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9/11: Dreams in Orange and Black


Remembering that day and its aftermath.


It's hard to imagine life becoming so basic: Shall I burn to death or shall I jump?

I saw people make this choice on September 11.

A couple jumped hand-in-hand from the World Trade Center.

I still can't shake the image from my skull.

September 11 was a perfect late summer day. The humidity had broken, and it was no longer too hot to think. The forecast called for clear skies. I thought about walking down Broadway to Battery Park after lunch at my favorite no-star joint on Fulton Street, about a block-and-a-half from the World Trade Center.

At 8:45 a.m., I was at my desk on the 28th floor of the World Financial Center, just across West Street from the WTC's North Tower. I ran the IPO desk for Bridge News, an international financial wire service that Reuters (TRI) later snapped up in bankruptcy. It was time to review the latest stories from Bridge's overseas bureaus on initial public offerings and update the headlines for the 9 a.m. news cycle.

The roar -- the shrieking crash -- was unimaginable.

No one moved.

No one spoke.

Finally, I joined a few others and stepped to the window.

I saw flaming debris cascading onto West Street and onto the roofs of other buildings at the 16-acre World Trade Center site. The impact punched through the north face of the North Tower, leaving a rough silhouette of what looked like a plane.

"Put out some headlines," an editor shouted. "Plane crashes into World Trade Center. North Tower in flames. Hundreds feared dead."

The wailing sirens converging on the World Trade Center were oddly soothing.

Thick black smoke roiled from the tower's upper floors. Another reporter had a pair of binoculars. Orange flames churned inside the building. A young man had taken off his white shirt and waved it. The window was apparently blown out because there was no glass on the floor, or at least none that I could see. He clutched the window frame. He kept waving.

Later, another man tried to climb down the face of the building. There was no place to get a foothold.

Security announced that my building, the Lehman Tower, was intact and there was no need to evacuate. It was then believed that the plane had struck the North Tower accidentally.

I remember watching cursors flash on row after row of computer screens. The newsroom desks were empty.

Undergraduate Debating Society

My friend, Charles, is now in Chicago studying to be a Lutheran minister. On September 11, he covered oil for Bridge News. He speaks Arabic and has worked in the Middle East. He stood next to me in the conference room overlooking the World Trade Center and asked, "Whaddaya think?"

"It must be a terrorist attack," I said, based on nothing but the seat of my pants.

Charles didn't agree with my snap judgment.

Like idiots, Charles and I grabbed chairs in the conference room and discussed the situation with the earnestness of undergraduates muddling through Shelley's "Ode To The West Wind" for the first time. I glanced north at the towers of Midtown. I picked out the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, with its familiar Art Deco spire, the wedge of the Citigroup building and thought, "God, I love this place."

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