September 11, 2006
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in the history of our country. It was a bad day; a really bad day. I remember it all too well. I was working out in the basement of the law school at Georgetown when the radio DJ said that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. At first, everybody figured it was an accident. We went to the room with the TV to see what was going on. Then, as I left that room to do another set, the second plane hit. At that point, we knew it was no accident. I called Jen from the phone in the gym because my friend Jeremy Meacham was working the desk [Ed note: I had no cell phone at the time]. I dressed and went up to the main law school campus [which sits on Capitol Hill, a few blocks from the Capitol building] where I called Jen again from the phone in the Georgetown Law Journal office. She told me that there was a fire at the Pentagon and that maybe I should come home. I told her that I would see what was going on at the school. I retired to the main TV lounge at the law school where everybody was watching the big screen in disbelief. Soon thereafter, people said the Capitol was being evacuated, classes were cancelled and we should leave. Our understanding was that the Metro was shut down, so I fled, with a mass of other pedestrians, out of the city. I walked with several people from the law school. We traveled by foot all the way to Dupont Circle, passing on the way a stalled van that federal agents were checking for explosives. We all ran from that scene. I remember thinking that I very well may die; that it could go off and that would be it. Arriving at Dupont Circle, I was taken into the apartment of the girlfriend of one of the guys I had been walking with (a guy I had never met before that morning). It turned out that both towers had collapsed as we had been walking.
I learned that the red line was in fact operating, so I boarded the Metro and met Jen at White Flint station [in Maryland]. She picked me up and we picked up a suit that I had had altered (it was, after all, interview season – I had my callback interview at Jones Day the day before). We went home to our apartment at Westchester West [in Silver Spring, MD] and there was an eerie silence. Air travel had been suspended. We could hear and see fighter jets patrolling the skies every once in a while.
We watched the news for most of the day. I remember watching, either that night or the next, and feeling overwhelmed with sadness. I had checked the NYU website and read how the campus had shut down. Everything was a shambles. It was more than most of us could bear to watch. Nobody wanted to see any more pictures of the plane running into the South Tower. We had seen enough.
The next Thursday (two days later), we [Jen, Abbigail, and I] traveled to New Jersey for law firm interviews in Philadelphia. On I-95 as far away as Baltimore, there were signs indicating that tunnels and bridges into New York still were closed. It was a somber drive. While in the men’s room of the Four Seasons hotel in Philadelphia [where I had gone for a break before my afternoon interview with a nearby firm] a man in the stall next to me, whom I had never met or said a word to before in my life, turned to me and said, “We’re going to get those sons of _____.” I nodded. That’s how we all felt. It was on everybody's mind. That morning, I had received a message from Jones Day (left the night before) extending a job offer. It was a happy moment in an otherwise sad week.
A week later, I went to New York for an interview with White & Case in midtown. I arrived in the city early so I could go downtown; I wanted to see it for myself. The scene defied my ability to describe. Signs with pictures covered every lamppost and subway wall, asking for information about missing loved ones. Thousands of them. The scene at Ground Zero was like a war zone, with military personnel roaming the streets and a layer of dust covering everything. There was a distinct and awful odor emanating from the ruins. And the ruins were gigantic; almost mythic in size. It was surreal. I cried. And I was not the only one.
Andrew, Timothy, Grant, and Matthew Willis: World Trade Center, circa 1986.