Back in 2001, I was working as the assistant general manager at a fine dining restaurant at The Plaza hotel in New York City. On the night of Monday, September 10, I was visiting my dad on Long Island. I decided to spend the night and head into Manhattan in the morning.
The next day, I woke up to a beautiful, sunny, crisp morning, feeling the arrival of fall in the air. To start the workday at 9:00 a.m., I used public transportation. I took a 7:50 a.m. train from Long Island that would arrive in NYC around 8:40 a.m. I headed up the long staircase from Penn Station to 34th Street, to the subway that would take me directly to The Plaza.
While walking and enjoying the gorgeous Manhattan weather, I heard the deafening sounds of jet engines and noticed the shadow of a plane flying very low overhead. I didn’t even pause or think about it. This was NYC, where strange things often happen, and I continued walking. I arrived at work using the tunnel from the subway stop that led straight into The Plaza.
How I found out
When I walked into the office, my boss asked how I got there. I was confused when he told me a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. At that time, it was still assumed that this was an accident and that some kind of small plane had hit the tower.
I went to the cafeteria around 9:00 a.m., where there were TVs, to check out the news. As I watched coverage of the burning tower, still with thoughts of it being a horrific accident, another plane hit the second tower. It was silent in the cafeteria as everyone tried to process what was happening in New York City.
Reacting in real-time
I rushed back to the small office I shared with the general manager and executive chef. We did our best to stay calm and make a plan for what we would do next. It was the first time any of us had experienced an event like this. We offered guests who were having breakfast and our staff the chance to stay if they felt safer in the hotel. Or they could leave right away. The management team would stay behind to secure the restaurant.
Everyone chose to leave. They all wanted to get to their loved ones during this challenging time.
The chef, general manager, floor manager, and I stayed behind. We quickly met with the hotel GM and security team. We needed to ensure our whole team and guests had vacated. We hurried to check every inch of the restaurant. We shut down the kitchen, secured all the doors, and locked up the banks in the safe.
Then we met up again on the floor of the dining room. We each decided that we also wanted to leave and go to our families. Sometime around 9:45 a.m., we hugged each other goodbye and left through the security exit.
I lived in Sunnyside, Queens, then, and no trains were running. The only way to get home was to walk across the Queensboro Bridge, which was packed with many people doing the same. It was eerily quiet as everyone looked at the towers engulfed in flames in downtown Manhattan. I was about halfway across the bridge when everyone stopped in their tracks and watched as the South Tower disintegrated into a cloud of ashes.
It was only 10:00 a.m. on that beautiful fall-like morning when I realized New York City would never be the same.
In the coming weeks and months, I attended 34 funerals and memorial services. That is not a typo. 34. Experiencing that day changed me. It changed New York. It changed America.
On this day of remembrance, let’s each take a moment to pause and think about what unfolded on that day back in 2001.