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By Albie Del Favero [with Bruce Dobie]
Editor’s Note: Albie Del Favero, executive vice president of Village Voice Media and founding publisher of the Nashville Scene, was our direct supervisor during the tenure that VVM owned Ace. He boarded an American Airlines flight early Tuesday to New York. He was to attend a company board meeting in a Manhattan office. Instead, from the air, he witnessed one of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history on U.S. soil.
This is his account, as relayed to the Scene from a pay telephone in Long Island. [This essay is reprinted with the permission of the Scene.]
Albie Del Favero heard the stewardess say something about smoke billowing from the World Trade Tower, and so he grabbed an empty window seat on the left side of the plane. From there, he had a perfect view of Manhattan beneath him. “It was so surreal, because smoke was just hanging around the World Trade towers, it was just hanging there, yet it was one of those beautiful New York days with incredible blue skies,” Del Favero says. And then, thousands of feet below him, the ugliness overtook the beauty. “All of a sudden, there’s this explosion, and there’s this incredible ball of fire. That was the second plane. Behind me, I heard some guy say, ‘Oh my God, that’s where I was supposed to be sleeping tonight.'”
There was nothing unusual about the flight. Everything was normal. We were on our approach. Then the stewardess said, “Look, the World Trade Center is on fire. There’s smoke billowing out.” There weren’t many people on the flight, so I moved to the left-hand side of the plane to an aisle seat.
Soon, everyone on the plane is starting to talk about it.
Really, it was unbelievable because when you fly into New York on a gorgeous day, it’s just beautiful. And it was a gorgeous day – not a cloud in the sky. It was sort of bizarre because the smoke wasn’t moving – it was just hanging in the air, sitting there. And all of a sudden, this explosion just occurs. It was this incredible ball of fire. And that was the second plane. At that point, the guy behind me says, “I was supposed to stay there tonight.” He worked for J.P. Morgan or something, and he was supposed to be spending the night in the World Trade Center.
Still, at that point, nobody is freaking out. But everyone is saying they think it might have been a bomb. It was such an odd thing. Nobody is panicking at all. And in fact, people are still not clued into the fact that this is such a tragedy. They’re still at the level of dealing with this as an interruption, or as a hassle. So, there was the back and forth between it being a tragedy to being a hassle.
So the plane lands naturally. Nobody says anything. At that point, nobody really knows anything. But the guy behind me gets on his cell phone and calls and finds out it’s a terrorist attack. So, then I called Sara [Del Favero’s wife], because I think she would be worried about me, and she finds out I’m okay. She had heard from CNN that an American Airlines jet had gone down, so she was upset. But as I am getting out of the plane, I still really didn’t know the extent of what had happened. As I’m walking out of the airport, I pass by a television in a bar, and they’re showing footage of the Pentagon having been bombed, and by then I’m understanding this is big.
Still, I’m thinking I’m headed into Manhattan for my board meeting.
I was walking out to get a cab to go into the city. But then everyone is told that all the bridges and tunnels into the city are closed. And at this point, airport security guys start ushering us out of the airport. And then they just start saying, “Go home. No more flights. Go home. No more flights.”
Like we’re supposed to go home. That’s when all these New York-style fights break out with everyone screaming at each other.
So they usher us outside the airport, and we stand there for like 30 minutes. And we’re sitting there outside LaGuardia looking at the two World Trade towers on fire. And then all of a sudden, we’re looking around, and then somebody goes, “They’re gone.” The buildings had collapsed.
So then, the security guards move us even further out from the airport, out to some access road or interstate. A bunch of us just go stand by this ramp. Then someone says all airports in the country are closed. And all I start thinking is, I want to go home.
Three of us then caught a cab, and we pooled some money, and we just headed away from Manhattan rather than toward it.
I’m in Long Island, and things are weird.
I got Sara to rent me a car, and I’m going to try to drive back to Nashville.
The saddest part about this is that one of my daughters called wanting to know if I was all right. My other daughter is on a school retreat.
I hate to think my poor children are old enough to have to understand how tragic this whole thing is. When Oklahoma City happened, they were so young they didn’t grasp it.
But now they can understand. That makes me very sad.
Today, September 11
By Eric Newman
Today, I woke up to the horrified screams of pedestrians on the gray pavement of Fifth Avenue, four floors below my dorm room window. Craning my head out the window to see what I suspected was a horrible car accident, I was shocked to see all heads pointed south, over the historic arch of Washington Square Park. What I saw as I mimicked the onlookers’ gazes looked like something out of a movie, beyond the scope of reality, completely surreal. The towers of the World Trade Center were both afflicted with gaping holes, lined with licking orange flames, and billowing a thick gray smoke.
I have truly seen the worst and the best of the human condition in less than twenty-four hours.
I have seen animals topple and destroy the international symbol of free trade and democracy, burying in the rubble of some misguided fanaticism (for which I am sure they will be duly handled, both by God and global government) the lives of so many American citizens. I watched in utter disbelief, over my friend’s shoulder – her hair sticking to my open mouth – as the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, each section of the high rise crunching down onto the sections below, crushing millions of innocent Americans as it plummeted towards the ground.
Yet, I have also seen the greatest display of human compassion to which I will ever bear witness. Smoke and dust from this morning’s disaster still in the sky, I looked for volunteer work this afternoon, searching to do whatever I could wherever I could.
In short, I found that I could be of no help to any of the local institutions – they were simply overwhelmed with volunteerism and blood donations, from the community of New York City.
I have seen strangers embrace on the street, merely for the sake of comforting another human being. Black and white, Asian and European all blended in the streets in the wake of the tragedy, crying and holding one another.
Dining halls opened their doors, refusing to accept money or University cards in exchange for food.
