I Submit This Every year on 9/11. I Escaped Ground Zero on a Bicycle I found in the Rubble AMA.Tweet
I live at the northwest tip of Manhattan and have been here for almost 20 years. On 9/11 I was working on Broadway at an office across from the famous wall street bull, which is a few blocks south and a couple of blocks east of the WTC. I would take the A train to Broadway-Nassau and exit a couple of blocks east of the towers. That morning my train arrived at the station and as soon as the doors opened I heard a cop yelling "everybody out of the station, there's been an explosion" The fact he said explosion and not fire (fairly common in the NYC subway) kind of pricked at my brain, but I was hung-over and grumpy and just walked to my usual exit.
As I climbed the stairs I could see the street was jam packed with people all standing still and looking up. I turned to look over my shoulder to see what they were staring at and saw both towers on fire, raging fire. I overheard people saying two planes had crashed into the towers and I knew immediately it was a terrorist attack. Then I realized this would be considered an act of war and there would be hell to pay.
At this point I was on Broadway and John St in front of the NASDAQ building, which is a huge black skyscraper adjacent to the towers. The cops were trying to hold everyone back but there were too many people and honestly the cops weren’t trying too hard, they were also staring up at the buildings. I remember seeing what seemed like hundreds of women’s shoes littered all over the place and I realized that a lot of the women commuted wearing sneakers and they kept their shoes under their desks. The blast just blew them out all over the place. Shoes and thousands of sheets of paper were everywhere.
I grabbed a coffee at a nearby deli (as I said I was wickedly hung-over) and made my way back to my spot to watch. We saw people leaping from the windows and it was surreal how long it took them to fall. I remember thinking how horrible it must be up there if the better choice is to jump to your death. I’m not sure how long I was there for but I was just thinking to myself “How the fuck are they going to put these fires out?” when I heard the most almighty sound I’ve ever heard. It was a shrieking, tearing type of groan. Almost like God had grabbed a handful of steel H beams and ripped them in two. At that moment the front of tower 2 just fell off and slightly forward roaring and crumbling.
Everyone panicked. I’ve never seen people move so fast. I ran south down Broadway but after a few steps I thought “Shit I have to see this”. I turned around and saw that the whole building was collapsing; it was simply incredible. Then the debris cloud came barreling up and over the top of the NASDAQ building (which has to be 40-50 stories tall). I can’t quite describe how fast the cloud moved. Those French guys who made the documentary kind of captured it but not quite. That’s when I ran for my life.
I zigzagged down Broadway and the cross streets, looking back over my shoulder as this cloud of debris came rushing up behind me obliterating everything in its path. I could feel small chips and stones tinkling on my neck and hair. Then the cloud blows through the intersection in front of me and I duck into a glass fronted deli (there are 4-5 on every block in that neighborhood BTW). The deli is packed, and as myself and few other people running next to me run through the door someone slams and locks it behind us. All you can see is ash out the windows and then there are people’s hands banging on the door and someone yells “let them in” Someone opens the doors and immediately we all start to cough and choke as the dust and ash pours inside. I stayed in there for quite some time, people weren’t saying much, some were crying. What was interesting is nobody took food or drinks from the deli. I still had my coffee somehow which I sipped to help clear the dust in my throat.
The dust began to settle a little and I could vaguely see the shape of a cop walking around. I had just gone through mortgage application for my co-op which had taken months and was time sensitive. I realized that this area was going to be off limits for a long time and the papers were in my office which was about a block away. If I didn’t close in the next couple of days the papers would expire and I may lose the apartment so I decided to try to get to my office and see if the phone was working. I grabbed some paper towels and put them over my mouth and went out, despite people telling me I was crazy.
A soon as I got outside my throat seized up, I just couldn’t draw a breath. I ran to my office building holding my breath and burst into the lobby. There were several people in there all coughing and retching and 6 or 7 firemen. The fireman had shut down the elevators and were telling everyone to stay put. But the dust was getting worse and we were all having trouble breathing, so they decided to bring us all up to the 3rd floor. As soon as the elevators opened I jumped in one followed by another guy. I told him I had an office in the building and I was going to see if the phones were working, he was welcome to come. He said he worked in the towers and wanted to try and call his mother in NJ to let her know he was ok.
The fireman didn’t see us and we got to my office on the 7th floor. It was so weird walking in the door as everything looked so normal, except the windows were covered in ash which made the light in the office eerie. My phone was working and I called my girlfriend who was still sleeping. I told her to wake up and turn on the TV. I was safe but she needed to take down the guys mothers number in case we were cut off. Then we heard/felt an terrific thundering, rumbling which shook the building. The guy started freaking out “what’s that, what the fuck is that!?” “Is that the 2nd tower babe?” “Yes it’s completely collapsed, my god this is horrible” Then we lost the phones and the world went pitch black outside. I booted up my computer and miraculously my IM was working. A friend was on and we began messaging back and forth. She told me that I should get out of there, the news was saying there may be more attacks and they were worried about gas leak explosions. The guy from NJ said he was going to try and get back across the river and he left. I stayed for awhile as I didn’t want to breath that crap again. Finally I grabbed a spare work shirt which I wrapped around my head and face and proceeded out.
