September 11, 2001. Many of us have just seen the World Trade Center in flames. We're commuting in just after 9am. The WTC is visible from so many vantage points around the city that it's hard to miss the huge plume of smoke and fire. People on trains in from Long Island and New Jersey shared a collective gasp as we stared in horror at what was unfolding in front of us.
The situation keeps getting worse after we get into the office. We find out that it wasn't just a sightseeing helicopter or private plane, it was two hijacked jets. We have friends in the air, headed for JFK. No sign of where they might be. Dozens of acquaintances are missing in the towers—many of the people in our offices do regular consulting work in the financial district.
Then the buildings collapse. There's so much dust and rubble that we thought that maybe only the top 20 stories or so went, but both towers were leveled. The Pentagon was hit. Dozens of planes were still in the air, some unaccounted for. We were in the middle of Manhattan, not far from Times Square. We just had to get out of the building. So we started walking. Everyone else had the same idea. The streets of the city were packed, morbidly abuzz about what everyone had just seen. Every city vehicle with a siren seemed to be racing right past us. Buses stopped taking passengers so they could go help evacuation efforts. Bridges and tunnels were closed, and the trains all stopped. We were virtual hostages on Manhattan Island.
Some of us actually managed to get off the island that afternoon. There was very limited train service, so the trains looked like news footage of the fall of Saigon. Everyone was talking to everyone else. For one afternoon, there was no reluctance to reach out to others. Part of it was just a desire to know that the day had really happened, and that maybe knowing that others had lived through the same thing would set an appropriate frame of reality. A man was sitting on the train, covered in soot and holding a badly fractured arm. Everyone gathered around him to try and get him medical attention. He couldn't even speak, instead nodding yes and no as his eyes focused on nothing in particular in space. The ambulance arrived at the station to help him, but he disappeared into the parking lot and presumably drove himself home.
We were back at work on Wednesday. Some people who stayed in the city were able to make it to the office, while others picked up anything they could from home. The reality was setting in more quickly now, and the ability to at least mix in some work helped some (but not all) of us stay focused on something other than the pervasive images of our city being exploded.
Thursday was a "regular" workday. Just getting to the train station was a painful activity. There were cars parked in the lot that had been there since Tuesday. They'll be there until they're towed or claimed, but their drivers are gone now. Every day on the train, there's a bunch of familiar faces—strangers who you would instantly recognize on the street. Some of them would change trains to Brooklyn, headed for lower Manhattan. Some of them are just gone forever. One guy riding back on Thursday night had been on the 56th floor of the second tower when the first tower was hit. He ran like hell and survived. Two of the three vendors he was with at the time are now dead. He went back to work because he had to, and he wanted to show that we would not be defeated. "You just go in for as long as you can stand it, then go home."
We debated whether to delay or skip this issue, because there was simply not enough time to complete it. But a small triumph happened. Everyone on our staff has pulled through, fighting back real tears of loss, and we've done it. We realize it's nothing compared to the struggle being put up at the time of this writing by the rescue crews, families, and friends of the missing, and the people who have been made homeless by this atrocity. But we're just some of the millions of New Yorkers and billions of world citizens who refused to let the sudden change in our lives control us. We're immensely proud of the efforts of all involved in getting the magazine out this week, even as it pales in the face of current events. We've already beaten the terrorists, no matter what happens from here on out, and we did it without firing a shot.