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September 8, 2016

Remembering 9/11/01

By Jonathan Zimmerman

Can we really be coming up on the 15 year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks? It still seems so fresh in my mind, almost like it was yesterday. While many Chicagoans (especially me) are looking forward to the start of another Bears season on Sunday, I feel compelled to take a moment to reflect on that horrific day.

Many of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we found out what had happened. The day started out like any other Tuesday…

My morning ritual was to arrive at my 100 West Monroe office at 7:00 AM sharp, flip my radio onto WCKG-FM to listen to the Howard Stern Show and feverously try to get caught up on my work and prepare for the upcoming day. Howard was in the middle of a riveting conversation with his staff about Pamela Anderson when he suddenly switched gears and mentioned that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. The immediate reaction was that this had to be some kind of small, single engine plane being operated by a one man pilot who somehow got off course. When the building engineer came into my office and shed more light on the situation, I was completely stunned. The internet was still in the early days of streaming but I was able to get a live feed on CNN.com to watch the events unfold. As my colleagues came into the office, we all sat in front of my monitor in utter shock as the second plane hit, followed by the Pentagon and then the towers collapsing.

Meanwhile in Chicago, the rumors immediately ran out of control. Planes were believed to be heading towards several downtown buildings; one person who I knew in the then Sears Tower was told by a member of the building staff that some type of attack was imminent and everyone needed to evacuate post haste.

When I finally departed from my office around 2:00 PM, it was an absolute ghost town outside. I had never seen downtown Chicago so empty in the middle of a work day. The few individuals who remained walked around with blank looks on their faces. My only moment of levity came as I started walking towards my bus stop and a police car driving down Clark Street (the only car on the street at that time) pulled up next to me. A loud voice came over the speaker and told me to step slowly towards the vehicle with my hands up. When the window rolled down, it turned out to be a good friend from high school. He told me that everything was safe and secure in Chicago, which might have been the only good news of the day.

Like most Americans, the next few days were filled with a combination of sadness, fear and rage. Most businesses stayed closed and no one really felt much like working. Before that day, whenever I would hear news of a terror attack in the Middle East or somewhere else around the world, I thought that it could never occur in America. September 11, 2001 marked the end of our innocence. Life for everyone changed forever.

I have made numerous trips to New York since 2001 and every single time, I have felt compelled to visit the World Trade Center site, museum, tribute center, and the memorial. It is almost like reliving that day over and over again. I cannot explain why, but something continues to draw me there. It could be because I work in real estate; maybe it is because I could envision myself working in a building just like one of the Twin Towers; perhaps there was a victim I was destined to meet but would never get the opportunity.

Each time I have gone back, I have seen more life breathed into the city. Today, beautiful new buildings have risen up and Lower Manhattan is bursting with activity again. It is as though New York and America have made it back and better than ever. As much as I love Chicago architecture, I have to say that the new One World Trade Center tower that symbolically rises 1,776 feet into the sky, is one of the most magnificent and commanding edifices ever created.

This Sunday, as we huddle in front of the TV for a far different reason than we did 15 years ago, let’s take a moment to remember our blessings on the anniversary of the day we will never forget.