Chasing a dream — that’s what I was doing in New York City in 2001, fresh out of college, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about putting my brand spankin’ new degree in English to use on somebody’s magazine staff. I’d had my daughter in the first semester of my sophomore year, so I kind of shot myself in the foot when it came to being a candidate for the high-velocity internships that other kids in my field were getting.
Even though there were no Starbucks runs and copy machine masterminding for me at Vibe or Women’s Wear Daily, my mom and Nana were steady cheerleading, and encouraged me to head to the City of Dreams to look for a job in journalism. I could leave my baby girl with them for a week or two so I could make some much-needed contacts, they said. I smothered them with kisses, packed an arsenal of stilettos, and hauled my little Honda Civic up the familiar route on the New Jersey Turnpike, Brooklyn-bound to stay with family.
I would’ve backflipped into the Hudson River to get a Devil Wears Prada experience, but those gigs were pretty hard to come by. I ended up having to go to Plan J: hitting up a temp agency. I was deflated — there’s no way that registering at any of those places is a sign that your career is on track — but any paying assignment would’ve helped my poverty-stricken pockets. Chasing the dream in NYC was exciting but man, was it ever expensive.
A few days later, a call: they wanted me to hand out flyers for Election Day outside the World Trade Center bright and early on September 11, then meet with someone for an editorial assistant position after I was finished. It was like wading through the marsh to get to the tropical beach, but it was something.
That night I stayed with a college friend and fellow adventuress in unemployment, convincing her to come with me in the morning. Misery loves company on that kind of mission and I figured it was a way for her to make a few bucks too. We spent more of the night than we should’ve hanging out on her steps, talking to cute guys coming back from the basketball courts in her neighborhood. So I don’t know if I was so tired that I slept through the alarm. Maybe it didn’t go off or I set it wrong. All I know is Janelle the Socialite didn’t wake up when she was supposed to, and I ended up scrambling up almost an hour later than the time I intended to.
My friend, the slacker, rolled over and mumbled something about not wanting to go anymore. But I was in full pants-on-fire mode. I hopped in the Civic and tore at Mach 10 speed through the streets to get from her house in Queens to my apartment in Brooklyn. A few weeks beforehand, some criminal deviant had stolen my radio from my car, so I was riding in total oblivion. Everybody was in total oblivion around that time, actually. It was still a perfectly normal Tuesday morning.
I barely put my car in park before I ran into my building to change into my job interview clothes and haul tail to Manhattan. I’d managed to shave an hour time deficit into a 20-minute lag. If I didn’t primp long, I could still make it on time, I reasoned. It would’ve also meant I’d blown through three boroughs in less than 60 minutes. That thought made me chuckle as I raced into the elevator and mentally willed it to hurry up.
“Where you rushing off to?” asked one of my neighbors.
“I have a job interview at the World Trade Center and I’m running so late,” I smiled sheepishly, fully expecting her to lay into me like the mother figure she was.
Instead, her eyes got wide. “Girl, you didn’t hear?” she gasped. “Somebody just flew a plane into the building over there! You better thank the Lord you were running late.”
The rest of the day was shrouded in chaos. Folks were crying, screaming, desperately looking for loved ones who worked at or near the towers. Cell phone lines went haywire so people couldn’t make or receive calls, and my mom and grandmother were sick because I’d told them about the interview but they couldn’t get through to see about me. Mommy usually scolds me for running late, but my most aggravating habit might’ve saved my life that day.
Even writing about it ten years later is emotional. How different the story could’ve been if that alarm would’ve went off and I’d gotten my rear in gear on time. My heart goes out to the families torn apart and the lives lost that day. It’s such a waste of life. But I also take time throughout the year, not just on the anniversary, to be ever so grateful that a 20-minute deficit saved mine.
Where were you when you heard the news about the towers being attacked?
Image via cliff1066™/Flickr