I do not have a dramatic 9/11 story. If you’re looking for one, read no further. And even though this is an arts blog, this post doesn’t have much to do with the arts. I just felt a need, on the 17th anniversary of 9/11, to write about what that day was like for me. So here it is.
Of course it started as a perfectly ordinary Tuesday. My wife, Andrea, had already left to go to her job in midtown Manhattan. I was getting ready to go to work in Newark, where I was a rock critic for the daily newspaper, The Star-Ledger. We lived, as we still do, in Montclair.
I was listening to “The Howard Stern Show” on the radio as I was getting ready, and they started talking about a report that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings. I honestly didn’t think of terrorism at first. I didn’t know what to think.
I went to turn on the TV, but before I got there, the phone rang. Andrea. She told me what had happened. “Yeah, I just heard,” I said. Since she was in midtown, she wasn’t in danger, but she and her co-workers could see the towers from their office windows.
I turned on the TV and watched for a while, stunned, like everyone else. Maybe for an hour, maybe a little more. And then I went into work. There would be a newspaper the next day, after all.
I had talked more to my wife, and she had decided to stay in the city a while. She thought it would be too difficult to get out, right away. We didn’t have a daughter yet, so we just had ourselves to worry about. Of course we called around to relatives — or maybe emailed — to make sure no one happened to be near the site. No one was. My mother lived in Mahwah. A couple of years earlier, my brothers had been living in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I was in Hoboken, but by 2001, by coincidence, we had all moved out to the burbs.
As I drove into Newark, I remember getting to a certain street corner that had a good view of Manhattan. People were just standing there, watching the smoke rise from the buildings, both now fallen. I’ll never forget that.
When I reached The Star-Ledger, I learned that we were putting out an “Extra” (i.e., a special midday edition). I had been at the paper since 1989, and I don’t think we had ever done that before, in those 12 years. “Extra, extra, read all about it” was something that just happened in the movies.
Some of our Features Department editors were working an extra shift in News, helping to get the Extra out. Our reporters and photographers did amazing work. One of the senior editors who lived near Ground Zero interviewed people, and called in the quotes; a photographer who lived in Jersey City managed to get the last ferry into Manhattan (before they stopped running) and got some stunning shots, injuring himself in the process. Both the Extra and the regular paper that we put out the next day were things to be proud of.
I contributed in the most mundane way: I put together a roundup of concerts and other events that had been postponed or cancelled. Virtually everything in the 9/12 paper had to do with the attack. The Features section carried stuff like my roundup, and a list of places where people could give blood. Probably a column about how television had covered what had happened, and another one about how to talk to your children about what had happened.
It may sound silly, but it was important to me that my name be in that 9/12 paper. For the record to show, forever, that I had contributed to it; that even on such a monumentally horrible day, I had gone to work and done something.
Andrea managed to get a ferry to Hoboken, but the trains weren’t running to Montclair. But they were going to Chatham, where her parents lived, so she went there, and I picked her up after work. I remember seeing, as we drove home, a firehouse with the lights on, and lots of people in it; surely, they were figuring out a way to help.
I don’t remember much about the next few days, except staying glued to the news, and writing daily updates on all the arts events that were continuing to be cancelled or postponed. If I remember correctly, the cover of the Friday entertainment section was mostly black, and my centerfold story, all about the things that weren’t going to happen that weekend, had the lede, “Sometimes the show doesn’t go on.”
That weekend, though, there was a big gospel concert scheduled for Riverfront Stadium in Newark, and it took place as scheduled. I went, and wrote about it. I’m not Christian, but I felt uplifted. And things slowly started to get back to normal. I wrote lots of articles on benefit concerts for the victims’ families, and 9/11-inspired songs, and so on. Andrea and I had our daughter, Sarah, in July of 2002. Bruce Springsteen did his The Rising album and tour, and when he did 10 shows at Giants Stadium in the summer 2003, I went to them all, and wrote about them.
It’s funny, but for a year or two, I would talk to people from the music industry in other parts of the country, and they seemed to think that surely, since I lived in Northern New Jersey, I must have known lots of people who were directly affected. But really, I didn’t. I mean, we were all affected, of course. But no one I knew was in the buildings, or on the airplanes, that day.
I’m sure that goes for a lot of other New Jerseyans, too. The relatively lucky ones.
Yet I still think about that day sometimes, and run through how it went, in my mind. I want to remember: To be able to talk about how it was for me, in case anyone asks. I don’t think anyone ever has. But it feels good to get it down, finally, in written form.