Thursday, September 11, 2014

Helicopter Ride

If you asked me, no I don't remember that Tuesday. I don't remember any news coverage, I don't remember my friends being pulled out of school, I don't remember even hearing the fighter planes flying over my house that night.

I do remember Mom and Dad telling me the next day I had no school, and then I heard why. "Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center."

An 8-year-old doesn't know anything about terrorism or the Middle East. Al-Qaeda looks like a misspelling. So without any connection to or knowledge of international warfare, the 8-year-old simply says back, "Aww geez, we won't be able to visit the Twin Towers anymore," and then goes back to sleep. Years later my mom said my dad was totally aghast at that answer; maybe he felt I was insensitive to the issue. I didn't know that so many families were broken apart that day. I didn't know that the country would never operate the same way again. To that 8-year-old though, those two towers represented a moment that would stick with him forever.

The first time we went down there I was five (I only know because of the date on the picture.) I went with my dad, aunt and cousin. It was the second time I went that stuck with me though.

Saturdays were father-son days; my mom worked in the morning. Dad would always make pancakes for us, and sometimes eggs for himself which disgusted me; I thought they smelled like feet. One particular Saturday my dad lumbered out of bed and was checking his email when I said, "Can we go to the World Trade Center?" Without hesitation he looked up the train schedule, we got dressed and left.

I remember the traveling experience so well, getting on the train to Hoboken, getting on the PATH to the WTC station underground, going up this gigantic escalator and before I knew it, we were in the lobby. Next came a LONG elevator ride, 107 stories up to be exact, and I remember wondering what good stuff I was missing for 90-odd floors before that. The door opened and we're in this big open space full of fun stuff--gift shops, a photo booth, and the restaurant. First though, we took another escalator up to the roof. The idea that we were 110 floors up was mind-boggling to me; my aunt lived in an apartment 11 or 12 floors above the ground--I think that was the tallest spot that I had walked on before that.

I honestly wasn't scared about being up that high--maybe it was because my dad was there, maybe it's because a kid can't comprehend how high up that is, better yet maybe I just felt like king of the world. The cliche is that everyone looks like ants from up there...from up there ants would be bigger.

I do have one physical memory from that day in my room. The photo booth there took your picture and inserted it into a $100 bill, so now my dad and I were Ben Franklin for a day.

The final act was the helicopter ride, which I wanted to go on so badly, even though my dad was saying we were pressed for time. Being a good dad, we went anyway; basically you sit in a theater and the screen moves, and maybe the floor moved, I don't remember. It made it seem like we're going around Manhattan in a chopper.

However, because we went on that, now my dad and I had to rush down the elevator, get into the PATH, get back to Hoboken and run for the train. As I do to this day though, I panicked that we wouldn't make it and while running, I started crying, feeling so bad that because I begged to go on that helicopter ride, we would probably miss the train (of course there were other trains home.) My dad came over to console me; and of course because of THAT delay, we indeed missed the train, and my mom had to pick us up elsewhere.

13 years later, I have to thank my dad over and over again because reflecting on it as an adult, there's no way my dad really felt like going to the city on his day off; he did it for his kid. Because of that, I now can still go back to that day. While writing this, I looked on Wikipedia to make sure I got a reference right, and I passed by a picture of the lobby. You know how sometimes you think you remember a place, and then you Google it, and it's nothing like your memory. As God as my witness, the image in my head matched the Wikipedia image so perfectly I started to cry. The big flags on the window, the marble walls and the escalator down to the PATH in the middle.

Over time, I was able to put faces to a terrible tragedy. I understood what that Tuesday did to this country and the world. It's probably best that I didn't see those buildings crumble in fire and ash; it probably helped me preserve that memory of a time where America was totally safe from world crises, where you could go right up to the airport gate and see your family off without a ticket, and when a kid got the greatest view in the world...of the greatest city in the world.

"I thank god for my life, and for the stars and stripes, may freedom forever fly, let it ring.
Salute the ones who died, The ones that give their lives, So we don't have to sacrifice...
All the things we love."

Neil Dwyer @neildwyer1993


  1. Neil Dwyer...I understand.
    That morning 9 / 11, I arrived at College Point, Queens...moments after the second tower fell.
    Fully aware of what had transpired, I looked across the East River, at this white cloud growing
    upward from lower Manhattan. I knew in my heart that the worst was at the bottom of
    that cloud of death.
    There must have been a hundred of us, standing on that rock jetty, looking over to Manhattan.
    In disbelieve. All in stunned silence, with tears running down our faces.
    A silence like you have never known.

    It was worse than I could have imagined. Will never forget that morning, never.
    Neil, I understand. Stay strong.

  2. For a young man Neil, you have got the touch. very well composed and written.
    That day was only the second time I ever cried! The first, was the first man I lost in combat.

  3. Neil does have that touch doesn't he Reed? Very talented and we're very lucky to have him here.


Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)