I’ll never forget the scene as I left my building. The closest way I can describe it is to imagine stepping out after a heavy snowstorm. Every inch of every building, car, lamppost, everything was covered in a grey fine dust and pilled 6 inches higher or more. There wasn’t a soul in sight and it was strangely peaceful. Then I looked to my left up Broadway and saw the raging fire coming from the WTC. It was billowing black smoke like an oil well on fire.
I decided to make my way south and then cut west to the river where I could walk the 10 miles home along the bike path. I was genuinely worried that my headgear made me look like a terrorist and some cop would shoot me. Suddenly 4 guys in construction gear coming running out of a building. They saw me and yelled “There’s a gas leak get out of here” and I ran for my life for the second time that day. That block seemed so long as I sprinted for the corner, expecting to be hit with shrapnel at any second. I made it to the corner and sheltered for a minute, my heart beating frantically.
I got to the river where there was a boardwalk?… pier?, I don’t know. It was a pedestrian walkway made of wood running alongside the river, I’d never been there before. That ‘s where I saw all the possessions people had left behind in the panic. The strollers were the weirdest to see. People had been out walking their babies on a beautiful sunny morning and the next minute they’re snatching them up and running for their lives. That’s also when the idea of finding a bike occurred to me and I began to look for one that wasn’t chained up.
At this point I was just a block or so west of the towers. I could see the burning pile of rubble that was the towers and I remember it just blew my mind that 100+ stories could be reduced to such a relatively small pile. There was a fire crew there unrolling a hose and I worried that they would send be back the way I had come, but I literally stepped in between two of them and over the hose and nobody said a word to me. Then I saw what looked like a pizza delivery bike on its side almost completely covered with debris. I looked around nervously as I would never in a million years usually steal a bike. There was a cop not 10 feet from me but he wasn’t paying attention and I realized that he didn’t care, the bike would be thrown in a landfill and I really really didn’t want to walk 10 miles if I could ride instead. So I picked it up, hopped on and cycled away.
Traveling by bike is a very different way to see the world. As I got further away from the burning rubble, through the triages with no patients, the city began to become more and more normal. As I reached my neighborhood a van cut me off and the driver called me an asshole “get out of the way asshole!” he yelled. I was pissed but that bit of NYC normality was comforting in a strange way.
When I got home I washed myself and I washed the bike. I had to. But I left the underside of the seat unwashed. It turned out to be a cheap but new black beach cruiser with whitewalls. I still have it and when I ride it always brings me back to that day.
mr_burnzz 425 karma, about 1 hour after
What a shitty experience but that was exciting to read.
prof9000 218 karma, about 1 hour after
backdora_da_explora 92 karma, about 8 hours after
Have you noticed any breathing complications from breathing the ash that day? Also, thanks for the story, you're a badass.
prof9000 11 karma, about 22 hours after
Thank you. No health problems yet.
jbtk 359 karma, about 1 hour after
Every time 9/11 comes around, I get the weird wish that I was there when the buildings were hit/collapsing. I know it's such a horrible thing to happen, but I just feel like I want to experience how bad it was, I want to know what those others felt on that day. I was only 8 years old, though, so it's good that I wasn't.
prof9000 203 karma, about 2 hours after
I understand. I often wonder whether I wish I hadn't been there but in a strange way I am glad I was.
Doesn't make much sense.
AwesomeLlama 187 karma, about 5 hours after
I know it was a horrible experience and it's kinda bad to say, but that was incredibly well-written and a thrilling read. Things like this give me new perspectives of the event and every time I've started to really take them in. I was only 6 at the time and I knew it was a terrible event, but I never absorbed the actual magnitude of how horrific it actually was.
prof9000 80 karma, about 5 hours after
Thank you for reading.
hilbilly 143 karma, about 3 hours after
What the hell made you decide "hey, both those buildings had planes crashed into them... better still get my coffee this morning..."
you should have gotten the hell out of there earlier
prof9000 213 karma, about 3 hours after
That's New York for you. Plus nobody was leaving, it was just too amazing/horrifying to watch.
Toad32 137 karma, about 2 hours after
Thank you for this story a midst all the crap Reddit offers for 9/11
prof9000 76 karma, about 2 hours after
Thank you for reading
charliethesloth 111 karma, about 2 hours after
what happened / what are things you experienced that day that weren't mentioned much?
prof9000 461 karma, about 2 hours after
One of the more somber things which isn't discussed is how the West Side Highway was lined with Ambulances and EMT's, hundreds of them. But there were no injured people, only empty stretchers.
