I was ripping water-ski laps on Pine Lake in W. Bloomfield, Michigan. The sky was crystal clear on that morning of 9/11/01. I remember it being unusually beautiful and calm on the lake. With the exception of my skiing partners Billy and Fred-Dog, the lake was empty...glass as they say.
I had spent almost 10 years living in Manhattan, but I was now back home living on the lake in Michigan. My career on Wall Street which started out with a meteoric rise was nearing it's end. The go-go years of the 90's, in NYC, rockin it at Morgan Stanley (before Dean Witter), were very very good to me. I had sold my book--not once, but twice. But now I was just another suburban stock broker working with some semi-conscious partners at a branch office of a Swiss Bank who had bought out our entire team. I had lost  the fire in my ample belly at around the same time as the first internet bubble burst . The great bull market of the 90's was already in turmoil..., I made the trade...I bailed.
As my non-compete was about to kick-in ...and my large paychecks were about to stop, I planned to go back to NYC on 9/20/01 to take film and writing classes at NYU. I was fired up to get back to The City, to feel the energy, to hang with the BIG shots at the CAC and to explore my creative side.
The land line rang. "Turn on the TV" screamed my friend Carol..calling long distance from New York. I couldn't believe my eyes. The attack on America had begun..although we didn't even know what was happening yet. I watched the scene in New York unfold...dumbfounded. That was the moment the World changed for all of us, forever.
Classes started on September 20th. Air travel had resumed in the U.S., but airports were empty. People were afraid to fly. My flight from Detroit to La Guardia was about 15% full. It was raining steadilly. As we entered the NYC airspace we could see the still-smoldering mass at ground zero. Grabbing a cab to the City was no-prob. ... LGA was almost deserted. As we crossed the 59th Street Bridge I could smell it. I will never forget the stench, like burnt plastic, it smelled like death....and this was mid-town. As we rolled toward my sick sub-let on 12th Street in the W. Village, I began to see the memorials and missing posters on every corner. Thousands of them. As I got out of the cab, the rain intensified and that horrible smell was prevalent. The rain was like tears of sorrow. I remember buying one of those $3 umbrellas on 6th Ave and exploring the neighborhood, stopping at many of the impromptu shrines on sidewalks and lamp posts. Photos and notes and flowers were everywhere. I remember walking by St. Vincent's Hospital where many of the injured were taken on that fateful day. The sadness was palpable.
My cell phone rang. The caller ID said Clairvest. Clairvest was probably my biggest client back in the day. I didn't have direct client responsibility anymore---but every once in a while I needed to put out a fire for my soon to be former partners. So I clicked on. "You heard about Ron...right?" I hadn't heard. My friend Ron Brietweiser used to be the main portfolio manager at Clairvest. He had given me thousands of trade orders over the years. We were buddies, but he had left the firm a year previously and I hadn't heard from him in months. I knew he was happily married with a young child, living in Jersey. "He was on the 94th floor of Tower Two...Fiduciary Trust". What? I was stunned. I was silent. It all became very personal very fast.
Over the ensuing weeks I was able to witness how the great people of the great city of New York and the entire region picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and tried to get it together. The massive loss of life, the unfathomable property damage and the previously impregnable cloak of security were all gone after 9/11
You might think being in NYC after the attacks on 9/11 would be depressing or scary. For me, being there made it that much more real. Spending time in NYC in the aftermath turned out to be a great decision, and very therapeutic. Volunteering my time as a counselor allowed me to meet some survivors. I sat with people who were there. Several of my former colleagues, clients and friends were in the WTC. One close friend from Wharton with an office in 2WTC had been reassured; "it's the other tower, stay at your desk" was the message. He immediately gathered a few personals, walked down 60 flights and hiked it uptown to his wife and family on the Upper East Side. That decision, in a moment of crises probably saved his life. 2WTC was hit 17 minutes later and collapsed 73 minutes after the first plane struck.
On September 25 ( exact date?) they opened some of the downtown streets near ground zero. I rode my bike down there to survey the damage myself. I cannot describe the vast field of destruction...and again that terrible odor. Most of the rescue workers were wearing masks. I had no mask. I didn't stick around for long. When I saw the Levi's store with the front half blown out and the jeans preserved in dust like petrified wood...I decided to get out of there ASAP. I pedaled up-town, on Greenwich Street. I saw a still smoking pile of reddish rubble about 5 stories high. This pile was different from the grey concrete dusty and char broiled area where the main World Trade Center towers had stood. "What's that?" I asked a masked policeman. He shook his head and said "that?, that's what's left of 7 World Trade Center". 7 WTC was a 47 story trapezoidal building that I had been inside previously. I was speechless...I got on my bike and never went south of Canal Street again.
As the city recovered, I was a witness. The power and the perseverance that NYC and it's residents showed during this trying time was inspirational. The entire city gathered up their collective strength, as one and kept on trucking. It was amazing to see it. I was lucky enough to attend The CONCERT for NEW YORK CITY. I met some firefighters, police and first responders. I met several 9/11 widows and kids. Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie all played. Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Clapton, Jay Z, Mellencamp, Kid Rock and others. The Who and Bowie stole the show. But seeing those survivors, the Cops, the Firefighters etc. rocking it in the front row, cheering on the acts, forgetting the pain for just one night...that's what stays with me 10 years later.
9/11 changed the world. It's not a better place today. I'll never forget the 90 days I spent in NYC after 9/11. I'll never forget how the Bush Administration used the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to address their own agenda against Saddam Hussein. When Osama Bin Laden was finally neutralized by a set of Navy Seals...I cheered. I truly believe that the political divisiveness and absolute gridlock that exists in America today is a direct result of 9/11. The past 10 years have not been good ones in America. The economic meltdown, the climate change and natural disasters and the complete loss of civility in America, suffice to say we are not moving in a positive direction.
My heart goes out to all the survivors. The Wives, the Husbands and the Kids, the brothers and sisters, friends and relatives who lost their loved ones. 10 years later, the pain of 9/11 is dulled, but it will never go away. We will never forget.