the events that put me in New York. How quickly life had changed for all of us. How everything so joyful at the charity golf tournament and how excited I was with the prospect of a fun gig and spending time with friends had been all but erased.

Seven years later, the friend who took me in for a night that turned into a life changing event and I call each other every September 11, just to reflect. I haven’t seen John Starks in a while and that Gateway gig I auditioned for… went to the other guy. I’m leaving out so many details of those days bec