Early in September of 2001, my wife was working in Sicily, and I happened to be in New York’s World Trade Center a number of times, returning each evening to our Manhattan apartment. On the morning of the 11th, a couple of days before I was due to attend a European conference, I was in my home office when planes flew into the Twin Towers.
Questions about the catastrophe began to appear on technical e-mail lists to which I belonged. As a New York resident, I responded based on what I’d heard in news reports and what I could see firsthand.
Soon e-mail became my main link to the world outside Manhattan. Bridges and tunnels (even those used by trains) were closed. Phone service was spotty at best. Not only was I unable to fly to Europe, but I couldn’t even visit a local theater or concert hall. Restaurants closed for lack of supplies and an inability to process credit cards. So I began to write more in my messages.
I stopped reporting after the second day, but readers asked for more. When my wife returned, I stopped again, but again readers asked for more. After a few more weeks, some members of the technical lists (including me) thought those lists shouldn’t be cluttered with my largely non-technical reports. So one reader set up a separate list for my “chronicles” and another started collecting them, which is why you can see them here.
A few months later, they began to peter out. I’d written what I’d wanted to. There were just two dates about which I still wanted to make points, April 15 and October 26, so I sent messages on those. I was also moved to post something on one day in between.
All of the early reports appeared originally on the OpenDTV Forum. The posting of September 14 was in reply to a call for a nuclear attack. The report of September 17 is just the first section of my then-weekly technical post called “Mark’s Monday Memo.” The next day’s report is really the first in which I began writing about my city.
Incidentally, if you’d like to read a better writer’s take on the same town (and its fragility), I highly recommend E. B. White’s Here Is New York. “The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible,” he wrote. “A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions.”
It was first published in 1949.