9/11 Stories

Justin Guavin

I live right across the water from the World Trade Center in Jersey City. I LIKED those buildings. I had just been there a few days earlier, having taken the ferry over with my girlfriend who just moved here from LA. We walked through the atrium, we went to the mall, bought some things. I’ve never been able to go there since 1993 without thinking of the bombing…. Just walking around underneath it always made me think about what would have happened if they had succeeded with the bombing. It was unimaginable. We even spoke about it. Her and I were talking about what would HAPPEN if they fell (thinking however of them falling OVER, not collapsing, and trying to figure out how many blocks away would be laid to waste). We were going to go up to the observation deck, because she’s never been, but at the last minute she said she didn’t feel like it right then (which she since regrets horribly). I think our conversation kind of turned her off to going up there right then.

Justin Gauvin
I emailed this to my friends along with my story to let them know I was OK.

The morning of September 11th I walked a few blocks over to the Grove Street PATH station and went downstairs, oblivious to the fact that one of the towers had been hit. Service to the WTC had already been suspended due to a “Police Emergency” at the World Trade Center, the intercom announced. I didn’t think much of it, because that happens from time to time on the trains. I got out of the train in Manhattan and when I was approaching 5th avenue (at 21st St.) on my way to work there were all these people staring down 5th. When I crossed it I looked down to see what everyone was looking at and I saw the fire. I was thinking that there was just a fire, albeit a large one, I was thinking “Towering Inferno.” At that point I could only see that one tower was in flames (even though both had been hit by then, the 2nd while I was on the train). I took a few pictures and continued to work. Then I got to work and found out what happened.

I wasn’t surprised. I thought it was long overdue. I had always said that it’s only a matter of time. New Years 2000, I left the city. I was certain that SOMEONE was going to do something insane. I mean, if you had something to prove, WHERE would you do it and WHEN? New York on New Year’s Eve. (I only recently found out that there WAS something planned for New Year’s Eve, but was foiled.) And I was disappointed when something DIDN’T happen, because in my mind, something WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, at some point. It was inevitable. And at least if it happened on New Years, I could predict it and not be in the area. But since it DIDN’T happen then, I had no way to prepare for it when it DID.

Atrium beforeAtrium after
A picture I took of the Atrium a few days prior to the attack (and a present comparison shot).

My entire office was all in the conference room watching it on TV all morning. When they collapsed, nobody said anything. We just stared, in complete disbelief. It wasn’t real. It was insane. It was just impossible. They ended up evacuating our building because of it’s proximity to the Empire State Building, a potential target. There were no cars on the streets, just people everywhere. So many people because so many had to leave their buildings, but couldn’t get home to Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx or New Jersey because all the bridges, tunnels and trains were shut down. Then I heard that the midtown ferry boat was running to Jersey City….. I didn’t know when the trains would be back up and didn’t want to risk being stuck in Manhattan overnight. No cell phones were working, and even regular phone service in Manhattan was not working, so I hadn’t been able to contact anyone who was worrying about me. So I walked all the way to 39th St. & 12th Avenue which took about 45 minutes. I arrived to the pier to see a long winding line of about 5000 people. But everything was very organized, and the line was moving very quickly. They apparently had all the ferries that normally serve the downtown ferry at midtown and were just constantly shuttling people across to Jersey. They weren’t charging people. The wait in line took about 45 minutes, which is really good when you consider that I estimated the line to be about 5000 people. The line was constantly moving, almost never still. My estimation was confirmed when we got the head of the line and a NY/NJ Waterway worker told us that they were moving 1000 people onto the ferries every 10 minutes. Unfortunately the ferries were only going to Hoboken, which is kinda close to Jersey City, but farther than you would really want to walk. When we got off the boat they were asking everyone who may have been within 10 blocks of the WTC to step to one side. There were all these medical tents set up and people walking around in chemical suits. I guess there was a chance that the hijackers may have had biological agents with them on the planes. So I was thinking of course that if there WERE chemical/biological agents and that people from that area might be infected, then the simple fact that we were all on the boat TOGETHER meant that shouldn’t we ALL be checked? Apparently, later that night they started to just hose EVERYONE down who got off the ferries with fire hoses and then made them stand under showers for 10 minutes, clothes and everything. I assume if I had Anthrax or Ebola I’d be dead by now, so I’m not too worried. There were free buses running, but not really near where I live, so I spent 45 minutes walking from Hoboken to Jersey City. All the main streets were shut down even in Jersey, and when I crossed where the New Jersey Turnpike exits to the Holland Tunnel leading to NYC, what is usually 10 lanes of traffic jam-packed was a ghost town. It was eerie.

NYC Skyline
A picture I took from Jersey City 3 nights after the attack.

New York just feels really weird right now. People are walking around with candles every night, there are silent memorials and vigils in almost every park, there are cops on every corner, F-16’s flying overhead, troops in the streets, aircraft carriers in the harbor, everyone is really quiet. Every building, and especially in the train stations, have homemade fliers with people’s pictures on them asking if anyone has seen them, etc. And it’s so desperate and sad, because they always list what floor the person was on, and it’s more often than not 90th floor, 103rd floor, etc….. And it’s just so sad, because they are OBVIOUSLY dead (who can survive a 110 story fall to the ground, even WITHOUT being buried under tons of rubble?), but they are trying. Lots of the parking lots in Hoboken, NJ and Jersey City, NJ where a lot of people commute from are cars that nobody has come back to get. There’s an apartment complex near me that my friend lives in, and the management put fliers on everyone’s doors asking them to check in with the main office to make sure that everyone is OK ... and so many doors still have the fliers on them.

It’s surreal and I’m just utterly depressed.

Justin Gauvin,
Jersey City