You either made it out OK or you died.
momoyome 110 karma, 13 minutes after
I couldn't get through the whole thing. I'm sorry. Thank you though for posting this. One of my cousins was a fire fighter, another a police officer. I hope others can read this and be touched by your personal experience.
prof9000 122 karma, 17 minutes after
I understand. I like to re-read it and post it every year. I find it therapeutic.
timfbmx 59 karma, 44 minutes after
Why the heck would you leave the safety of the deli and go to your office building for some stupid papers? You're lucky you didn't suffocate. Anyways awsome story someone should make an animation out of it and post it on youtube.
prof9000 117 karma, about 1 hour after
I was buying an apartment and I needed the documents for the closing. Buying a co-op in NYC is a 6 month, hellish process. Any delay would have lost me the apt and I had a sick, sick deal. I also wanted to see if I could get to a phone as all the cell towers were jammed.
But you're right, the minute I got outside I realized I'd made a bad mistake.
nomayoever 48 karma, about 2 hours after
I realize this isn't the important question to ask: did everything work out alright with the apartment? Was it worth it?
Also, did you have any health issues from breathing the dust? I heard stories of people who weren't exposed to the dust for very long being sick for awhile afterwards, and still coughing up things of gross colors afterwards. Also, imbedded glass/debris etc.
prof9000 94 karma, about 2 hours after
Lol. Yes I did get the apartment and just sold it in Dec.
No health issues yet but I'm still mad we were told it was safe to go back to work and that there was no asbestos.
Tactful 58 karma, 43 minutes after
Did you do a bunny hop and yell "Where there's a WHEEL there's a way!"?
I'm sorry, I was just trying to lighten the mood. Terrible things happened eleven years ago.
prof9000 58 karma, 44 minutes after
Have you tried bunny hopping a beach cruiser?
Rizzoriginal 53 karma, 38 minutes after
What do you do each day to celebrate still being alive?
prof9000 161 karma, 40 minutes after
Sadly, I drink.
And I tell my wife (GF at the time) and kids I love them every day.
TheSoccerKitten 48 karma, about 2 hours after
This is so surreal and unfathomable. A real nightmare. How long did it take to get back into the normal routine? Were any of your friends or family members affected? I'm glad you're alright. Thanks for sharing.
We live near DC, and at around 7:30, my mom woke up to a bad throat ache. She had a dental appointment at 9:00, so she immediately cancelled by calling the office. The office was minutes away from the Pentagon. I also know of many people (who know other people) who didn't go to work at the WTC or Pentagon, or near areas that very day. One of my friends, though, wasn't so lucky. Her father died, while at work, in the WTC.
prof9000 68 karma, about 2 hours after
How long did it take to get back into the normal routine?
It still isn't normal in NYC. The constant security checks remind us every day.
I didn't lose anybody on the day but we all know someone who did.
laurenbug2186 47 karma, about 1 hour after
Did it feel surreal? I remember watching it on the news and I just couldn't believe it was happening.
prof9000 57 karma, about 2 hours after
Yes, very surreal. And very, very real at the same time.
Invader-grr 41 karma, about 2 hours after
What did it feel like getting chased by the cloud of debris ?It sounds like it would have been terrifying.
prof9000 119 karma, about 2 hours after
That fucking cloud moved so fast. It was incredible. I was in a full adrenalin sprint. Manhattan is a grid and the streets are small down there. I was running and could see the cloud burst down the avenues to my left and to my right while it nipped at my heels.
It was a little like Indiana Jones running away from the rolling boulder but much faster.
Invader-grr 11 karma, about 2 hours after
It must have been like that horror movie with the fog
prof9000 40 karma, about 2 hours after
No, not really. Fog is slow.
byertfyord 33 karma, about 1 hour after
Was there a point when you got into what you describe as 'normal' NYC that people had realized what had happened? It seems the way you described it was that one part of the city was utterly in shock over what happened but the further you got away from Ground Zero the less people seemed to know/didn't care. Or something like that? Anyway, I got chills from reading that. I'm glad you survived.
prof9000 49 karma, about 2 hours after
It's possible that the guys in the van didn't know yet. The city has never gone back to normal. Security checks and such.
For a longtime afterwards there were no shows on TV, just 24/7 news on all stations.
SexyShrimp 28 karma, about 2 hours after
Why did it take so long until people ran away? Did nobody realise the towers were about to collapse?
prof9000 74 karma, about 2 hours after
The towers collapsing was unthinkable. When they did though people moved real fast.
