A Journalist in Times Square

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

I wrote this email to my goddaughter, who grew up in California, on August 28, 2006. She was 10 years old at the time, and she had asked me where I was on September 11, 2001.

So on Sept. 11 I woke up early so I could go vote that morning. I did not turn the TV on since I wanted to get out of the house soon. I walked to the polling station (where you vote) and voted. Then I took the train to work, as I always did. [I lived then on West 176th Street  in Washington Heights, one of the northernmost neighborhoods of Manhattan—I had grown up in the Bronx. I worked at Urban Latino magazine, down on Varick Street in the West Village, about 30 blocks from the World Trade Center. That meant I had to traverse the length of the island daily.]

When I got about halfway down on my way, we stopped at one of the stations along 42nd Street, which is the center of the city. The conductor announced that the train was being held in the station because a small airplane had crashed onto the antenna of the World Trade Center. All the passengers in the car started grumbling since we were all going to be late for work. So I decided to get out onto the street and take a taxi the rest of the way.

When I got up on the surface there were a lot of people walking in every direction and many of them huddled in groups talking about something major that had just happened. Then I saw some people, especially women, running up the street away from downtown. So I got nervous and checked how much money I had in my wallet. Exactly $2! Not enough to get me to work or home. So I started walking toward the bank, which was closer to the center of Times Square.

As I got closer to Times Square there were many more people in the area—thousands—and traffic had stopped. Everyone was looking up at the giant television monitors on the sides of the buildings in Times Square. CNN was on and they were showing video of a plane hitting one of the towers. I was stunned. It was so surreal and unbelievable. And it was happening about 50 blocks away from where I was standing.

People were really quiet around me. Just watching the footage of the attack and reading the closed captioning as it described what happened.

Then I realized that I was standing in the center of the city, and that if we were under attack, they might attack Times Square since it’s the heart of NYC. So then I walked really fast to the bank and took $40 out to take a taxi home. I realized it was too dangerous to try and go to work since I worked close to where the towers where. I walked all the way west, away from Times Square and towards the river because I thought if they attacked the area I could jump in the water and swim across to New Jersey!

Anyway, I soon realized that no taxis were stopping to pick up passengers since everyone just wanted to go home. So I thought I’d have to walk all the way home, almost 150 blocks. Then a bus stopped—it was packed with people—and I went toward the back door. Two guys opened the door and pulled me straight into the bus. I was crammed in by the door but at least we were moving faster than if I were walking. As the bus headed north, away from the center of the city, I saw thousands and thousands of people walking in every direction.

The bus did not go all the way to my neighborhood so I ended up taking a taxi for about 30 blocks. Instead of going straight home, I went to the hospital where my uncle works since I did not want to be alone (also, my cell phone did not work so I wanted to go to his office and use his phone and computer to let everyone know that I was okay). I spent most of the afternoon at his office, emailing my friends and family and reading the news online. Then I went home and watched the coverage until very late that night. It was a very sad day.

I hope you never have to experience anything like that.