The Boston Bombings and Remembering 9/11

Boston Bombings
I came out of class today and heard the news that 2 bombs had just gone off by the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I immediately thought of my cousin, Natalie, who was there running. I’ve been thinking about her all day, as I’ve watched the news. The counts of the injured keeps rising. They are telling us now that 3 have died and 144 are injured or hospitalized. I just got off the phone with Natalie’s mom. She hasn’t heard from Natalie yet, but from her daughter, who says Natalie finished the race before the first bomb went off, with a time of 3 hours, 13 minutes, 9th in her category. She is safe. I am relieved.

Boston Bombings 1

All day I’ve been remembering what it was like on 9/11. John and I were staying in Manhattan at Times Square that week. Our world was rocked that day. Now, even 12 years later, the memories all came rushing back this afternoon. Here are the emails I sent out to my friends that week:

Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 9:51 PM
Subject: I’m in Manhattan, NYC 10:30pm
Greetings, Friends
It’s Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and John and I are sitting in our Hotel room on Times Square–we’ve just come in from a long walk in the city. We woke this morning to our clock radio at about 9:00 a.m., reporting that a bomb had gone off in the World Trade Center moments before. We rushed to turn on the TV and for the next few minutes/hours, we were glued to the TV watching what they are calling “America Under Attack.” The window in our room looks out to the west, the WTC is several blocks south of us. I went out into the hall on our 44th floor and asked a house keeper where I could go to find a southern view. She and I went into several vacated rooms, trying to get a view around the buildings next to our Marriott Marquis. On the corner of the building we found a window from which we watched the Towers burn. It was incredible. Minutes later the towers came down.

Here is a photo I took from the Marriott:
NYC 9-11

This day has been like a nightmare here. We have gathered with our friends in a small meeting room for much of the day feeling like we were watching a Mission Impossible-like movie on TV. The Pentagon was hit, planes were down, and out our windows, we saw smoke billowing for the rest of the day. People this morning stood down below in Times Square watching the big screen TVs that cover entire buildings–the feeling here was one of disbelief.

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We walked for a few hours through the streets of Manhattan this afternoon/evening looking for blood donor centers where we could help give blood. There were lines up to 7 hours long at several of the centers. We were turned away at each, and asked to come back in the morning. The city is quiet. The streets are empty. People are somber. We hear sirens and see police everywhere. Roads are barricaded and blocked off. Shops and store fronts are barred. Hand-written signs are taped on many doors. No taxis, very few street vendors, no in-coming traffic. Subways are closed. People seem deep in thought. People don’t smile, or even speak much. We walked through streets with no cars. We look to the south and see smoke still billowing. Tonight we walked through the theater district where we had planned to see a play. All theaters are closed. We found a little restaurant/pub that was open and it took over an hour to get some pizza–they were so short on help. We’ve just returned to our room–had to show our hotel key to get back into the Marriott.

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The news reporting continues on TV–I imagine many of you are watching it too. We can’t get a phone line out to call to assure friends and family we’re OK, although we got through to our kids earlier. I just wanted to check in with you friends and report on this tragic tragic day. We should be here until Saturday, if we still have a flight home. Tomorrow will be a day of mourning here in the city. We all pray for the victims and those whose lives will never be the same after this day in NYC.
much love,

Ann Lewis

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Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2001 10:35 PM
Subject: NYC update
Greetings again, my Friends
It’s Thursday evening, 11:30-ish and I thought I’d send a little update from Manhattan. Yesterday, the day after, was a very somber day in the city. We stayed in during the morning, watching the news, and seeing the destruction. The streets below our hotel window were almost empty. Lots of sirens and police vehicles. At about mid-day the 10 of us went out into the streets–had a nice lunch at an outdoor cafe. People are quiet, reading newspapers, talking on cell phones. I’ve never seen so many people talking on cell phones. All public phones in NYC are free right now. We overhear fascinating stories in the elevators and on the streets.

After lunch we decided to walk down 7th Ave. as far as we could to the barricades, just to be there. The streets were surprisingly empty. From our Marriott Marquis on Times Square, it was about 50 city blocks (about 3 miles) to where we could go no further. The WTC was another mile or so from there. Streets are barricaded. Emergency vehicles whiz by. And as we got close to the barricades, there was a parade of heavy construction trucks lined up like a herd of elephants trunk to tail. The big red trucks all had American flags flying on their hoods. People waved them on and cheered when they started rolling into the destruction area. On lookers at intersections stood silently with little flags waving them quietly on. The little street cafes had fire workers and police. Security-ish people are on most corners. Signs of missing people are posted on corners and on the sides of parked cars. People here are so quiet. We saw piles of flowers by fire little local fire stations. Flags are everywhere.