MMDI 28 karma, about 3 hours after
You talk about having a unique perspective of the city while riding the bicycle. Do you feel connected to cycling in anyway now because of this experience?
prof9000 50 karma, about 3 hours after
I've been a huge cyclist all my life. I love to build bikes from the ball bearings up.
cab354 27 karma, about 2 hours after
What do you think of the claims that it was an inside job?
prof9000 68 karma, about 2 hours after
Utterly ridiculous. For the simple fact that had it been an inside job they could have knocked down just one of the buildings and got the same effect.
Why complicate the mission by going for both buildings, and the pentagon and what ever the PA plane target was? It's not logical.
ladyhendrix 26 karma, 16 minutes after
How has that memory changed your life? Did you have any sort of profound realization that moved you? What life decisions did you make that would have otherwise been different if 9/11 never happened?
I was in middle school when this happened. They didnt tell us anything. Some kids were pulled from school. When I got home, my mom was crying, hoping that there wouldn't be a draft where they would send my brothers away.
Anyone else remember where they were when 9/11 happened?
prof9000 58 karma, 24 minutes after
How has that memory changed your life?
It's hard to say really. I had some mild PTS for awhile. Especially if I smelled a building fire.
Did you have any sort of profound realization that moved you?
I figured out pretty quickly that we would be going to war over this and that made me very sad. I also realized that the people who did this were trying to kill me. Not only me of course, but their intentions were to kill as many of us that were there as they could. That was a strange, strange feeling.
What life decisions did you make that would have otherwise been different if 9/11 never happened?
The only thing I can think of is my wife and I have a plan in the event of another attack.
cardozaa 13 karma, about 2 hours after
Care to elaborate on the plan?
prof9000 24 karma, about 2 hours after
Nothing too complicated, just meeting places. You know, if the west side is hit we meet at X.
[deleted] 19 karma, about 20 hours after
prof9000 7 karma, about 20 hours after
Thank you for sharing. We probably passed each other that day.
HellsHumor 15 karma, 26 minutes after
Random, but do you have a picture of the bike? edit- phrasing
prof9000 22 karma, 27 minutes after
I'm afraid it's in storage. NYC apt living... sigh.
driftsc 13 karma, about 3 hours after
prof9000 6 karma, about 3 hours after
It's in storage. I should take a picture one of these days.
snowsoftJ4C 11 karma, about 1 hour after
How does this affect your daily life, if at all?
prof9000 40 karma, about 2 hours after
Not too much. I tense up if something big happens in the city until I know it's not another attack.
I hate the area around ground zero and can't imagine anybody wanting to work in the new freedom tower.
7253uy 11 karma, about 5 hours after
Documentary with those french guys?! Is that the documentary with inside footage of the building when it collapsed?! I saw that in social studies last week.
Seeing that plane crash right into the building was so horrifying...
prof9000 11 karma, about 6 hours after
Yes, they were following a fire dept crew for a documentary they were making. Closest thing I've seen that captures the attack.
ActionFilmsFan1995 10 karma, about 2 hours after
Did you get the name of the guy who you went to the office with, and do you two stay in contact?
prof9000 18 karma, about 2 hours after
I didn't. I wish I did.
arkham1010 10 karma, about 1 hour after
Does the smell of burning tires bring you back to that day? It does for me. Thats something i think a lot of people who are not in the NY area didnt think of. The smell that hung over the city for weeks.
prof9000 14 karma, about 2 hours after
When I smell a building fire I tense up
arkham1010 52 karma, about 2 hours after
I was working in Weehawken, NJ at the time on the 9th floor of an office building which is right on the river. Someone came into the office i was in and said "A plane has crashed into the WTC!" I thought it was a small airplane and i went running down the hall to the executive conference room, which has a beautiful view of the city.
The way were were situated we could see building 2 fine, building 1 was behind it.
I and the rest of the office were glued there, and we watched in stunned silence as the second plane hit. I knew then it was a terrorist attack. We had no idea what the fuck was going on however, all we could see was a huge pile of dust rising from the base of building 2. We had no idea that was building one collapsing, we thought it was car bombs or something going off.
Then the 2nd tower fell. Everyone was crying, and i remember one guy next to me trying to call his daughter over and over again, getting more and more panicked.
prof9000 16 karma, about 2 hours after
Fuck! That's intense.
jordyz 10 karma, about 3 hours after
I'm from Canada, and i was 5 when it happened. I remember where i was when it happened, to the T. Glad you're okay
prof9000 9 karma, about 3 hours after
zipzap21 6 karma, about 4 hours after
You didn't mention the car alarms? Were they going off like crazy? How did that affect you?
prof9000 14 karma, about 5 hours after
You can't park around ground zero during the day. Any car alarms would have Been drowned out by the roaring of the collapse.