Seven years ago today I was a student at Rutgers-Newark, living and working in Parsippany, which was the closest I got to Newark that day. I was getting ready for work minutes after news that the second airplane had struck the World Trade Center came across the radio.
It was the unease in the 95.5 morning crew’s voices that stopped me in my tracks. They hadn’t said the headline clearly since I’d started listening, so I had to wait as they reacted with concern and distress. After a few minutes, I’d heard what had happened and told my roommate on my way out the door to the office.
Those who had heard about what was now being described as an attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and were clustered around the few radios we had on the office floor. I parked in my cubicle and pointed my browser to CNN.com, refreshing the page over and over.
The web servers groaned under the spike in traffic, revealing only portions of the front page. At shortly after 10 o’clock, the headline changed to note that the South Tower had collapsed and the first image I’d seen of the destruction appeared across the screen.
The CEO send out a communication that our staff at WTC had all been fully accounted for, but that the company was closing for the rest of the day. I walked out of the building to find a friend walking up the street towards our building, seeking me out. I gave him a lift back to his place and drove to my wife’s — then, girlfriend’s — place to connect with family and listen to the repeated news reports on the radio and TV, anxiety firmly taking hold.
Classes at Rutgers-Newark were canceled that night. The R-N status page had indicated that campus was closed for September 12, and then later re-opened and attendance required. I thought that was crazy, but found out weeks later that the intention was to provide a forum for the commuting students to attempt to make sense of the unfolding events.
I avoided campus that day, too afraid to step foot back into the city where I’d only been a student for a few months, and where smoke was still visible on the horizon.
Newark grieved for its neighbors on September 11th as the destruction unfolded in the Manhattan skyline, clearly visible to the east. The Path train connecting the two cities, from Penn Station to World Trade, was completely disabled. Millions spent hours trying to reverse the commute on foot that had taken them into New York.
Three years later, and just two months after my wife and I moved into the Ironbound, the distance between Newark and New York would feel even shorter as buildings across New York City and the Prudential Headquarters building were placed on alert as potential terrorist targets. Concrete barriers are erected around Pru and police in riot gear brandishing sub-machine guns were deployed to Broad Street. It was a forceful reminder of the newly uncertain times in which we live, for a city that already seen so much adversity.