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We stood at the barricades for some time watching the smoke. While we were there the rest of part of a building collapsed. More smoke and dust in the air. Many people are wearing dust masks over their mouths. The smell is unusual. Smokey, and bitter. I saw people carrying burned papers that probably blew out of the windows.

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The police at the barricades only allowed people who lived on the other side to pass through. They had to show ID with proof of where they lived. Each ID was carefully checked. Many were turned away. As we watched, I have to say again how quiet it was. Somber. Every once and awhile a family or a couple would come down the deserted street (this is a main thoroughfare) pulling a rolling suit case. On fellow had a couple of large duffle bags and a back pack and a suitcase. He had to stop to rest often. One women and young daughter came out, each pulling a case. I wonder if they had places to go. (At our hotel you have to show ID to get in, and all the rooms are full.) People look tired and dazed. The trucks and heavy equipment kept rolling in. Signs are posted on street corners of relief centers and churches and places to give blood and restaurants offering workers free food. We walked home again after many quiet moments. The skyline is much altered. The dust hangs in the air.

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Today life came back to the city. Traffic has returned. People crowd the streets. Vendors everywhere are selling flags. People crowd on sidewalks reading the news headlines that are broadcast on the sides of buildings. Flags everywhere are half mast. $2.00 NYC t-shirts are going like hot cakes. Businesses are open and people are loud again. People here are getting vocal and angry and are troubled. The dust still fills the air. People still wear air masks. Post cards of the Twin Towers are getting hard to find. (I did buy some, but have no address lists with me.)

We, the women, walked 20 blocks to the local quilt shop for a fabric fix. What a delightful diversion! Then home again. This morning we were able to wait in a line to get tickets to The Lion King–all Broadway plays have been cancelled until tonight. Our friends were able to wait for tickets to The Producers (both have been sold out for a long long time, but people had called in to cancel because they couldn’t get here, for whatever reason). (There were Many empty seats in our theater.)

The play was fabulous, we thoroughly enjoyed it–the costuming was unbelievable. For a couple of hours, I believe we all forgot our tragic memories of the week. At the end, after a rousing standing ovation, Zazoo, the comic, put aside his puppetry and spoke to us. He said they were grateful we enjoyed the play, that the purpose of these performances is to give people a few hours of escape from the cares of their day, and to bring a smile or two to our lives. Then he remembered those who have lost their lives this week and those who are there right now, working hard to find and restore lives. He and the cast asked us to join them for a moment of silence. We all stood with tears streaming down our faces. Then we sang together “God Bless America.” I couldn’t get through it. We exited silently, after that, offering donations to the local Red Cross on our way out. As we walked the 2 blocks home, reading the headlines on the illuminated billboards, we learned of the trouble this evening at JFK Airport this afternoon and evening. Our flight out is scheduled for Sat. p.m. The rest have tickets to go tomorrow. I don’t think any of us will be going anywhere for awhile. I certainly am not in the mood to get on a plane right now. It really frightens me. I would like very much to be home, safe with my dear children.

So that’s the update from where we are today. Please pray for safety for all of us.
Much love, Ann

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Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 1:20 PM
Subject: the rest of the story
Greetings, friends!
This is Friday, Sept. 21, 2001
I’m safely home again–we did get on our original flight out last Saturday evening, returning us safely to SLC late that evening. However, since I’ve been home I’ve been asked so many times what happened at the airport and how we left NYC, I thought I’d just pass along the rest of the story.

On Saturday, the rest of our group left early for the airport to catch a 1:00-ish flight. JFK was “up and running.” John and I had a 5:45 p.m. flight on our original itinerary, and as we checked the web page that morning it looked like it was to go as scheduled. We did a little shopping for the kids that morning–Iverson basketball photo and cards for Adam, a tourist Statue of Liberty in poly-resin for Aaron, and a few things from the Hello Kitty store for Claire. Then a quick lunch at Sbarro’s–pizza–and we returned to the Marriott and got a taxi for the airport. Because the tunnels were still so back-logged, our driver took us through Queens to get to JFK, it took 45 min., which wasn’t too bad. I got a bit car sick in all the weaving in and out–the streets were full of cars again.

Almost every building or residence we passed had an American flag flying. The weather was clear after the heavy rains that fell a couple of nights before. In spite of the rain and the time that has passed since Tuesday, there is still a heavy cloud of smoke over lower Manhattan.

