How the September 11 Attacks Made Me Rediscover New York

September 11, 2014
culture, safety, USA, USA featured, USA stories
How the September 11th Attacks Made Me Rediscover New York

In 2001, Manhattan was still new to me. I first began exploring it one year earlier as a high school student on the Upper East Side, and until then, Manhattan was a place for Broadway shows, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Museum of Television and Radio.

Then, when I was 14, I was tasked with mastering the subway, which led me to learn about transfers–the painstaking half-run/half-walk from one subway to the next. No matter how fast or slow I traveled, I always experienced a sinking feeling that I’d just missed the train. Instead, I often chose to take the long route, walking twenty blocks to the E or the F. That’s how I began to discover the city.

How the September 11th Attacks Made Me Rediscover New York
My favorite activity was walking the city streets aimlessly.

I am from Queens, technically part of the city but definitely no Manhattan. Manhattan is completely walkable and constantly changing, with a new energy and feel every few blocks. A Manhattanite friend once told me to meet her on 96th and Lexington, just where the Upper East Side becomes East Harlem, so that she could lead me down a handful of Manhattan’s many microcosms. She wove us through old-money Park Avenue through corporate midtown to the bright lights of touristy Times Square to trendy Union Square to Little Italy and then Chinatown–all within a few hours.

After the September 11th attacks, Manhattan became a totally different place. For at least a month afterward, it was a ghost town.

On the streets of Manhattan, I could blast my music in my ears and walk the streets untouched, all the while surrounded by thousands of people. I could find whatever I was looking for, or nothing at all. It was energizing and overwhelming and calming all at once. Manhattan was not a friendly place–I could fall flat on my face and no one would help me up–but coming from a suburban part of Queens, I relished the anonymity.

walking down the upper east side
My friend, Shira walking on Lexington Avenue to our high school in 2004

After the September 11th attacks, Manhattan became a totally different place. For at least a month afterward, it was a ghost town. People standing on the subway platform eyed each other suspiciously. More than once, I switched train cars, unnerved by someone who looked strange. For a while, I took the express bus to Queens instead, thinking that it would be safer to be above ground. Every New Yorker felt the fear of sudden death at some point.

But at the same time, world weary New Yorkers became deeply patriotic. Everyone, I along with them, wore USA regalia—pins that said, “United We Stand” and FDNY t-shirts. One day, I got on the wrong bus home in Queens and the driver decided to drop me off right outside my house. My mother was confused, and asked me if a new bus stop had popped up next to our living room window.

In today’s Manhattan, the post 9/11 patriotic fervor is no more.

Each year afterward, I would try to observe 9/11. There were two years when I went down to Ground Zero, stared at the empty pit where the Twin Towers had stood and read the notes from family members to their lost loved ones.

But life goes on, pain subsides, and things revert to what they once were. In today’s Manhattan, the post 9/11 patriotic fervor is no more. Once again, crowds hurry down the street, and there’s nothing I love more than grabbing a cup of coffee and feeling the rush as people move past me, never once acknowledging my existence.

But ask a New Yorker about September 11th and suddenly, she will slow down, look you in the eye, and tell you how it changed her and her city forever.

statue of liberty
My mother and I ride the Staten Island ferry, with the Statue of Liberty in the background

 

About Rachel Sales

Rachel SalesRachel Sales is a co-founder of Pink Pangea.

18 thoughts on “How the September 11 Attacks Made Me Rediscover New York

  1. Avatar
    Sara Kahan
    September 13, 2013
    Reply

    Rachel,
    It was so comforting to read your piece while I am away from NY and missing my city. Thank you for bringing it closer 🙂 Looking forward to returning to your blog! I hope all is well!!
    Sara xo

    • Rachel
      September 16, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks, Sara! So sweet of you!

  2. Avatar
    Ilene Rosenthal
    September 12, 2013
    Reply

    Rachel- How beautifully expressed. Thank you.

    • Rachel
      September 12, 2013
      Reply

      Thank you, Ilene! Hope all is well with you!

  3. Avatar
    Marilyn Seidenfeld
    September 12, 2013
    Reply

    A truly insightful and well written article. A pleasure to read.

  4. Avatar
    Naomi Horowitz
    September 12, 2013
    Reply

    Your words come from your heart, and are so real. Beautifully done.

  5. Avatar
    patti perry
    September 11, 2013
    Reply

    Beautiful, compelling article about your post September llth experiences. You are a terrific writer!

    • Rachel
      September 11, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks, Patti! I appreciate it.

  6. Avatar
    Papa Sy
    September 11, 2013
    Reply

    It is a moving article. It was a day everyone remembers where he or she was at those moments. I was attending a meeting at the Mariott Hotel on Times Square when we heard the news. Everything stopped. For me it was Pearl Harbor again, only closer to home.I still find it difficult and unconfortable to go to Ground Zero, but that horrible day can never be forgotten but it must be overcome. Love, Papa Sy

    • Rachel
      September 11, 2013
      Reply

      Thank you, Papa Sy. I completely agree with you.

  7. Avatar
    Judy Novick
    September 11, 2013
    Reply

    Reading this on 9/11 is so timely and it is so well said. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Avatar
    Diane Landau
    September 11, 2013
    Reply

    Thanks, Rachel for a great article. Its comforting to hear from someone who understands how I felt before, during and after 9/11. I was in 7 World Trade. I remember life before 9/11, the period shortly after (what seemed like forever) I went back and continued to work downtown for many years and watched the city overcome the initial trauma and renew itself better than ever and now 12 years later, still commuting back and forth and working in midtown Manhattan I still marvel how life has returned over the years and how I appreciate NYC and most of all starting from that day 9-11-01…such respect for my fellow New Yorkers…the funny thing as each year brings us further away from that awful day..one thing still happens which never goes away…if my express bus stops in the middle of the tunnel during rush hour traffic….its amazing how the panic sets in 12 years later…I guess I will always carry it with me as a reminder of that horrible day that changed a people, a city and a nation..forever….Keep writing!!!

    • Rachel
      September 11, 2013
      Reply

      Thank you, Diane. I appreciate your words.

  9. Avatar
    cara trager
    September 11, 2013
    Reply

    This is the most poignantly written piece I’ve read about 9/11 — and it certainly captures my own pre- and post-9/11 sensibility about the city I adore.
    I’m Rachel’s mom — but I say all this with utter objectivity. Honestly.

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