9/11: What Brings You Back? MetroFocus Staff Stories…and Yours?

9/11: What Brings You Back? MetroFocus Staff Stories…and Yours?

August 25, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Is there an image, place or object that instantly brings back your experience on or after 9/11?

For me, it’s a hulking, rusting, rotting pier on the Hudson River that always makes me think of September 11, 2001.

Pier 1 on the Hudson River near West 70th Street where MetroFocus Editor in Chief Laura van Straaten watched the plume over the southern tip of New York city on September 11, 2001. Metrofocus/Laura van Straaten

I went down to the water that evening at dusk to get out of my apartment after hours of watching the news and trading hundreds of emails and calls with friends and family near and far.

I put sneakers on my feet and a Led Zeppelin CD on my portable CD player (the first iPod still being months away). The cruelly clear, blue sky was already deepening past orange and pink to a majestic hue as I looked to the west, over the Hudson, toward where most of the rest of America lies. There were people walking alone and in clusters all around me; it was as if we were all looking for something from the city, the river, each other.

That part of Hudson River Park in the West 70s was new then. I walked down to a months-old promontory angling out into the water — farther than you’d think — such that when I turned back around to look at Manhattan. I could see south and east to the lingering smoke plume from the destruction of the World Trade Center just ten hours earlier.

And above me there was this rusting relic from a railyard nearly a century ago, a time when trains, certainly not planes-as-bombs, ruled the world.

It’s now 10 years past  but I never walk that part of the city without thinking back to that day. That old structure, more than any other thing, brings tears to my eyes now just as it did on that sad, purple evening, signifying to me decay, death, time and the suddenly personal pain of history itself.

Is there an image, place or object that instantly brings back your experience on or after 9/11?  The MetroFocus staff shares their stories and images below. And we’d love to hear yours too.

Email MetroFocus@WNET.org or post to Facebook a 200-word description of what it is and why it reminds you of 9/11. Be sure to include a photograph if you can. We will let you know if your submission is chosen for publication.


A land line telephone, the only method of communication working on Sept. 11 2001 for MetroFocus Publicist & Social Media Editor Charnée Perez. Flickr/gfpeck

Charnée Perez: “It’s called ‘the reorder tone’ and it’s the sound you hear when all phone circuits are busy. It is the most annoying and terrifying sound you can hear when trying to reach a loved one in a time of emergency. Back in 2001,  I was sitting in my sophomore English class at my high school in Brooklyn when the announcement came in over the loudspeaker that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Immediately I grabbed my cell phone to call my two brothers who worked just two blocks away from the  towers. No call would go through. Instead that “doot-doot-doot-doot” sound was all I heard every time I dialed. I felt helpless and frustrated and scared. After a dozen failed attempts, my teacher said  I could use a land-line the school had set up for emergency calls. Eventually, I reached my mother who came and took me home, where we waited for news about my brothers. My brothers eventually called the family from a payphone to say they were alive, though we didn’t rest until we saw them walk in the door, covered head-to-toe in ashes from the towers. When absolute chaos hits the city, it’s still the sound you hear: during the blackout of 2003, after the tornadoes of 2010 and after the recent earthquake. And for me, that sound always triggers the haunting feeling of despair and uneasiness of 9/11.”


"MDK2," a sci-fi video game for PC, helped Production Coordinator Daniel Allen cope with the events of 9/11. Flickr/Indusfr

Dan Allen: “In September 2001, I was a sophomore in high school. I used to be a big video gamer back then and I had been playing a sci-fi shooter/puzzle game called MDK2. In the game three characters all defend Earth from invading aliens:  a mad scientist, a janitor with a special spacesuit and a four-armed talking (and smoking) mutant dog.  When I got home after school, I continued to play the game late into the night, keeping the television on in the background. There was something comforting about being able to control this virtual world while the real world seemed to be in complete chaos. I remember saying to my mother, ‘I’m scared,’ but then it was straight back to the game. If I had been older, I might not have chosen such a distraction but I guess it was my way of coping. I beat the game that night.” –Dan Allen



Students at the New School University in Manhattan marched through Soho during an anti-war protest in the fall of 2007. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis

Sam Lewis: “I took this photo during my first year of college in New York City. My peers had organized a series of anti-war protests for that fall, to coincide with the anniversaries of Sept. 11 and the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan, on October 10 (2011 marks a decade at war).  When I look at this image, I am reminded of why I was initially drawn to photojournalism:  I thought documentary photography could be used as a tool for social and political change. When I was 12 years old, watching a television screen in my middle school’s library, I saw the first tower fall. Today, I can barely recall the sequence of events , it’s out of focus in my memory.

In the years following 2001, I observed Washington’s mounting obsession with national security and how the Bush administration wove the attack on the World Trade Center  into a narrative about freedom, redemption and democracy that enabled our nation to pursue a series of actions that, as an impressionable teenager, seemed unjust: an abridgement of civil liberties, detention without due process, violence and occupation and warrant-less wiretaps. I felt confused, frustrated, paralyzed and without a sense of power.  Coming of age ‘post-9/11’ not only shaped my perspective on politics, but it also influenced my decision to pursue journalism. I thought an independent and critical press was more urgent than ever, and I wanted to participate.”


The hang tag MetroFocus Senior Editor Heather Grossmann created for her short-lived fashion line in the wake of leaving New York after 9/11. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis

Heather Grossmann: “This image represents to me the topsy-turvy detour my life took in the aftermath of 9/11. With a soon-souring economy, I was let go from my marketing position at ToysRUs.com, where, from the company’s Fort Lee, N.J. offices I had watched the southern tip of Manhattan burn. I took my severance package and moved to Guatemala to start a pants company. To this day, I don’t know exactly what possessed me and a friend to think that starting  ‘Siempre Sexy’ was a wise move: a country we didn’t know, a language we didn’t speak, a sector neither of us had ever worked in. ‘It seemed liked a good idea at the time,’ we said to each other when we returned in the fall of 2002 to the U.S. with little to show for ourselves. Well, little to show save for an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime and isn’t-that-what-we-are-all-here-for? adventure.

Maybe I would have done something that impulsive even if 9/11 had never happened. I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine the me I am now making such a seemingly insensible decision. But it was a decade ago. And things were different. The little tag hangs from a magnet on my refrigerator and serves as reminder of the person I was for that one year.”


TI-83 graphing calculator. Web editor John Farley's stolen calculator symbolizes a loss of innocence for him. Ebay/expressdiscountz

John Farley: “I grew up in Baltimore. A number of my peers’ parents worked at the Pentagon and other federal buildings. The ultimate geek status symbol for my peers and me, prior to the iPhone, was the solar-powered TI-83 Silver Plus graphing calculator. This mighty, sandwich-sized machine featured parametric sequence modes, limited calculus functions and access to a veritable ocean of downloadable games, including the copyright-savvy ‘Super Mario Land World.’ On September 10, 2001 – early in my freshman year of high school – my mother bought me this device. The following morning, I walked into my first period health class, brandishing my sexy new gadget, certain that my days of being stuffed into lockers were numbered. Within five minutes, my TI-83 was missing — possibly lost, more likely stolen. So I was underneath a desk scouring my backpack for the taken thing, when my health teacher told the class that the World Trade Center had been attacked by terrorists. Why does my long-lost TI-83 remind me of 9/11?  Maybe it’s about the numbers. There were so many numbers that day. The number of names read over the school loudspeaker of all the terrified children who were called to return home. The growing numbers of estimated dead ticking across the bottom of television screens. I recall a foreign, dissociating inability to process these numbers, as if the theft of my TI-83 were to blame.”