Research flashback: seven years ago today

September 11th, 2008 by Jack Styczynski

As our two presidential candidates visit Ground Zero and everyone else recalls the events of seven years ago, I mark today as the first 9/11 since the WTC attack that NBC’s Information Center (i.e. research department) is back in Manhattan after spending the interim years in Secaucus, New Jersey.

Most of our days pass by without making much of a dent in our memory, but I remember virtually every detail of my work day on September 11th, 2001.  Although the first plane struck before I boarded my train into Manhattan, I was totally oblivious to anything out of the ordinary until a conductor announced that a plane had hit the WTC, and subways out of Grand Central Terminal may not be running downtown.

This was probably about 45 minutes after the first tower had been hit and there was no mention of two planes or both towers, so I deduced some sort of accident involving a small plane.

When I exited Grand Central North, I could tell things were more serious.  Everybody was on the phone, listening to radios or watching TVs.  One taxicab raced up the street with dust all over it.  I looked straight down Madison Avenue and saw one of the smoldering towers.

I still had no idea it was an attack.  Now I was thinking it was a really bad accident and I was in for a busy day of research.

It wasn’t until I got in the elevator at NBC and someone told me both towers had been hit that the terrorism light went off in my head.

As soon as I walked into the InfoCenter, I was told to turn around and go home. Everyone except those absolutely essential to keeping the network on the air was being evacuated.  We would do our research remotely.

I walked back to Grand Central, and now, just 15 minutes after I’d exited, it was closed.  No trains running.  As a Westchester resident, I was trapped in the city with nowhere to work remotely.

So I just went to my church, joining many other “trapped” people who had the same idea. 

Two hours worth of prayer later, I was feeling bolder.  I decided to walk back to NBC and convince security that I was absolutely essential to keeping the network on the air.  The security guy told me I was crazy and I was on my own, but he let me back up to the office.

Of course, the phones were ringing off the hook with research requests.  I called my two bosses and told them I’d made my way back into the building and I could use some help.  They came back in, and we took requests until the phones finally went quiet that evening.

But nothing was quieter than the streets of midtown.  I’ve seen quiet NYC streets on Sunday mornings, during blizzards, etc., but never anything like this.  They say the city never sleeps, but on the evening of September 11th, 2001, it was taking a serious power nap.  After another trip to my church to check out the largely abandoned regular Tuesday night service, I headed back to the now re-opened Grand Central, walking right down the middle of the street.  You don’t need a sidewalk when you don’t encounter a single car.

Upon reflection, the thing I remember most about that day was how calm I was.  Before the city emptied, I saw panic all around, yet I never joined in.  I just kept taking what I thought was the next logical step.

I’ll never forget it.

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