When we arrived at the Delta terminal, we were unsure which of the lines to fall into, so we sent the driver on, and got into the closest line, which was at least a block long. Shortly, we saw another that looked more promising, and as we were getting ready to cart our belongings across the way, another line was opened, which we moved into at an international entrance. After a few minutes in that non-moving line, we decided to head back to the second line because it was moving pretty well. We took our stuff and found the end of that line and settled in with the other waiting people. The officials were checking every single person who came into the airport–you had to have a ticket, or if you had a e-ticket, you had to show your itinerary and everyone had to have a photo ID.

Immediately inside the door was a x-ray table and all pieces of luggage went immediately through the security machines. My hair clip set off the buzzer when I went through, but that was easily taken care of. I had been warned ahead of time not to carry any of my quilting scissors in my carry on luggage–even things as small as fingernail clippers were being removed from luggage. I’d packed all 4 scissors I had in my check-in luggage, and nothing was noticed. (I heard later from my other two quilt friends who had gone through earlier, that they had done the same thing and their scissors were removed. I asked if they got to pick them up somewhere after the flight, and they said they wouldn’t do that, so my friends had to find something to mail them home to themselves in and find a nice worker who would be willing to mail them from outside the airport.)

Once through that line, we were escorted to the line from hell. It wound ziz-zagged through the roped areas in front of the ticketing counters. Hundreds and hundreds of people standing and sitting on the floor quietly and with out many complaints. When we got to the end of that line, we realized it wasn’t the end–the line continued out of that room, down the hall, and into the next terminal. The people were wilted. The looked like they had been there for hours already. We didn’t see any of our friends, and felt bad that they had probably waited through that long long line. When the end of the line was finally in sight, and we were resigning our selves to at least a 3-4 hour uncomfortable wait, a short, dark-haired lady in a blue airport worker shirt came down the line calling for anyone bound for Salt Lake. I could have kissed her. We never got to the end of that line. Instead we followed her all the way back, passed all the people we had just been feeling sorry for. They looked at us and smiled enviously.

We were escorted to the very front of the line, and within minutes, we were through the ticket counter and off to the gate. There were very few people on that side of the airport. The 1:00-ish flight was still sitting out of that gate, waiting to take off and they were trying to consolidate as many from our 5:45 flight on to it as possible. Several were able to just walk right on and make that flight, but we had to wait because our luggage had been checked on the later flight. Any one with just carry ons could go.

So we sat and wrote a few post cards, but all of the mail boxes in the airport had been removed. We tried to call home to let the kids know we would be coming, but all of the phones were dead. We sat in perfect comfort and peace watching the over-stressed ticket guy function without his computer–he had to yell to the next gate for information. It was a mess. That flight finally left and we were moved to another gate and had a couple of hours to wait. We read, and watched the smoke rising over the city through the windows of the airport.

Our flight finally left at about 6:30–it was a larger plane, maybe half full, decent leg room, free movie, and nice service all the way home. The hardest thing about the whole departure experience, through, was watching lower Manhattan from the sky as we flew out. Many of the passengers in the plane came over to the windows and quietly watched the smoke quietly billowing up and up until the wind carried it away into the red of the sunset. The sun was like a red ball sinking over the edge of our country and we watched as we circled out over the sea, and then back right over Manhattan, and on, until we could see it no more. It was sad and eerie and, once again, everyone was very quiet.

We arrived safely home and found our beautiful children asleep in their beds, they had tried to stay awake for us, but they wore out before we came in. They looked so beautiful and peaceful and safe. We are so blessed.

As I think back now, from this safe home far from the tragedy, I’m feeling like it was all a very surreal experience–like some unbelievable dream or action video we saw somewhere about some other place. But as the news unfolds, I’m afraid it’s just the beginning of a life that will never again be the same.

P.S. One story I keep chuckling about that I didn’t mention in the last email. It was from the day we went to the quilt shop last week. As the little Jewish lady was at the cash register, completing the sale on my little pile of fabric, she was telling me that she and her sister, who both live in lower Manhattan had been visiting with each other and decided that they needed to have a supply of “provisions” on hand for the coming weeks. She was quite proud of herself because she announced to me that like her mother before her, she had enough food in her house to last at least a month. She said if someone were to bring 29 friends home for dinner, she would be able to feed them. Her sister, on the other hand, kept no provisions in the house, so she had sent her husband to the store to stock up on some supplies. He returned shortly with a bag containing 2 cartons of ice cream. In frustration, she asked him where the provisions were. He responded “ice cream is all I need.”

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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