In the 19 years that have passed since I watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse, not a single moment of that day has faded from memory. It was my second day on the job as a cub reporter for the New York Daily News, and I am still a bit embarrassed to admit I was running a little late that morning. I had stopped at the elementary school polling station near my apartment in Queens to cast my vote in the mayoral primaries at around 9 a.m. A few minutes later, as I hustled to catch the Manhattan-bound F train, my favorite deli guy—the same one who gave me a free cup of coffee and a bagel, two years earlier, when I had excitedly told him I’d won a scholarship to go to journalism school—asked if I had heard about a plane crashing into one of the towers. “You better get a move on,” he said.
Dumbstruck, I remember running down the stairs to catch the next train—and then the eerie silence when it pulled up to Rockefeller Center in Midtown and the conductor told us all to get off. Upstairs, at the corner of 6th Avenue and 47th Street, the siren red Fox News ticker blared: “New York and Washington Under Attack!” All of Manhattan at that moment seemed to be looking up and south. A girl in a phone booth I ran past was crying. Tears streaking her cheeks, she screamed into the receiver, “Oh my God. I think mommy is in there! She’s working today.”
Only two weeks earlier, I had quit my part-time summer job at the offices of the General Services Administration at the World Trade Center, where I worked as a tour guide at the nearby, historic African Burial Ground. I was in the final stretch of graduate school at New York University, and just before the fall semester started, I lucked into a reporting internship at the Daily News.