It’s been a long time since I was last in the downtown Manhattan area on a regular basis the way I am these days.
I liked that part of town. Then, I didn’t and it took all the strength I had to return again, and again, and again.
In the fourteen years since, I feel like I probably told this story at least once before here on the blog. Perhaps, I haven’t in years past, and I will enlighten you now. It’s a story that becomes sad and then becomes happy.
In 2001 I was involved in music marketing. Three years prior I joined an upstart little independent company based in North Jersey as a part time associate. I gave up my job at the service station as a manager pumping gas and driving tow trucks to use my college degree in music business and percussion performance and fulfill my dream of working in music. The company grew and I grew with it, corunning the department. An average week was about 50 hours in the office followed by a minimum of three nights out a week at client events – by events it was usually concerts, but it could be meet-and-greets, dinners and other gatherings which would get me home somewhere between midnight and three AM for a few hours sleep before heading back into the office for 9ish. At points during my career I was consistently breaking 200 shows a year outside of those other late nights. I rarely thought anything of it. I loved what I did. I loved who I worked with.
However, I had the itch to continue my education. Since the day I completed my undergrad I knew I was going to return for what I anticipated to eventually become a terminal degree. So, at the time I explored the options that fit my interest and schedule and began what, at the time, I thought was the start of a possible pivot into a legal career, something I believed at the time held a special set of interests and challenges for me. I began continuing education classes at New York University, a school I’d long coveted. Once I got through an introductory certification I moved onto taking CLE (Continuing Legal Education) level course work to earn an Intellectual Property Law cert as one of the only non-lawyers to even attempt the training during the multi-year track.
Early on, my intro classes were east side midtown. An easy commute accessible to NNJ for work and affording me the opportunity to be in the east village along the 4-5-6 to still get to shows – because only an insane person would put in a full day of work, an intellectually challenging law class and run to a show and rock out till the wee hours in the morning. I made that trip though more times than you’d think but not as many as to commit me to a mental institution.
During the summer I was assigned classes off Chambers Street in space NYU rented. The thought of traveling down the A-train I anticipated humming the infamous Billy Strayhorn classic each and every ride. It was interesting trying to line up the 126 bus to the subway most nights but I really enjoyed the classes and I signed up for fall semester as soon as it opened up.
That joy quickly lost during the events of 9-11. I witnessed them from the shores of Weehawken, across the river. It was surreal and nothing I will soon ever be able to forget.
I remember sitting in traffic on NJ-3 on the way into the offices listening to 1010 wins report on an airplane having crashed into one of the towers. I, like many, assumed it was a Ceasna and not a 700-series Boeing at first, but the smoke rising from the horizon seemed to tell a different story. While coming through the eastern part of the Meadowlands I saw a flash on the second tower and smoke seemed to begin billowing from it too. Arriving at the office the radio was recanting the story of the Pentagon crash. My coworkers were glued to the radio while peering out the windows in utter awe.
We had no cell service and our landline phones were intermittent. Our internet was at a crawl when it was working. A lot of TV and radio was offline. The streets were essentially empty. It was eerie.
I remember random things like the smell of the building I’d long ago grown accustomed to being more prevalent and each time the phone did ring it sending shivers up my spine.
As an office, we saw both towers collapse watching from the offices. Time seemed to stand still. The hours that passed between were spent trying to reach family and friends to let them know we were ok and find out if they were as well. Much of the attempts were for naught, the local communications network was partially severed with the loss of the buildings and over capacity with millions of people all trying to accomplish the same task simultaneously.
The rest of the day became a blur. We greeted people from Manhattan at the nearby ferry stop assuring them they’d be ok, passing out water for a while. Many of us emotionally in shock and physically weary ended up staying at friend’s apartments in town rather than trying to negotiate getting home.
In the days people gathered wherever and whenever they could to console one another and provide words of encouragement. Evening vigils happened everywhere nearly every night. Search lights eventually shone from the pit.
I didn’t want to go into Manhattan but as parts of town got back to normal I did’t really have much choice. The CMJ Music Marathon happened and although the far down town venues were closed and some of the traditional gathering places ended up off-limits it was still a bustling week of events that began with our pre-party. We took up donations for the fire department next door and invited first responders to attend the exclusive affair joining all the music folks from around the nation. It was a great bonding experience.
Classes resumed in different locations and I got back into my routine of long work days and longer after-work hours trying to really just focus and push through. The world could not be allowed to end.
It was a really trying time however. My ex was never the same after her experience trying to get out of the city in the wake of the chaos and our relationship was strained considerably in the aftermath. It created new situations among friends as well as we all dealt with our emotions and reactions differently and some close relationships began to drive apart in the stress that was created. Family too had its moments as they were seeing the situation from being further away and through a different set of expectations and experiences. Personally, it both resurrected old demons and exposed new ones I had to deal with.
Eventually, classes were held back downtown, first for NYU and then later when I switched to Pace University for an MBA. In addition to classes the few venues and restaurants that remained downtown beckoned on occasion as well. None of those trips were necessarily easy early on.
The subway was weird but taking the PATH through the pit was even weirder. When walking I generally just tried to avoid heading anywhere near the construction. It wasn’t fully a conscious decision, my feet just tended to lead me on slightly longer routes and as a dutiful New Yorker I kept my eyes on the sidewalk, rarely looking up at the forever changed skyline above me.
Fast forward to today and I work diagonally across the street from WTC. I’m fortunate enough my window doesn’t face in that direction so I can enjoy the view out it without the constant reminder. And, yet, what is there now is progress. It is the symbol that we are continuing to overcome the adversity that is that one day.
As much as I hate tourists clogging up the streets, staring up slack jawed standing directly in my way, making ignorant remarks about the history and happenings while taking smiling selfies with the memorial in the back ground I find it hard to criticize many of them for their actions. They are who they are and are responding to it in their own way with no real intention to be disrespectful. Some weren’t even born when this happened. Others probably only saw it through the lens of a television camera completely disconnected from the catastrophic reality I lived through. Others experienced it even more first hand than me and yet have recovered in their own way and make the trip here as if it were mecca itself.
We all deal with pain and loss differently and fourteen years later my perception of the reality of that day is completely different than it was ten years ago or even two years ago. Had you asked me then if I could be here now, sitting a block away from the disaster of my lifetime I would have never believed it to be possible. And, yet, here I am with all the might I can muster to make this new chapter in my life as productive as possible and not let the remaining demons deteriorate anything.
Life has changed a lot. For the better. And, I need to embrace the now of things while still respecting and honoring the past that got me here. I can pay homage to it while not living paralyzed in it though and for this I am eternally grateful for all those that helped me get to this point. Yep, even the ones who I have since lost touch with and even might be glad are out of my life. Everyone plays a role in a given moment and theirs, no matter how painful at the time, made today what it is. Speaking of which, it’s time to get back to the rest of today…