September 11

I wasn’t working, so I was sleeping. My apartment was at 71 Broadway on the corner of Rector, a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. I used to pass through there all the time, and sometimes eat lunch there or in Zucotti Park.

There’s always construction going on around the downtown area, so what sounded like a garbage truck going over a metal plate barely woke me up. I might have put a pillow over my head and gone back to sleep. But a few minutes later, I heard a much louder sound — a noise, like a crash. I had huge windows that ran to the top of my 13′ ceilings, and I yanked the cord to the venetian blinds to peer out my window. This is what I saw.

Photo by Allen Murabayashi. Copyright 2001

It’s hard to explain to you what was going on through my mind. I turned on my television and grabbed my Nikon D1x with the 80-200mm f/2.8 lens, and started shooting. In the background, CNN was yapping about a “small commuter plane” that had slammed into the WTC. This seemed like an event, and I fancied myself as a photographer. So I threw on a pair of shorts and walked down to the street with no wallet or ID.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous. The street was chaotic. Lots of cops and people moving about. I made my way down Trinity Place as the NYPD started to cordon off streets. I took a turn at Zuccotti Park and talked to JBA on the phone. Details were sparse, but they were watching what was happening from the hotjobs offices and knew that I lived a stone’s throw away from the towers.

As I continued moving north on Broadway continuing to snap photos, I started seeing people emerging from the building — drenched by sprinklers, and they had obviously walked down the stairs to exit the building.

I don’t remember exactly why I turned right onto John Street. Perhaps the police were building a larger perimeter. Whatever the case was, there were a lot of people mulling about. I stopped halfway down the street when all of a sudden I heard the lowest noise I have ever heard in my life. Earth-shaking bass, and a throng of people who started looking at one another trying to figure out what had caused it.

And that’s when the ball of smoke started charging down the street, and people ran for their lives.

We were too close to the building to be able to see it. We had no idea what was happening. All we knew was that there was a smoke ball barreling towards us, and self-preservation instincts kicked in — well, after I pulled off a few frames.

Photo by Allen Murabayashi. Copyright 2001

I often think back to that moment. Should I have charged forward or retreated? But at the time, my only thought was, “I don’t know what’s in that smoke.” So I ran. And even as the dust disappated, I tried to stay ahead.

JBA tried calling my cell, but all the cell service was jammed. My sister called my mom in Hawaii where it was around 5am in the morning. I’ve never talked to my mom about it, but my sister told me that my mom’s legs turned to jelly knowing how close I lived. I was, of course, uninjured, but it’s a strange notion to think that even for a few minutes that people feared for your life.

We marched towards the East River where thousands of people were gathering. Then north into Chinatown. As we turned back west towards the central part of the island, I heard a shriek and looked up to see the second tower collapsing upon itself.

I walked to the Katie’s place in the West Village. The mood was concerned, but still rather light. No one could understand the scope, or what this act meant for the country or the world.

I had no wallet, no ID, and no place to go to. I ended up spending the night at Niko’s place in Soho, and then spent the next 3 weeks with Dave and Diana on the Upper West Side.

A week or so after the event, residents in the affected area were allowed to gather at the southern tip of Manhattan for a chance to enter their buildings with a National Guard escort. After over an hour of waiting, the residents of 71 Broadway were lined up single file and marched up Broadway through the empty street, lined with debris and devoid of power.

We entered our lobby, and were told that we had 10 minutes. With a few flashlights in hand, we climbed single file up the stairs — for me it was nine flights to Apt 9F. The apartment was undamaged, but it reeked of rotten food. Outside the dusty window, you could see a smouldering pile in the distance.

We reconvened in the lobby with a single bag of items. But as we were about to leave, the National Guard yelled at us to get back in. This happened about three times as they were concerned that the adjacent buildings might fall on us. They did not, and we were able to abscond to safety.

Almost a month later, I was able to return, but conditions were bad. Subway service was limited, and the pile continued to smoulder sending the acrid air wafting into the apartment 24/7. It was the kind of smell that drives you insane. Fortunately, I moved to my current residence in TriBeCa a few weeks later.

For many years, the loud sound of trucks going over plates or things crashing down would incite a fear response in me. I also had morbid thoughts of more terrorist events, and hoping that I wouldn’t be in NYC when a nuclear suitcase was detonated. I couldn’t watch specials about 9/11, and why would I anyway? And every September 11 was a solemn day for me and many others. When people say “I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard about 9/11,” I think to myself, “I was running down the street.”

And perhaps strangest of all, whenever the weather is clear and warm on September 11, I still get nervous.

I’m not making this stuff up!