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My September 11th Story…

September 11, 2001 – New York

I’ve struggled a little bit with September 11th over the years. There have been a couple of times where I have been obsessive about it, going over and over the 9/11 Timeline… and others where I do everything I can to block it out. I am working on it. Still.

Everybody has their September 11th story. A lot of them are what people remember seeing on TV …or the phone call that alerted them to what was happening. The person that told them.

Other stories are of devastating loss or being a witness to true heroics.

My story isn’t especially dramatic or interesting, but I figured I should jot it down while i am still here on this planet. Perhaps it will mean something to someone some day.

I was in a ‘radio dream job’. I was the afternoon host on WXRK (K-ROCK) in New York City. The #1 media market in the country… and My afternoon show was the bookend to our morning show: Howard Stern. I worked with some fantastic and very talented people there. Of course there were also some people who thought they were big stars, and their attitude showed it. BTW: Not Howard. Howard was extremely generous and gracious. So was Robin, Gary.. and especially Fred. Fred is the best!

So it was September 11th: My kid’s first day of first grade. I held his hand as we walked up to the school. I remember… (and i think anyone you talk to who was in NYC that day would mention this).. I remember what an amazingly perfect day in weather it was. Just one of the most beautiful days I had ever seen. Cool, clear, perfectly blue skies. I made sure he had his lunch, kissed him goodbye and headed home.

8:55am

When I got home the phone was ringing. I picked it up and it was my mom. She asked if I was OK. This was nothing new. If there was a brush fire in Albuquerque, she would call and ask if I was OK. She said a plane had crashed into a building in New York. I told her it was fine, hung up and turned on the TV.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. How could someone get off course THAT much that they would crash into the biggest, most obvious building in New York? The TV said it was a small plane, and it was hard to gauge the size of the hole since the building was so dramatically huge. Then I started thinking about what must be…

9:03am

BOOM! A second plane crashed into the other building. The news anchors thought they were watching another view of the first attack… but to me it was clear. This was a terrorist attack! I sat there stunned for a moment as the realization of what was happening washed over me. I had to get my kid!

9:11am

I put on my shoes and jacket. I went into the kitchen to pick up my hat and I happened to look at the digital clock on the wall. It was 9:11am. I thought to myself about the coincidence as I opened the apartment door and heard sirens. I didn’t think about the date 9/11. I was thinking about the clock showing ‘911’ – the numbers you call when there is an emergency- and the fact that this huge emergency was going on.

I ran up to the school and went into the office. “I want to pick up my kid and take him home”. The person working the front desk looked confused. I said “You know.. the plane crash? The World Trade Center”?!?

Still confused, she said “You want to take your child out of school because of a PLANE CRASH?”

I did. She told me he would be on the playground at this time of day and it would be difficult to find him with so many children running around. They halfway tried to stop me, but I darted toward the playground and found him. I took his hand and walked back to the office.

9:45am

I went to the desk. The same woman was still behind the counter, but behind her was the principal who was on the phone. She was saying “Oh my God! Oh my God!” She covered the mouthpiece of the phone and made an announcement to the other staff in the room: “They’ve hit the Pentagon! It’s a terror attack! They said the Whitehouse will be next!” The principal looked at me waiting to sign my kid out. I was the only one there trying to get my kid! She said “Just take him!” .. and I did.

I tried to remain calm and explain to my kid what was happening in a very kid-friendly way. That was difficult, but I didn’t want to lie to him.. and at the same time, I didn’t want to needlessly traumatize him.

10am

We were about halfway between the school and my apartment when a taxi cab with its window rolled down pulled beside us to match our pace. The driver looked at us and I looked back. He appeared to be in complete shock and apparently was just looking for another human being to talk to. He had tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke. “It’s gone! The whole thing is just… GONE!” I must have looked confused. “The whole building is gone! It collapsed! The World Trade Center has collapsed! It doesn’t EXIST anymore!” He sped away.

Between what the cab driver told me and what I heard in the office, I had no idea what to expect next. Are they going to attack the entire city? Are they taking down the entire government? The whole world is falling apart!

10:28am.

After I got back to the apartment I watched the second tower fall on TV.

It was just about a month before that my parents had visited me in New York, and I had taken my dad up to the very top of the World Trade Center. I knew a guy who ran the entire tourist part of the tower. “Windows On The World”. There was a restaurant, a place to but t-shirts and amazing views of New York. I had also been on the very top of the ‘South Tower’ (2 World Trade Center) a few months before that. I was invited by Fred Durst to come up while they filmed a video for the Limp Bizkit song “Rollin'” (which had won an MTV award the night before 9/11) I got to be on top of the helipad at night. It was such an amazing view. And then there was the Red Hot Chili Pepper concert in 1999 that K-ROCK had done on the top floor of the building. So many memories of that place.

