Where were you?

In general, I was in between startups and countries with no fixed address. In particular, I was asleep at my girlfriend's place in Baltimore after we had had breakfast and she'd gone to work at the hospital where she was doing her post-doc.

September 11th, 2001, was a Tuesday. My original plan was to be in New York that day to discuss a research position building image analysis software to study human brain function, but my girlfriend had convinced me to stay with her until Wednesday. Had I been in New York, I would have been asleep at my friend Stu's apartment on Warren Street -- two blocks from the World Trade Center.

The phone woke me — my mother calling to ask me if my friend Stu was alright, had I talked to him, maybe I should call him? Stu worked in the World Financial Center and had survived the previous World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

I stumbled out to the living room, turned on my laptop, surfed to various news sites — the New York Times, CNN, and so forth — but they were all down. There was no television, so I turned on NPR and listened for coverage while I dialed Stu’s number. All circuits were, of course, busy.

It quickly became evident that something very bad had happened, but the descriptions were hard to believe and more than a little incoherent. I wanted, for the first time in a long while, to have a television. When news came through that another plane had hit the second tower I went upstairs to ask my neighbors — fresh transplants from Bed-Stuy — to let me watch television with them.

We watched the towers crumble, wet eyed and shocked. The telephones were still too overloaded to contact anyone in the city, but, amazingly, I got email from Stu’s flatmate telling me that he was alive and physically unharmed. He had walked to midtown, stopping at Canal Street to watch the first tower fall.

News from other downtown friends trickled in and I felt lucky that my friends were accounted for, that I wasn’t in the thick of it, that it wasn’t even worse.

My girlfriend came home from work early and we spent the evening listening to NPR and talking about how terrible it was. We both felt physically ill; shell shocked, really. Still, the worst of it seemed to be one step away in social distance.

Two weeks later I found out that a colleague from California was in the plane that went down in Pennsylvania.

This entry is part of my journal, published September 11, 2003, in New York.