I have seen for the first time in eighteen years the strength of our American nation and for the first time in my life, I felt an intense surge of national pride. In the face of such a tragedy, I have learned the greatness of America – of how great it is to be American – and do humbly prophesize that my observations today will be reflected in the prompt action against the terrorist perpetrators of this act, this crime, against the American ideal and the freedom of global commerce.
I have an unexplainable, intrinsic knowledge that the nation will overcome this tragedy – America is too great a country, too great an idea, to be destroyed by the machinations of terrorist animals. Though today was undoubtedly one of the most tragic in modern American history, it could be our finest – to prove to the world the power, the strength, the solidarity and the resiliency of the American people.
Ace intern, Spring, 2001
Freshman, New York University
New York City, NY
September 11, 2001
Op/Ed: Day of Infamy
September 11, 2001
From the editor’s desk
My generation wasn’t around for Pearl Harbor (and most of us were smart enough to skip this spring’s Hollywood-ized version of it).
Some of us (those of us on the cusp of the baby boom, and those who came after) know where we were when Kennedy was shot – but many of us were still in diapers.
None of us will ever forget Tuesday, September 11, 2001 however.
I was at my desk early, and had been in a news vacuum from about 7:30 till 8:30, which is the quiet time I use to write, answer mail, and make phone calls.
I’d just picked up my desk phone to call my best friend Helen, in New York – to tell her about running into a long-lost classmate of ours the night before at Jalapeño’s, when my cellphone began ringing insistently (and I ignored it).
I called her office in the Viacom building and got dead air. Thinking I had the number wrong, I tried again, and got a fast-busy. Tried again: this time a recording, “all circuits are busy.” Same thing with her cellphone. Same thing with her line at home.
As I kept trying, my cellphone was ringing non-stop. Finally, I picked up the first message from Charles. It was simultaneously rambling and cryptic something about the World Trade Center.
I called his office, and suddenly, he was telling me some insane story about a commercial jet flying into the World Trade Center. It seemed unbelievable, but at the same time, my mind and heart were already a thousand miles away with one of our contributing writers, Elle, who works on Wall Street. Her husband Mario (also an Ace contributing writer) was flying to L.A. this week for his first art exhibit out there. (And wasn’t that jet headed for L.A.?) Elle’s subway stop is at the WTC. My mind was also on Helen, whose train passes underneath the WTC between 8:30 and 9 a.m. every morning.
As we spoke, he exclaimed, “Oh my God!!” Another jet had hit the second tower.
I typed in NORAD on my search engine. The site was down. I asked about Charles’s brother John (who lives in Brooklyn), and he was fine – though he was scheduled for an appointment at the WTC at 4 p.m.
I ran into the art department, where NPR was on. Some “man on the street” interviewee was insisting there were no planes, only an explosion. “Probably a bomb,” he was speculating. The anchor was protesting, in an English accent, that the television footage clearly indicated two planes.
Within a half hour, our staff was convened in the front office, glued to the TV.
Our Associate Editor was absent – waiting frantically by the phone – we knew her fiance was in New York on a due diligence trip, but no one seemed to know where.
Our V Magazine project director, Dan Elkinson, was also absent. His father works in the World Trade Center. On the 34th floor.
Our spring 2001 intern, Eric Newman, was somewhere in Manhattan, at New York University. He’s 18 years old.
Our 2001 summer office assistant, Bobby Houlihan, is also now a freshman somewhere in New York City.
And then there was the Village Voice, and specifically Village Voice Media, in Cooper Square. Their executives were all scheduled to be there for a meeting – all of our former bosses. Dead air everytime we called their main number. Fast busy every time we tried their direct lines.
We sat in the front office, next to the switchboard, in front of the television, watching the tragedy unfold while we worked on our laptops in the floor.
As we all stumbled around in a state of half-shock, Jim Shambhu, our longtime art director, was the first to ask, “what are we doing here? What are we doing, as a newspaper?”
Our options were so limited. We were halfway to press. We were contractually obligated to deliver V Magazine, our literary quarterly, to the stands this Thursday. Content and art was in. The imposition was done. Layout was almost complete. We were ready to line-edit.
The editorial had already been devoted to Rick Bragg’s upcoming reading. I’d finished that Sunday night.
Dan had worked very hard on V Magazine – collecting a beautiful array of literature and art. We’d even managed to get Wendell Berry to contribute a poem. We couldn’t scrap it.
Instead, we carved out room where we could.
Finally, we connected with the Nashville Scene. Albie Del Favero (co-founder of the Scene, executive vice president at VVM, and our former boss) had landed. He was safe. His account of the events from the air, phoned in to Scene editor/publisher Bruce Dobie, appears on page 6.
Eric Newman, our former intern, also had the wherewithal and presence of mind to immediately get his observations on paper. His essay appears on page 6.
Bobby’s father emailed us this morning to let us know his son is safe.
Elle and Helen missed their morning trains. Mario was on an earlier flight to L.A. He was overwrought and in tears by the time I actually spoke to him (after he’d endured 45 minutes of being unable to locate his wife). Dan’s father was in the WTC, but made it out. A miracle. Eloise’s fiance, David, drove home in the middle of the night, shaken but ok.
As far away as we were, our lives here were consumed by so many near misses. As American citizens, they’ll be consumed for far longer by far more global implications.
As human beings, our hearts go out to those who are living in the eye of this storm.
As Mario emailed me this morning, “There are simply so many we love in this world. My thoughts and prayers go out to others who were touched by this disaster. I have this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that I will have known a victim of this atrocity.”
Before it’s over, it’s almost certain that we all will. And on more levels than any of us can anticipate right now.