Twenty-six seconds after 8:46 a.m. eastern daylight time, on Tuesday, 11 September 2001, I was alone in the basement of my Brooklyn Heights dormitory, doing a load of laundry. I had no way of knowing that, approximately one mile northeast of me, the world was changing.
Shortly before 9 a.m., a woman poked her head into the laundry room and told me I was “missing all the excitement” outside. There was a fire at the World Trade Center. She didn’t seem at all concerned, so I didn’t rush in packing up my belongings before returning to my 12th floor room.
I flipped the TV to news channel NY1 to see if they had any coverage of the fire I’d heard about. I tuned in just in time to see the north tower collapse.
Instinctively, I guess, I burst out into the hallway and made a beeline toward the fire door at the end of the hall. I ignored the alarm that blasted as I pushed open the door and emerged on the roof to see a scene I will never forget as long as I live.
Just across the river, the two mammoth towers that welcomed me to the city just two weeks prior when I arrived in New York to attend graduate school at Baruch College were gone, replaced by a towering pillar of black smoke and dust that hung stark against the cloudless blue sky. It was hard to imagine that I had climbed to the top of one of those towers shortly after my arrival as I scrambled to do all the touristy things in the city before the school year began.
As my eyes drifted downward, I was struck by another sight. The Brooklyn Bridge was overflowing with humanity. There wasn’t any space between what appeared to be thousands of people streaming across the bridge into Brooklyn. TV footage of these people, covered in soot and debris while street vendors gave the walkers water to drink and fruit to eat sticks with me even today.
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It wasn’t too long before I could begin to smell the destruction. Thinking it probably wasn’t very healthy for me to inhale the remnants of the debris drifting toward Brooklyn, I made it back to my dorm room and met up with my roommate. Not knowing where else to go, we opted to go to Clark’s Restaurant, a diner next door on the corner of Clark and Henry streets that served as our de facto commissary during our time in New York.
There was a general feeling of shock inside Clark’s, which was packed to capacity. The conversations that were taking place were muted. I caught the gaze of a woman at a nearby table who had a We’re-New-Yorkers-We’ll-Get-Through-This-Don’t-Worry look on her face.
In fact, that’s what I remember most about my experience in New York during and after 9/11. New Yorkers went out of their way to look each other in the eye, engage in conversation and do all the things the stereotypical New Yorker isn’t supposed to do. There was no pushing on the subway a couple days later as I made my way to campus at the corner of 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue, despite the fact that more people were riding my subway lines because of other closures.
Ten years have passed since that day. I’ve attended a lot of hotel conferences where executives bring up 9/11 and talk at length about how the industry’s performance has not gotten back to where it was on 9/10. It’s difficult for me, though, to think of that day in terms of revenue per available room and average daily rate. For me, it will always be the sight of hoards of New Yorkers calmly walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, a menacing, black cloud of dust hovering over them.
I know I’m not the only one with recollections of 9/11. Please leave your thoughts and remembrances on HotelNewsNow.com’s Facebook page, or message me via Twitter @shawn_turner1.
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