On that day, I had accompanied an office friend to the World Trade Center to grab an early lunch and to check out some stores like a Hallmark store in the shopping concourse. Lunch hours go quickly as they always do and it was time to go back to the office. So there we were back outside the Trade Center buildings, getting ready to cross the street, when suddenly the ground shook and moved. There is nothing like feeling the ground shift below your feet. I remember that we were looking directly across the street at Century 21, a department store in Lower Manhattan.
Then something happened that rarely happens in New York: Everything went eerily still and quiet. We looked up at what we first thought were snowflakes beginning to float and fall from the sky. After all, it was February. Then car alarms began to go off one by one like the cacophony of many distorted bells. The snowflakes, we soon discovered, were in reality, ashes.
People began yelling and screaming. It became very confusing and chaotic all at once, like someone flipped a switch to “on.” At first, we both felt rooted to the sidewalk, unable to move. I remember feeling a sense of panic at the unknown. We had absolutely no idea what had happened, and hurried back to our office. Reaching it, we were greeted by worried coworkers who told us that someone had set off a bomb underground in the World Trade Center garage.
I will never forget the crazy kaleidoscope of images, throughout that afternoon, of all the people who were related to or knew people in my office who sought refuge in our office after walking down the innumerable flights of steps in the dark to exit the World Trade Center Towers. They arrived with soot all over their faces, hands and clothes. They all wore zombie looks of shock, disbelief and panic.
Of course, the oddest thing about the first terrorist attack on New York City is that I don’t remember much lasting fuss about it. I do remember that President Bill Clinton was newly sworn into office, but I don’t remember him coming to visit New York after the attack. Everything was back to normal in Lower Manhattan in about a month, maybe two. After a while, unless you had worked in New York, or lived in New York, you simply forgot about this “incident.”
It seems surreal that 25 years have passed. And how lucky I am to be alive and writing this from Chester County, Pennsylvania.