Memories of 9/11 from a dual-city dweller of Manhattan and Baltimore

20 years ago, I was sleeping in the Upper East Side apartment I shared with my ex-wife, Ashley Pound. She had gone off to work at the NYC tourist magazine where she was art director, “In NewYork.” On my musician schedule, I woke up about 9 AM to a frantic voicemail from my neighbor Mary Pat across the hall. “David, you’ve got to turn on your TV! Planes have crashed into the building! Everything is crazy! We’re being attacked…” It was a Monday.

I can’t remember which images I saw first on the TV, but I remember trying (still on land lines!) to call my family back in Baltimore, then trying to call some local NYC friends. First the long distance phones lines weren’t working, then they started working but the local lines weren’t working. I slowly figured out what had happened. Ashley called from the office to tell me what she was doing… like the other freaked-out-yet-calm-and-businesslike New Yorkers, she and her staff were going about their jobs - deleting all photos and references to the “Windows on the World” restaurant and cocktail lounge in their magazine’s calendar listings. Because that business was in the World Trade Center, which was no longer open for business. That was about 10 or 11 AM, I recall….

In the late afternoon, Ashley walked the 50 blocks back to our apartment on E 87th Street from her offices at E 38th Street, near Grand Central Station, because the subway was down. When she got home about 4 PM, I got ready to leave the apartment and go donate blood, but then the TV news, which I kept on all day, announced that the blood banks were totally full and could accept no more blood donations, because it would spoil. So many generous New Yorkers had already donated. I stopped in my tracks. I travelled every month between my other home back in Baltimore, and a trip was planned for that Thursday, so I started to think about my next moves.

It was also announced that there was only one-way traffic allowed on the bridges and tunnels; you could leave Manhattan but you could not enter. The Holland Tunnel and lower span of the GW Bridge were immediately closed to all truck traffic. This restriction is still in place in some form, 20 years later.

The subway was re-opened on Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday. I remember because I got on the subway to pick up one of our Mac tower computers, which we had left for service at TekServe, an amazing ahead-of-its-time repair shop which has since closed its doors:

As my route took me down Ave of the Americas (aka Sixth Avenue), I remember there were large military vehicles right on the Avenue, looking like a war zone. The other image I remember is how every available piece of building storefronts became covered with posters of people looking for their missing loved ones who they suspected had been in the Towers. New Yorkers came together helpfully, like never before or since.  The locals were big fans of First Responders for about a year, with the Fireman’s Photo Calendar becoming a hot item.

Around Thursday, I packed my music gear in the car I moved every day to different parking spaces on E 87th Street (because of one-side-street parking restrictions) and made my way to one of our row houses in Fells Point. We had become accidental landlords, because our properties were “under water” from the real estate crisis of the early 90s when we moved to NYC. Besides our tenants in 2 houses, I had a small single bed in one room where I stayed while working music jobs in Baltimore and DC. 

It was surreal to be in Baltimore just days after the crisis in Manhattan, where everyone was solemn and life had all but stopped. I felt like they didn’t “get it” down south. I went to the Cat’s Eye Pub, and I felt like, what are you all doing dancing and drinking? Don’t you know the world has stopped? I totally understood why Letterman had basically put his show on hiatus. I knew Baltimoreons understood and respected what had happened in NYC, but it was not the same. I never looked at someone’s local crisis in another city the same way again.

I can’t remember if it was days later or weeks later that the anthrax scare began; I only remember that, even the Baltimore post office (as well as my NYC mail location on E 85th Street), postal workers were wearing rubber gloves and carefully handling each letter and package, looking for the white poison powder. That sort of tied it all together for me; there was a crisis that everyone understood in different cities.

A couple months later, I was looking for temp day job work, and I took a class from a successful “legal proofreader”  in her midtown NYC apartment.  In Manhattan, there were all-night legal jobs available, proofing time-sensitive contracts for typos and inaccuracies at large legal firms. The instructor had developed 9/11 Cough, even in midtown, 3 to 4 miles north of the Towers.

My first trip near Ground Zero was not for several months, when I went to J&R Music near the financial district for a good deal on a music keyboard. There was an alley nearby, where someone had stacked layers and layers of burned-out, broken, damaged electronic gear, presumedly from the Towers. It was all neatly stacked for blocks along the alley curbside; for once, electronics were siting un-touched (and un-stolen!) on the streets of The City. 

When I first went on a carefully controlled routed visit following the designated barriers to the Big Hole about a year later, the streets around the former Trade Center were filled with the echoing sound of the way-overplayed country song “I’m Proud to be an American” blasting from DVD players on merchant tables in every block, accompanying a video for sale of the “Sights and Sounds of 9/11” being peddled by dozens of street vendors. Commercialism and tourism had taken over the spirit of 9/11, and New Yorkers were back to being ever-quibbling rivals.

A year of action in Afghanistan started after the Towers came down, throughout 2002, searching for the man mosts Americans blamed and hated, the attacking mastermind, Osama Bin Laden. Then, around Valentine’s Day in 2003, the streets of Manhattan were filled with half a million carefully routed and controlled protestors of the emerging military action in Iraq. Somehow the war on terror took a turn from Afghanistan to Iraq, and the next chapter began.

That’s how I remember it all in 2001.