Friday, September 4, 2009


In 2001, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was a client of mine at MRM Gillespie. The Port managed the World Trade Towers. Part of our job for the Port was to promote the Towers -- to drive traffic there -- make them more of a destination. They wanted the everyday worker and families of Lower Manhattan to visit more, shop the retail stores, enjoy lunch there. Throughout the summer we promoted a live music luncheon series that took place between the two towers; we also held a children's festival for Lower Manhattan between the towers. A few weeks prior, my son, husband and I were there enjoying the space, the silence, the beauty. Looking up at the beautiful sky framed by the soaring spires and stretching up with them to the sky. That was August.

On the morning of September 11, I boarded the New Jersey Transit Train on my way into the City. For some reason my credit card wouldn't work. The portly fellow at the Trenton Train Station I've chatted with many mornings for years said he is having trouble connecting -- the credit cards aren't working. I took my bags and headed down the stairs to the platform. I think I have cash. Yes, cash. Ticket. Perfect. We started on our way. Then stopped. And waited. And waited. Something's wrong. Reverse. Please get off the train. Take your belongings. Get off the train. We are not approved to go in to New York. When? We're not certain. When will we know? They won't answer. There's no communication. Back upstairs. I could hear the hearts beating.

Everything poured out slowly like a gentle, flowing surreal dream. The sun streamed through the large windows. A crowd gathered around a small TV with a wire-hanger antenna shaped like a diamond. "What is it?," I say to a young, brown-haired man with a tattered leather briefcase. "What's going on?" He doesn't look at me. "Look. It's the Tower." Through the fuzzy screen I see the tower smoldering. I reach out for it. Someone looks at me to see if I can help. The man with the tattered briefcase answers his phone. "We're under attack," he says. "They just bombed the Pentagon." I go back to the TV. I have to focus there. My head is having trouble. I hear my name. It's been an hour. I hear my name again. My husband is running across the train station. He looks panicked. "You're here," he says. "Thank, God. You're here." "Something's going on with the Towers. We've got to go." We head home.

We have a large screen TV at our house. It was way too big for the room. The Towers fill my den. There is smoke everywhere. I try calling work. I can't get through. I try calling. I can't get through. I'm holding my husband's hand tightly. And then it goes. The South Tower explodes into a ball of gray. What is happening? No! I'm screaming. No! No! I reach again for the TV. I try to hold it up. I try to hold up the tower. My face is wet. Tears are streaming. No! My son is so confused. "Mommy, are you OK?," he says through Peter Jennings voice. I hear him, I do. But. I can't speak. I run to the bathroom and get sick. I can't breathe.

Several hours go by. They're gone. The towers are gone. Burning. I stare at the screen -- my shirt is wet. Where is everyone? I get a call finally from work. We have to get emergency messaging together for the families of the Port Authority. The entire media relations team was in the building. I sit down to write. "All families of Port Authority employees please call the hotline for information." I call the TV stations. Give them the correct number. They were all in the building.

Two days ago, I saw DDB Brazil's ad for WWF. I lost my breath. A nightmare. All those planes. The rumbling. I felt myself reaching for the City again. I got sick. Again.

We all get the point. The tsunami was immense when comparing the number of lives lost. But this is too close for us. We lost colleagues, friends, family members. The images are too powerful. For those of us close to the City, for those of us who lost people, for those of us...for all of us...the images are too powerful. They weren't just buildings. They were America.


Allison said...

That is an unbelievable story, Gretchen. I'm glad you're here to tell it. But wow, that ad made me sick. I suppose that was the point. Talk about effectiveness.

SullivanHK said...

Powerful memories. Holding Cushman Wakefield ad for the New York Times weekend edition. Full page ad. Towers 1 and 2. Viewpoint from base looking towards the sky. 8:55 a.m. 9/11. Have to check proof and send to NY Times to make deadline. Headline on ad says "A big deal...a very big deal. Client just signed a company to a 99 year lease in Tower 1. A Big Deal! 9:03, 9/11. Sit down still holding ad. Crying in disbelief. Tower 2 just hit.

We have clients in that building. We have a photographer's team scouting for a shoot in the station below. We have people on their way to meetings at the Port Authority. We have friends there. It was and is a very big deal.

WILLIAM said...

This is very powerful. I waited until today 9-11 to read it.

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