Because of my experiences with these buildings, all I could think about was how all of that marble and brass, equipment and offices, cables and furniture, girders and… just all that ‘stuff’ could be reduced to a small pile of rubble. I couldn’t comprehend it. I tried my best not to comprehend the people. I knew several people who worked in those buildings. A friend who worked for the Secret Service, a couple of Organized Crime Dtectives with NYPD… I knew Matt Pinfield had a kid in a nursery there. Then there were the countless people who had just … gone to work that day. Just a normal Tuesday. Get up, shower, go in to work. get ready for that big meeting… and minutes later they are considering how their life will end. I tried to block all this out.

I had to make a few calls to clear the day and find out what responsibilities I needed to take care of. It just so happened that I had recently sold a TV show to MTV. We were supposed to finalize the deal on a conference call that morning. I cancelled. My kid was supposed to have a playdate with a friend to celebrate his birthday that day. Cancelled. I called a car service to see if I could get my family out of the city. The woman at the company explained to me that they had absolutely no cars.. and even if they did, every single bridge and tunnel from Manhattan was now closed. Nobody was going anywhere. And Finally-
I had to call in to work. I was just a music “DJ”, but still I worked for CBS and I was a radio host, so I needed to know the scope of my responsibility. I spoke to the Program Director who told me “if I could”, please come in that evening. So I just sat there, answering calls from worried friends and neighbors, and like the rest of America and the rest of the world, watching it all unfold on TV.

4:35pm.

Time for me to go to work. I walked there – to the building on 57th street from my apartment on 72nd. The streets were quiet. Less cars and -maybe the only time ever: NO HONKING. I could hear sirens in the distance constantly, and every so often a firetruck or police car from some neighboring county or state would wiz by with lights and sirens. All the way from places like Massachusetts and Connecticut. Every once in a while a US military fighter jet would fly over and you could see everyone within sight flinching simultaneously. I think every single person had some sort of odd and sudden PTSD. The sound of a jet made you think an impact was imminent.

One of the clearest memories I have of that day was when I was walking past a news stand. One of the headlines of one of the papers was something about a Whitney Houston concert. Another headline was about a teacher who – as it turned out – had participated in a bank robbery 30 years ago. Another was about whatever Liv Tyler had worn to an event. I actually said out loud, “Well. We’ll never see headlines like that ever again”. Little did I know we would all hit the ‘snooze button’ and before long headlines about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears would be on the front page.

One other odd thing about my walk to work that day: I was almost to the office, walking along 57th street, when a man in a long brown jacket stepped out from a building and started walking along with me. I glanced up at him. It was Tom Brokaw. Knowing that this man was extremely intelligent, up on world events and had even written history books- I had to say something. “So, Tom. What do you think”? Neither of us looked at each other and we continued our walk, but his reply was immediate and deeply reassuring: “We’ll be alright”.

5:45pm

I got into work and the station was simulcasting the audio from CNN. We had made some quick ‘handshake’ deal with them in order to keep people informed. No music, no hosts. Just CNN all day. The PD gave me my instructions before he let the building: “Tonight, after the president finishes speaking, take us off CNN and start playing music. I’ll get somebody here to relieve you later tonight”.

What SONG do you play in NEW YORK CITY after the President of the United States gives an historic speech about the life-changing terror attacks that had JUST taken place and removed the two largest, most iconic buildings from the Manhattan skyline? I fretted over this for a few minutes and finally decided that there were NO good choices. I picked the only song I could think of that would send the message I wanted to send.

Uncertainty causes fear. The unknown causes fear. There was certainly enough fear to go around in that city that night. So the question becomes- What do you do with that fear? Do you let FEAR control you? Do you let FEAR drive your decisions? We have no idea what tomorrow will be like… or the next day or the next day. Will you let fear decide for you? …or will YOU take the wheel and steer your OWN life?

8:30pm

This is the song I chose.

8:35pm

INCUBUS – “DRIVE”

Sometimes, I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear
And I can’t help but ask myself how much I’ll let the fear
Take the wheel and steer

It’s driven me before
And it seems to have a vague, haunting mass appeal
But lately I am beginning to find
That I should be the one behind the wheel

Whatever tomorrow brings
I’ll be there with open arms and open eyes
Whatever tomorrow brings
I’ll be there, I’ll be there

And it seems to be the way that everyone else gets around
But lately I am beginning to find
That when I drive myself my light is found

So whatever tomorrow brings
I’ll be there with open arms and open eyes
Whatever tomorrow brings
I’ll be there

8:39pm

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