By Allen Levin
Today is the 17th anniversary of a terrible day in American history. I remember exactly where I was. I remember the feelings. I remember how LA changed that day and how we all changed moving forward. I’m interested in your 9/11 stories. Comment them below. Where were you and what was your life like before and right after?
I was asleep in my 2 bedroom with no central air Burbank apartment. My roommate Gabriel Diggs (Taye’s Brother and the wonderful Marcia’s son) came knocking on my door in the very early morning hours. Gabe never did this, so I knew it was strange, but waking up to it was irritating. My gut response was, “Whatever this is, can’t it wait? Stephanie is here and you woke us both!” Stephanie, my first “real” girlfriend had spent the night. We woke up to a set of knocks. We ignored them. The knocks happened again and the door cracked open. Gabriel’s voice was soft but serious:
“I think you should turn on the news. The Pentagon has been attacked.” We turned on the news and by that time a plane had just hit the first tower. We watched in horror as that day began unfolding. The news covered it as the second plane hit. Unreal! Is this real life or a Michael Bay film? I wish it had been some sort of publicity stunt, but it was real. Americans were dying. We’d been attacked on our own soil.
As an actor I was connecting fairly strongly and didn’t want to cancel my meetings for the day. I was being taken to the Friars Club to meet Mr. Television himself, Milton Berle, by a “casting director” / producer – who would, in the next few days become my #metoo story. At this time I didn’t realize what a piece of shit the CD was, so I went along on the meeting.
I remember that there was sadness that was palpable everywhere. People were crying anywhere you saw them, but where you saw very few people was on the streets. Parking was plentiful where ever you wanted to go. There was essentially no traffic. Open freeways and open parking. Not the happy benefit you’d think it would be as the reasons were awful. I was 24. I didn’t fully understand how bad the attacks were. I remember thinking that the people crying everywhere were over-reacting, but something in me did get past myself enough to know this is terrible. I still had no idea how many people were dying.
The Friars Club was empty. This was my first time inside. I remember how nice it was. I remember the big screen CRT TV’s that they had on, all were showing footage of the attack. Plans hitting buildings. Everyone in shock and weeping. I can’t remember what I ordered. I can’t remember what we spoke of (It was probably the pilot lead I’d booked through the CD, that ultimately I walked away from due to his unwanted groping of me and his threat that he wouldn’t “let” me work on the two projects I’d booked unless he could blow me). Milton didn’t show. Most everyone that day didn’t show. RIP Milton Berle. RIP to the fallen. RIP to the fallen heroes.
I remember the gloom that went on for at least a month. We were in shock. I remember the days after the attack, looking up in the sky and seeing no planes. The planes were grounded by the FAA national operations manager Ben Sliney. Welcome to the job, Ben. It was his first day on the job. I remember how bad the day was, and I remember how many people came together. I remember feeling like a community needing to help each other through this. I remember stories of heroes and I remember stories of tradgedy.
Two stories that stand out in my mind. There was a man that was due at the World Trade Center building that was hit. His work called and told him he needed to get on a flight and come back. This is the reason he wasn’t in the second building when it was attacked. They then told him to get back to the WTC. He was on his way back to the WTC when he saw the second plane (the plane he was supposed to be on) hit the building he was supposed to be in. I sure hope he’s done some great things with his life post 9/11. He was saved.
I remember one other man who was trapped on the 88th floor on the elevator. He was yelling for help and pounding on the doors. Many people passed him up without assisting. He kept yelling and ultimately he was helped out of the doors. He ran down 88 floors in the chaos. He made it 15 feet from the front door, and the building collapsed on top of him. It was his time. He fought for every second and he so nearly escaped. RIP.
This is the single day that I can remember in my life time, so many times wishing we could go back in time and change this. I wish that people had responded to the warnings of suspicious types taking flying lessons (and not caring about learning to land). I feel we could have prevented this tragedy but in all things we can learn. I learned a lot over the days and years that followed.
The thing I learned the most: Our careers are not more important than people’s lives. I, at age 24, had a single minded focus on my career. I had trouble (as Maddy has eloquently put it) seeing past my own nose. I was upset that I didn’t get to meet Milton Berle. I was upset that life was interrupted for this. I had to face my own selfishness and needed to change. I’m proud of who I’ve become. I’m not proud of who I was, although I understand my drive. I was in the thick of trying to prove to myself that I am worthy of living the life I dream. I had yet to do anything particularly real for my career and I was aggressive. I just wish I had cried that day. I didn’t. I didn’t get it.
The tears came much later as I was able to get past myself and really understand the terrible day that I was disappointed that Milton missed our meeting. I can feel my eyes welling up now, as I finally get it. So much pain. So much shock. I still can’t believe it. 17 years have past. So much at the airports have changed. I remember before 9/11 going all the way to the gate to say goodbye to friends and watching them board the plane and fly off. Those days are over. Can’t even bring a filled water bottle past security these days. Life is different. This really happened.
Each year I think it’s a good practice to remember this day. Let’s remember the dead. Let’s do all we can as a country to avoid allowing the many countries that would like to attack us, that pleasure. People are threatened by our lives where we can pursue any destiny we want. They can’t. Sadly, that makes them hate us. Since we have this privilege that many don’t, let’s use it. Let’s live the lives we can. Let’s enjoy the freedom that we still have.
Many families mourn great losses from this day. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my friend Tanya. She was a stewardess, meant to be on one of the planes that went down. She traded shifts with her roommate, who is now dead, RIP. Tanya went completely crazy. She simply can’t deal with the fact that she was supposed to be on that plane and her roommate died because she wanted to play hooky from work.
Our hearts go out to everyone that experiences pain on this terrible anniversary. Our hearts go out to all the people that have gotten sick having lived with the dust from the attacks. Our hearts go out to the firefighters that were saving people as part of the building collapsed. Our hearts go out to our country. Our hearts go out.
Let’s take a moment to remember 9/11. What are your stories?