I was on my way to New York that day.
I was working in Los Angeles as IT director for a company called LPI (a job I had moved to LA to take only a few months earlier), and we had offices in New York as well as LA. September 11, 2001 was to be my second trip on company business, and I was excited to go as I loved any chance to visit New York. It was early in the morning, and I was getting my things packed and ready to go to LAX. My friend Dustin was going to give me a lift to the airport, and just as I was finishing my prep he called me to tell me to turn on the TV, there had been some small prop plane that had hit the WTC. He asked if I thought this would affect my flight and I said that although that sounded like a terrible accident, I doubted it would affect me and I would see him at my place in half an hour. It was around 6am (my flight was for 8), and I turned on the TV to watch the news. Sure enough, a plane had hit one of the towers and several stations were carrying it live. And then, the unimaginable happened. Live from the scene, watching with my own eyes, a second plane hit the other tower.
I spent the next couple of hours glued to the TV, watching the unfolding horror of the other planes and the collapse of the towers. I tried in vain to reach people in New York via email and phone, dealing with a few small contingencies for the office in LA which was to be closed that day, and hanging out with Dustin. We wandered aimlessly that day through what seemed like a ghost town. We wondered if LA would be hit, and how. We were in shock, like everyone.
It was two weeks later (when the air embargo had lifted and I was able to get a flight) that I finally took that trip to a very changed New York. People were still in a state of shock, with a kind of end-of-the-world pall hanging over everything. Everyone was drinking heavily, taking an array of drugs, and generally trying to numb themselves in whatever way possible. I made my way down to the still-smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center, and noticed a sickly odor in the area, what seemed to me like a combination of dust, concrete, and vaporized human remains. But the worst of it for me were the xeroxed 8.5 by 11 pieces of paper that were stuck to walls everywhere I went in the city. Rows and rows of photos and sketches of faces. Notes about missing loved ones, and how to contact their families with any information. By the time I got to New York, they must have already given up hope of finding them, but there they still were, everywhere. Thousands of them. For some reason, for me, this is the image most burned into my mind from that time. The lost love and lost hope of ever finding them, but still there, calling out in vain.