I live a block from Ground Zero, in Battery Park City. On the morning of 9/11, I was at Karen's apartment when I got a panicked call from Ellie, telling me that terrorists had flown planes into the World Trade Center. I had my bike with me, and started biking home, down West Street, biking directly into the flood of people evacuating downtown Manhattan. About ten blocks from World Trade, I saw the first tower fall. Perhaps stupidly, I continued onward, trying to get home, and made it to the ferry terminal at the World Financial Center--just a block from my building--when I was turned back. Biking back uptown to my office, I saw the second tower fall.
Back at the office, I learned that my kids were being evacuated from their schools--both schools, PS234 and IS 89, are within five blocks of Ground Zero--and where they were going. I got back on the bike, and went to PS3, where Vicky, my 9-year old, was headed--to discover that Vicky's teacher didn't know where she was, and wasn't sure that she had even come to school that day. (The same wench shortly thereafter moved to New Mexico, abandoning her class, the cowardly bint--the class was taken over by the student teacher who had been working with them previously, who has done a great job.) Biking over to the evacuation site for Betsy's class, I found Betsy, my 12 year-old, there--she'd seen the second plane fly over, and had watched the second tower fall during evacuation. Betsy's mom (my ex) showed up shortly; Vicky had, thankfully, stayed home sick at her mom's house in Weehawken. Betsy and Louise set forth for the 38th Street ferry terminal to get across the river to New Jersey--Louise was wearing high heels, and apparently had bloody feet by the time they did get home.
I biked back to the office; neither my home phone nor Ellie's cell were functional (wireline service died when the Verizon switch at WTC was destroyed; most cells in the region had also been at the WTC, and the few still functional were overloaded). Ellie was literally caught in the debris cloud, evacuating down the Esplanade when the second tower fell, and took the ferry to Staten Island. She called me from a bar there, but there seemed no way to hook up, because all the bridges were closed, and I surely couldn't get downtown to the ferry. By the evening, however, the Verrazano Narrows bridge between Staten Island and Brooklyn had reopened, and she got someone to drive her over; and limited subway service between Manhattan and Brooklyn had been restored. We met up at the apartment of Patrick and Theresa Nielsen-Hayden, and stayed in Brooklyn for a couple of weeks. Ellie then went to visit friends in New Hampshire, while I stayed with Karen for almost a month. It was six weeks before we were able to return (although I went in, under supervision, to rescue the cats, and during the last week we were barred from living in the apartment, the rules had relaxed enough to allow me to go back and clean up during the day).
We went back as soon as we were permitted, HEPA filters running against the continuing smoke from the site, which continued to smolder for months. Some 40% of our pussilanimous yuppie neighbors moved out, but I was certainly not going to be driven from my home by some nutcase half a world away. It was some weeks before my ex felt it was safe for the kids to return. And they have only just returned to their schools--PS 234 had been relocated to an empty Catholic school in the Village, and IS 89 had been doubling up with the Lab School, also in the Village. Transportation is still difficult, because the 1-9 tunnel south of Chambers is destroyed, and because the closest subway stations are inaccessible, east of us across the still-restricted site. It's a daily tromp through mud--debris blown off trucks carrying material from the site to barges at Pier 25 and Pier A--to get anywhere. Most local business have reopened, as have two of the four World Financial Center buildings. The swine at the Wall Street Journal, however, have permanently relocated their offices from the WFC to some godawful place in Jersey, abandoning the city that gives them their raison d'etre.
No one seems to like my suggestions for what to do next, however. Personally, I believe we should build the world's tallest building at the site--both because the world's tallest building should be in New York, and as a defiant demonstration of New York's soaring ambition. And I believe that Governor's Island should become again what it was in the 19th century--a fortification to defend New York harbor, these days with a surface-to-air missile installation and a renewed Coast Guard presence.