Where Were You ..... On September 11th ?
by Calvin R. Lindberg, October 2001
As we got closer there was no talk in the cab at all, you knew that we were going to see something very devastating. Even now, a month later, it brings tears to my eyes. ~ Calvin R. Lindberg
Like the Kennedy assassination this question will be asked for decades to come. We will instantly recall where we were and what we were doing as if it had happened yesterday.
Unfortunately, the events in New York and Washington did happen just yesterday, and it has changed all of us. We will certainly never think of air travel in the same way again.
On that infamous Tuesday morning of September 11, I was out of bed just before 6:00 am to prepare for an early morning golf game at the beautiful Predator Ridge Golf Course located just outside of Kelowna, B.C.
Like most people, the first thing I do in the morning is turn on the morning news, and there, on CNN, they were reporting that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center in New York.
Like everyone around the world, I was glued to the TV. When I saw the plane slam into the second tower, it took my breath away. It collapsed just as we were heading out the door for our golf game.
Days later, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to go to New York and see “ground zero”, and in some way pay my respects to the thousands of innocent people who had lost their lives in this senseless and terrible tragedy.
Since I was going Montreal for the annual CREA conference I decided to go to New York first before heading to Montreal. A number of friends and colleagues in West Vancouver questioned why I would risk flying into harms way and, what some described, a war zone. It was a question I asked myself too but it was just something I had to do. Since I was taking a risk, I decided I would do New York in style and stay at The Plaza, New York’s most famous hotel. I arrived at this stately inn after midnight, after a long, circuitous flight through Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey, driving to Manhattan with a taxi driver who surely must have driven in the former Indy 500. The next morning, as I waited for my friend who lives in Manhattan, I was flipping through a book on New York and I opened the page to a beautiful picture of the two World Trade Center towers with a large passenger plane flying overhead. It was hard to believe that soon I would be at ground zero and see those two towers reduced to rubble. Chills ran up my spine.
We left the Plaza and walked by Central Park in gorgeous 80 degree weather. Everything seemed so normal, so typical, and there's was absolutely nothing to indicate that only a few blocks away there lay a scene of devastation unlike any I had ever seen.
There were yellow cabs everywhere, masses of people strolling - in Rockefeller Square, along 34th street near the Empire State Building, around Macy’s at Herald Square. It was wonderful and exciting, everything I had imagined New York to be.
During the cab ride down to Lower Manhattan there was much discussion about New York with my friend and the cabbie, and then, it hit us - the smell. The cabbie called it the smell of death. It was pungent, acrid, very discernable even blocks away.
We still couldn’t see the site yet but we could see the smoke rising in the distance. As we got closer there was no talk in the cab at all, as we prepared ourselves. We knew that we were going to see something very devastating. Even now, a month later, it brings tears to my eyes.
The New York police wouldn’t let us go any further, so we left the cab and walked the remaining blocks to the site. It was, indeed, a war zone.
The hulk of blackened and burned out buildings were right in front of us, there was concrete dust everywhere, on the sidewalks and covering all the adjacent buildings. Trying to find a better vantage point, we came upon a fence covered with yellow ribbons and the pictures of loved ones who were still missing. An NBC news crew started interviewing a woman beside me and I had to turn away because I knew I would not be able to get a word out if the TV reporter turned to me for my thoughts.
We asked a cop if there was a better vantage point to see the site and he directed us to a small side street where we got to within half a block of the site and virtually had a 180 degree view of ground zero. It is beyond anything you can imagine. The sheer size of it, approximately 16 acres, was overwhelming. The rubble is 8 stories high. The huge trucks rumbling by looked like small toys on top of the debris waiting to be loaded by the cranes. The collateral damage to all the buildings surrounding this huge site was unbelievable. Tall buildings with most of their windows blown out, corners of buildings completely ripped away, all still covered in the grey concrete dust. A large section of a wall from the world Trade Center had impaled itself into the side of a building about twenty floors up.
As we walked the streets around the site I could visualize the people running for their lives where we walked, being chased by the billowing smoke and dust and debris as the towers fell. Standing there looking at the site it all became very vivid and real. Most lives have been changed by this tragedy. I know mine has after seeing it first hand.
It makes you realize how vulnerable we are, how precious life is, and how it can be gone in an instant.
On Monday, a father had taken his kid to soccer practice. On Tuesday he was gone.
The personal stories are heart wrenching, the phone calls to loved ones knowing there was no hope to be rescued and wanting to call home and say “I love you and look after the kids”.
My heart goes out to those that missed the call, or are anguishing because they didn’t get a chance to say “I’m sorry” for the harsh words that were spoken the day before. How critical it is to have something to hold on to, to comfort us at a time like this - family, close friends and faith in God.
You can’t help but realize how insignificant our personal or business problems are after experiencing something like this, and how important it is to settle our differences, and tell those close to us how much we love and appreciate them. The real estate industry is a great industry with wonderful and dedicated people striving to make a better world for our members. Like every industry we have our differences, our lack of trust in each other and our suspicions of hidden agendas, but we need to let go of our past differences and begin to build the bridges to better relationships so we together can create a better world for all our members.
We cannot dwell on the past or we will see our future destroyed. We are fortunate to have a future. There are over 3000 people at ground zero who don’t. Every day is a chance for a new beginning full of new and exciting adventures. September 11th should give us all something to think about.
- Calvin R. Lindberg
Calvin Lindberg is a current National Director of the Canadian Real Estate Association and a past president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. He is an active Real Estate agent on the North Shore of Vancouver, BC, with Angell Hasman and Associates. Calvin can be reached through this website or at his office.