There were two decisions I made that saved my life (and my wife’s as well) on September 11th, 2001. We had planned a trip to New York City so we could see various sites and I could photograph them. Of particular interest were the newly restored Grand Central Terminal, and the Twin Towers of The World Trade Center. Having grown up in and around New York City, it was always good to go back and visit periodically; lot’s of good memories in and around the city.
My wife had made reservations for us to stay at The Marriott World Trade Center, at 3 World Trade Center, with the towers rising above it. She thought this would be a great idea. I however, did not want to stay in the financial district. Previously, we had stayed at the Grand Hyatt New York, on East 42nd St, approximately 2 blocks from Grand Central Terminal. I liked the surrounding area there, and the fact that when you walked outside, the Chrysler Building rose right in front of you in all it’s Art Deco glory. As things turned out, the Marriott World Trade Center was destroyed when both towers fell on it in turn: Falling first, the South Tower split the hotel in two, and then later, the North Tower destroyed the remnants of the hotel except a small section in which 14 people survived. (They only survived because that particular section had been reinforced after the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center.)
That Tuesday morning was a clear; a beautiful blue sky, and not overly warm. We were excited about visiting Grand Central Terminal in particular because they had recently completed the restoration project that Jacqueline Kennedy had been deeply involved in; and they did an astounding job. About two weeks before the visit, I had contacted the Operations Manager of the terminal and told him I was going to photograph the building for a possible showing I had wanted to do. He was very gracious about the whole thing and said to find him when we got there and he would give us a tour! (My apologies, but his name escapes me now.) So the plan was to shoot the photos at the terminal on our little tour, hop a train, and head to the Twin Towers observation deck to get some panoramic skyline shots.
When we arrived at Grand Central Terminal, we located the Operations Manager who gave a really extensive tour, including areas not accessible to the public. One of these areas was a catwalk up above the main lobby. The walls were made of marble and the floor was made of 10″ thick quartz. On the left wall, the window opened to Vanderbilt Ave and on the right wall, the window opened to the beautiful lobby we are all so familiar with.
So having finished photographing the building, I decided we would drop by our hotel room real quick and download the images to my laptop so my memory card would be empty. (Remember: This was 2001 when 4GB and 8GB compact flash cards were not generally available.) Upon exiting the terminal, a passer-by asked if we had heard that “a plane just hit the World Trade Center.” So we are thinking, a Cessna or some small type plane must have hit it. When we got to our room, we promptly turned on the TV and saw that it was a jumbo jet and I looked at my wife and said “This is an attack.” We sat there in disbelief. As we are watching this, the second plane hits the South Tower. Now consider that we are in a hotel room, but I swear you could almost hear the collective sigh and gasp of the city’s people when that plane hit the building. It was almost as if time itself had stopped. Had I not stopped to download my memory card, we would have either been in the elevator on our way up to the observation deck, or just stepping out on to it.
Like everyone else, we sat and watched as events unfolded in stunned anger and amazement. As I sit and write this, 11 years later, I am crying, even now. Having grown up in the area, I have many memories of The World Trade Center. There were gatherings of friends on the observation deck; time spent at Windows On The World; shopping in the vast underground station and “Mall” at World Trade Center. I remember when I was a child, driving past the immense holes being dug that eventually became the “bath-tubs” that keep the water out. We took dates up to the roof for a kiss and maybe a picnic (yes … a picnic … and that usually went over well, even with having to fight the wind). It was as if our heart was being ripped out.
Later on, we eventually found a place to grab some Chinese food and then went uptown. The whole scene on the street was surreal. Military jets overhead. Because police, firefighters, etc. were all at or headed to Ground Zero, Auxiliary Police, academy cadets and National Guard had been dispersed and were all over. Everyone was shocked, concerned, and dazed. After walking around a little, we went back to our room and spent the rest of the day just watching the TV.
So, was it fate or divine intervention that we were not killed that day? Whatever the explanation, I often think how fortunate we are compared to so many others. It has definitely given us a different perspective on life: what’s important and what is not.