I remember my first time in New York City, in 1982. It was a high school orchestra trip to Lincoln Center to hear a matinee performance of the New York Philharmonic. As our tour bus crept through the jammed streets we slowly passed by two identical buildings, so massive that I nearly strained my neck trying in vain to look up to take in their full height. I remember being amazed, and I vowed that one day I would return to view the expanse of the Big Apple from the towers' upper floors.
I remember waking up on the morning of September 11, 2001. I had a hardcore gym habit then, so I normally got out of bed around 5:30 to workout before I headed in to do my midday show. For some reason, on this Tuesday, I decided to skip my workout and sleep in a little longer. I lay in bed for 15 minutes or so, but I couldn't get back to sleep, so I turned on CNN. I remember smoke, flames, and not believing my eyes.
I remember being riveted to the TV and watching in horror as the second plane hit. Jolted by the realization that they probably needed all hands on deck at the station, I rushed to shower and dress so I could get to work early. As I was getting ready Steve walked into the bedroom with a look of gloom and announced, "One of the towers just collapsed." I would never have the opportunity to climb to the top of those towers after all, as I had vowed nearly 20 years earlier, but that was by far the least of my worries. I remember my heart sinking.
I remember my Muni ride to work, the headphones on my tiny radio blocking out the noise around me. Only there was no noise around me -- the other passengers on the bus were stunned silent. I was glued to KCBS, the local news station, which was now simulcasting its sister station from New York, WINS. Every minute or two the jarring music used to announce breaking news made my heart beat faster. Bulletin after bulletin, each bit of information more excruciating to hear than the last. The first reports came of people jumping from the upper floors of the Twin Towers to escape the flames. I remember desperately fighting back tears.
I remember arriving at Z95.7 to complete chaos as everyone struggled to keep up with the deluge of information, trying to sort fact from fiction. Gene & Julie, our morning team, were making a valiant effort to try to make sense of it all for our listeners -- while struggling to make sense of it themselves. I walked into the on-air studio and Julie asked me, "Can you believe what's happening to our country?" I remember being speechless.
I remember going on the air at 10am, my control board littered with whatever scraps of paper I could grab to jot down information that was now flooding into the studio. The airports were closing. The Golden Gate Bridge, a potential target for the terrorists, was also closing. Government buildings were shutting down and sending employees home early. Somehow I got through those five hours in one piece. I remember feeling completely drained at the end.
I remember my Muni ride back across town to get home, once again glued to KCBS. Downtown San Francisco was a ghost town because all of the offices had closed, as its Financial District was also feared to be a target. For the entirety of my ride home, during what would normally be a busy rush hour, I was the sole passenger on my bus. I remember feeling really unsettled by that.
I remember being on the air the next day, fielding phone calls from listeners. They were confused, afraid, angry. But I most remember one particular phone call from a college student who was being harassed on campus simply because she was a Muslim, her tormentors operating under the twisted logic that all Muslims were terrorists. I remember the pain in her voice, and the anger I felt on her behalf.
I remember going home that day, turning on CNN -- unable to turn away from the horrific video that seemed as if it were on an endless loop. I had USA Today spread out on the coffee table, reading about the lives of the victims that had been identified thus far. I was on the couch sobbing inconsolably as Steve arrived home from work that evening. I remember him closing the newspaper and turning off the TV.
I remember how, in the ensuing days, so many Americans came together to do what they could to help. Local blood donation centers were so crowded that people had to be turned away. A handful of us from "the Z" went to Oakland City Center to hand out small American flags, and the line stretched down the block. I remember feeling a glimmer of hope amidst the tragedy, and that hope is what keeps us going ten years later.
Always hold onto that hope. And always remember.