Rich Thomaselli | September 13, 2016 1:45 PM ET
Sept. 13, 2001: The Day I Went Back To Work In NYC
Everybody remembers where they were on Sept. 11, 2001, the worst day of terrorism on U.S. soil.
It’s no different for me.
I remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday. I was working in Manhattan, but I had previously asked my then-boss if I could take Tuesday, Sept. 11, off from work. We were living in the Hudson Valley region of New York, about 90 minutes north of the city. My wife and I had a 10-month old that we were putting into daycare for the first time as she was preparing to go back to work the following week, and I asked my boss if I could take the day off to be there and hopefully ease the apprehension – for my son and me.
As we drove home with the radio off and no smart phones back in that era, everything seemed blissful.
We walked into the house and I heard the answering machine beep, and walked over to see the ‘11’ flashing. We were gone less than an hour. I turned to my wife and said, “Eleven messages in 50 minutes? Before I hit that button let’s prepare ourselves for the worst news.”
It was, of course.
But as much as I remember Sept. 11 so vividly, so too do I remember Sept. 13, 2001 in equal detail – the day I went back to work in New York City.
And what struck me about that Thursday was not so much the other people going back to work, but the tourists, both on the commuter train I was riding and in New York City itself. I remember one woman who was staying with relatives near where I lived riding into Manhattan and somberly telling her daughter that, at one point in the ride where the train was bending away from the Hudson River that you could ever-so-slightly see the Twin Towers in the distance.
But not anymore.
She began to sob.
The commuter train from upstate arrives at Grand Central Terminal in the heart of midtown, the grand, sprawling, art deco train station that is a hub of activity between the trains from upstate and Connecticut, and the subway below that takes riders to their final destination.
The enormous Grand Central lobby was one of the places around New York where loved ones began putting up pictures and notes of family members and friends and boyfriends and fiancees, asking, “Have You Seen …?” and adding contact numbers. To say that it was heartbreaking and gut-wrenching would be a gross understatement.
Yet, I remember another woman, another tourist, who said she was from Georgia, consoling a woman who was from nearby Westchester County who put up a sign because she had not heard from her boyfriend, who worked downtown near the Towers. The woman from Georgia said to her, “Honey, I am staying right upstairs in the Hyatt (the hotel attached to Grand Central). Whatever you need. Do you need something to eat? You can charge it to my room. Do you need a place to lie down? Whatever you need.”
Whatever you need.
Oh how today such an offer would be met with guarded skepticism yet, on that day, during that time, it was as sincere and poignant as could be.
And I remember another man, having lunch downstairs in Grand Central’s food court, saying he and his wife had just come into town from Ohio on Monday for a week and had theater tickets for every night. He told us he probably wasn’t going to use them even if they did reopen the shows on Broadway. Almost at once we practically pleaded with the man to go, to keep his tickets, to help the city start returning to a sense of normalcy – and, ironically, we said that on the same day that then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani famously said in a press conference, “You want to help us? Go see a show.”
It’s amazing what you recall in such moments.
But that’s just another side – a side I hope we never see again – of tourism and tourists in action.
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