September 11, 2001 taught me never to take anything for granted. It was also the day I became a true patriot. That morning I was at work in a downtown Washington DC office a few blocks from the White House. A colleague had turned on her TV after hearing about a plane crash into one of the towers. Soon enough a crowd of us watched as things got worse. I”ll never forget seeing the White House staff evacuating — running across the lawn.
That’s it, we’re out of here. Hands shaking, I sent an email off to family and left the building. As my colleagues and I said good-bye to each other, I thought, will I see you again? Will we ever return to this office? What will happen next? Has everything changed? That may sound overly dramatic but that’s how it felt that morning in DC.
Traffic wasn’t moving and the nearest Metro station was already closed, so the sidewalks were full of people trying to get home while tracking down the whereabouts of loved ones. Strangers talked to strangers, evacuating the city en masse like a well-dressed refugee population. People from all walks of life were gathered together around car radios listening to the news, or shared worries, information and rumors with those walking next to them. There were rumors of a bomb at the State Department. The towers were gone, the Pentagon was burning, planes were headed this way possibly. I was never so scared.
I headed in the direction of home. My cell phone was useless, circuits were down. I wondered about my brother and my friends who worked in DC. Where were they? It was only three miles to Rosslyn, across the bridge from Georgetown. From there I could walk another three miles home or catch a ride somehow. I ended up finding a bus in Rosslyn. All of us, passengers and driver, sat close to each other and talked the whole way, not your typical DC behavior.
At home on my balcony I could see the smoke from the Pentagon and hear F-16s in the air, a sound like cappuccino steamers that we would live with for weeks. Roads into DC were closed off miles above the bridges. I decided to stay home rather than go over to Scott and Mary’s, my best friends, so I could be near my home phone and in touch with my family near and far. It was a shocking and sad day. I remember the powerfully emotional moment watching the senators and reps singing God Bless America on the Capitol steps. When darkness fell every window of the apartment building across the street was full of candle lights, as I’m sure my building was too.
Then later that night when I didn’t think I could be more emotionally drained, I remembered something that sent me over the edge into tears again – Windows on the World. An entire restaurant’s staff and all their guests gone. Somehow that brought it all horribly close to me. I guess because I can imagine the minor details of their last hours before the plane hit, the random reasons why a waiter or line cook or dishwasher or manager would be there at work, or wouldn’t. Oh, god, I cried, I still cry. The tragedy and crime of 9/11 was always real to me, but that made it more personal.
If you can bear to read a few stories about Windows on the World, I’d like to share these with you. I’ve got to go get a tissue, again.
Alexandria Heim writes about her dad, the Director of Catering in My Dad, Windows on the World and 9/11 at Fox News.
Windows on the World chef Michael Lomonco escaped 9/11 but dedicates cooking to friends he lost, a story by Amanda Sidman.
It took Cal Fussman ten years to write this Esquire piece about his experience as a sommelier at Windows.
Martha Teichner from CBS News reports on Windows, before and after.
Ruth Reichl remembers Windows on the World, it was never about the food, she said.
Hug everyone a little tighter today, be thankful for living in this great country and remember those who lost their lives and loved ones.