I had been looking forward to Sept. 11, 2001, for weeks.
It was going to be a red-letter day. Bob Dylan’s newest album, Love and Theft, was scheduled to hit the record stores (!) and news of a brand-new Dylan album dropping amounted to a quasi-religious holiday in my mind.
Plus, the distinguished former General Electric Chairman, Jack Welch, had agreed to let me interview him that afternoon about his ballyhooed new book. That would be a page-views grabber for my then-employer, MarketWatch. Plus, the ankle I had injured while playing softball in Central Park in August was starting to feel better. By Tuesday, Sept. 11, I anticipated the beginning of a recovery.
So, I got up extra early that morning. I put on my trusty navy-blue suit. I made sure I had money to buy the Dylan album. I eased the bandage I had been putting around my ankle. I got to the MarketWatch office in the CBS News Building at 524 West 57th Street, at the ungodly hour of 8:25 a.m., and I settled in.
First things first. I called my friend and fellow New York Giants fan, Tim, in his Bloomberg News office in London to commiserate about our football team’s horrendous loss the night before to the Denver Broncos.
Suddenly ...Suddenly, Tim stopped talking about the Giants’ woeful passing game and said “Holy ...”
I immediately locked on the image on the screen of CNBC, which we were both watching, separated by the Atlantic Ocean and thousands of miles. I thought I was watching some pyrotechnics from a new movie. Was that the World Trade Center, only a handful of miles downtown from where I was working at that very moment? How could that be?
It was. I repeated the same two words that Tim had just uttered incredulously and slammed the phone down. I called my MarketWatch editor in chief in our company’s San Francisco headquarters. He had been watching CNBC, too, and urgently asked me to take charge of the story and begin by writing a headline and blasting out a paragraph on the MarketWatch website.
I don’t recall exactly what I wrote. Something cribbed off CNBC and CNN saying, In an apparent terrorist attack...
Pure AdrenalineI was operating purely on adrenaline. If you had watched me work that morning in a silent movie, it would have probably looked comical. I would watch the crawler on CNN for news updates and then write a paragraph of my own, hastily, and slap it on to the words I had already written and posted online. Again, and again. And again.
I did this for a few hours and took a break. My too-generous bosses were sparing no expense that day and told us to order a pizza delivery FROM THE GOOD PLACE in the neighborhood. The idea was to keep us reporters in the office. We didn’t need much prompting anyway. I reckon that our usual eatery hangouts got no in-person that day or that that week, actually.
Someone made an announcement that the ATM in the CBS News Building had been experiencing lots of business. The line in the lobby was already long and the rumor was that it was only giving out a maximum of a hundred bucks, to avoid having a run on by nervous employees, who wanted to stock up on cash. Right then and there.
The rest of the day slipped away. I maniacally typed and my story quickly reached 600 words, then 800 and eventually swelled to reach the figure of well over 1,000. The whole time I was working, I was fielding calls from family members and out-of-town friends who wanted to make sure I was doing OK. My editors from around the country were solicitously asking if I needed anything. My colleagues in the office generously saved the best pieces of pizza for me – then they devoured the food themselves.
By 7 p.m., I was spent. My boss told me to go home. When I protested that I wanted to keep on going, he calmly assured me that I would have plenty more to do the next day and for the rest of the month, and more. Guess what? He was right.
I kept at the story, of course. By the next few days, I started noticing the yeoman work that the then mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, was doing. He seemed to be everywhere in the city. He alternately talked tough and sympathetically, always reminding his New York constituents and the rest of the world that NEW YORKERS HAD ALWAYS PULLED THROUGH HARD TIMES AND, DAMN IT, WE WOULD DO SO AGAIN.
But on that first night, Sept. 11, I walked out of the building at sundown.
I sat down on a bench at the 10th Avenue stop for the 57th Street crosstown bus and reflected on what I had experienced over the previous 11 hours. An older lady whom I had never met before sat next to me.
We looked at one another and shook our heads and said nothing.
There was nothing to say.