Richard Clarke is president of Clarke Advertising in New York, which has among its clients Hankook Tire America Corp. Following is his first-hand account of the events on Sept. 11.
NEW YORK (Sept. 25, 2001)—I fell in love with New York in 1982. After living, working, playing and now raising a family in this town for the past 20 years, you can imagine I've seen many different sides of this city.
Some have been bad, like the time I was almost mugged. And the time when I saw a couple of drivers screaming at each other and eventually fighting in the street because someone had cut the other off. Or when a cab deliberately passed by a fare a block ahead of me to pick me up because of the other guy's skin color. (I was so annoyed, I walked.)
This city has many faces—faces that capture a moment in time. A moment of events.
The faces and expressions all changed on Sept. 11 at 8:50 a.m.
I picked up a call from my wife, Nanci, who was at home in Weehawken, N.J. (directly across the Hudson River from New York City), where we have a spectacular view of the majestic New York skyline.
She called to tell me something had happened. She heard a loud explosion. Her voice trembling, she told me she was fine, and that our daughter was OK.
But she was clearly upset by what she was witnessing across the river in southern Manhattan. It was frightening, she said. She felt the doors rattle and picture frames come off the wall. She did her best to capture the scene on our video camera.
What Nanci was filming was smoke billowing from the top floors of one of the World Trade Center towers. I pressed the phone to my ear to make sure that what I was hearing was what she was actually saying. Her voice still tight with astonishment, Nanci said that moments earlier she had heard a jet across the river that sounded unusually loud.
I didn't connect the sound of the jet with the fire across the river until I turned around at my desk to see the whole event unfolding right out our window. This was obviously getting out of control. We could hear the deafening rumble, similar to a jet that was accelerating its engines at takeoff. But this is New York, and loud noises and the cacophony of building construction and demolition is seemingly everywhere.
Then, the south tower was hit.
From our office on Lexington Avenue I could see the thick black smoke pouring from several stories. Then flames were clearly visible. The scene became more gruesome as additional floors became engulfed. We heard the wailing of sirens and the roar of truck engines headed south on Lexington. We could look up and down Lexington Avenue and see everyone just stopped in their tracks.
The streets filled with people, punching numbers on their cell phones, trying time after time to reach relatives and friends to assure them that they were safe. But cell phones were useless. Overloaded networks made it difficult to make even a local call. With the myriad pedestrians taking to the streets, it took several minutes to walk a single block. Streets at midday resembled Times Square on New Year's Eve.
What was unfolding only a mile away was already incredible. I prayed that everyone on those top floors would be able to escape this horror. We watched in awe as the flames spread and smoke belched from huge holes in both buildings. It was numbing. Tragic. Incomprehensible. We could not believe our eyes. Everyone in the office was stunned. Speechless. Tears flowed because we all knew someone who worked in one of the buildings.
When we watched the events unfold on TV, it almost seemed like we were watching a trailer for a Bruce Willis movie. Then we would walk outside and it all became reality.
Beyond the real-time imagery being projected on the TV screen, it is the raw human reaction that is most vivid now. Throughout the city, faces were swollen with sadness, twisted with rage, and, for a time, frozen with fright.
In the first few hours following the disaster, it was completely understandable for New Yorkers to believe we were “under attack.” Because we were.
Victims in closer proximity to the disaster site had been through a war zone. Their clothes were caked with ash, their hair littered with debris, and their faces reflected the horror they had just endured. They moved from lower Manhattan to Midtown—many walking the two-plus miles without realizing how much distance they'd actually covered.
Many struggled to reach out. “I saw the whole thing,” one man sobbed into his cell phone. “I think my friend was up there,” said a woman, seemingly near exhaustion from the walk and the angst of it all. “I was 1,500 feet away,” one suburban commuter recounted. “I was on the 18th floor of my building, facing west. I heard a roar, looked out the window, and saw the second plane. I could almost touch it. I thought it must be a dream.”
As for myself, I was not so much speechless as unable to speak.
The words were there; I became too distraught to articulate them. Perhaps the enormity of it all rendered language insufficient. Sometimes the lexicon, with its hundreds of thousands of components, falls far short in providing the tools to express one's feelings.
Sept. 11 was that kind of day. It was unreal. It was surreal. Except it was real. I still can't believe it. I don't want to believe it. No one does.
Thousands of victims remain buried in the rubble. Several of them are clients, or former clients. Some are friends—or brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers of friends of mine.
It seems like every day I get a call about yet another tragic loss. Maybe it's a basic human defense mechanism, but I still haven't opened my address book to the pages of those companies that may be lost. Maybe I just don't want to know. Maybe it hasn't quite hit me yet.
Paralyzed by fear and horror, I walked by the Armory on 26th street and Lexington and was deeply moved by poems and pictures of missing persons. I cried when I read about the farewell messages left by people on hijacked planes for their loved ones. All I could think was: What if I were there visiting a client and I, too, didn't come home that night? How would my wife and daughter react?
I try not to let it show on my face when I get home and see my 2 1/2-year-old daughter. But she knows. She keeps asking me, “Where are the bad people?” I guess I don't hide it very well.
People think New Yorkers are hard. I thought I was pretty hard. But the hurt shows on all New Yorkers. We will never be the same.
But like the will of this great city, we will go on. It is the will of New York.