Remembering September 11th on the 20 Year Anniversary

By Benn Marine

Twenty years since 9/11. How surreal is this feeling?

It’s unbelievable to think an event still so fresh in our minds could have happened two decades ago. Larry Vine was there that day. He remembers the disbelief and fear, the panicked crowds, and the deafening silence that followed. He also remembers the feeling of unity that followed shortly after and how an entire city of once-strangers managed to come together as one. 

 

The stories that emerged from 9/11 serve as a way to, not only, remember the 2,996 that died, but share the grief that touched millions of people. 

No matter where you were that late-summer morning, the fallout from 9/11 thrust our nation into a new era. Events like these reshape the way we live our lives and tell our stories. 9/11 recontextualized the lives of 2,996 people, not to mention the first responders who selflessly risked — and lost — their lives. 

 

For better or worse, 9/11 is a shared trauma; something millions of people can point to and say: “I remember where I was when that happened.” It’s these shared memories and experiences that keep the memories of those 2,996 killed and countless others alive while reminding us of something we have in common. Whether you were there in New York or glued to the TV a couple of hundred miles away, we are forever bonded by this horrifying event. 

 

Sometimes hearing stories like Larry’s is all we need to remind ourselves of the few rays of light that managed to peek through that dark day. Whether it’s an oral history, memoir, or any one of the seventeen 9/11 documentaries that came out this year, storytelling is the strongest tool we’ve got to honor the heroes of 9/11. 

 

So, where do we go from here? Keep talking. Teach the next generation about what happened that day; where you were, how you felt, what it meant, and how it affected the world. 

 

Margaret Atwood, the famed author of The Handmaid’s Tale, once said: “You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.” 

 

In the above audio file you can hear a conversation (or read the transcript of it below) between one of our good friends, Allison Blackstone, and one of her former Creative Directors Larry Vine as they reflect on their experiences of September 11th. 

What's Next?

  • Challenge yourself to find something you have in common with a stranger. Let’s come together, if only for one day, and prove we’re capable of the kind of comradery that defined the heroism following 9/11. 
 
 
 
  • Share a story. Whether it’s on Twitter, at an open mic night, or with your family, keep the stories going. 
 
  • Give to the FeelGood Foundation, which assists firefighters, nurses, volunteers, sanitation workers, transportation workers and, other emergency personnel injured in the course of their duties. 
 

Allison Blackstone 0:00
So, Larry, thank you so much for coming in today. Pleasure, you know, 20th anniversary of 911 coming up. And, you know,I was in Florida. And I think everybody can, you know, point back to the moment where they were when 911 happened. It’s almost like JFK, you know, you just remember that moment in time, where you were, what you were doing. And one of the things that always was so important and memorable to me, when you and I were working at the agency together, every 911, you made a point to bring in those photographs that you just shared with us. And you would recount your story. And I think it’s so important to have those oral traditions preserved, because I think about my daughter, Chloe, she’s 11. This is how she’s going to understand about this American tragedy. And you know, and I think it’s just so important, that it doesn’t fall out of the cultural fabric, that we have to keep reminding ourselves and talking about it, and carrying on that oral tradition. So I was hoping you would just take us through your recollections of the day, the day before, and just share your 911 story with us.

 

Larry Vine 1:17
I would love to, it’s great to have an opportunity to tell the story. And you know, I have this little memory of it that I go through every year. And sort of recreate the day I as as I’ve mentioned to you, I mean, I’m a lucky one I had nothing traumatic happened to me. I was there, and I experienced it all. And that I can tell you, but first, maybe I give you a little anecdote about on September 10, there was a concert being given for free at the World Trade Center, a place where I never had gone to hear music. But on September 10, the band and nields were playing and I thought I go down there, check it out. And it was a small audience, maybe 2030 people playing right at the foot of the I can’t remember what it was Building 1 or Building 2. And it was a lovely night and a lovely concert. And then you go home, you got to sleep you wake up the next day, and the world has changed. So that day, I remember in great detail in that. I think my wife and I, which we don’t then not usually do left for work around the same time. I happen to have a doctor’s appointment that morning. She was walking up Fifth Avenue when the plane literally flew over her head. And she was like, you know, this is in retrospect, she was shocked and couldn’t understand what a plane was doing. Flying so low, basically down Fifth Avenue. But in any case, when I got to the office that day, well, actually I was working on the bush won’t mean much to most people at an agency at 57th and Third Avenue. And in the lobby of the building was a bank. And as I was walking into work that day, I saw hundreds of people in the lobby of the bank. So I had gone in to see what happened. And it was staring up at the monitors. And someone said a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. And I think this, this must have been around 9ish, I’m guessing because I think the actual first plane was around 8:42 in the morning. So I know I got there around nine or so. So the first had already happened. And this is I’m almost embarrassed to tell you this. But my very first thought that day when I when I was in that bank lobby was almost like people I thought it was almost a joke like, oh god, this must be the worst pilot in the world. thinking this was like some little Piper Cub brains on little playing like that. Not having any sense of the scope of what just took place. So it’s interesting. And I went up to the office where everybody else was and everybody you know, it’s an ad agency. So there’s monitors everywhere. And everyone’s got everything tuned. I don’t remember whether it’s CNN or what trying to get some information. And nothing like this has ever happened before. And no one knew what to do. No one knew how to react. I remember the owner of the agency not knowing what to do. Do I close the place? Do I keep people here you know, and, and it’s sort of if I remember correctly, it came down to your own decision. Like if you want to leave by all means leave. And so I left with I think virtually everyone and we were walking because there were no trains running. There are no buses or no cabs, there is no transportation. The city has literally come to a standstill. So I was living at a time down I’m in the village in Greenwich Village. And so I started walking down Fifth Avenue with this young account executive who I was working with. And I’ll never forget this because, you know, when this first happened, people weren’t aware of what really took place, and it didn’t sink in, what happens, you know, you just work confused. And you have 1000s of people walking around New York, dazed and confused, just not sure what took place, what they’re supposed to do how they’re supposed to feel. And so I was walking with this young woman down Fifth Avenue toward, towards my apartment. And then this is funny to me, in retrospect, you know, she was a young dynamic account executive, like in her early 20s. And at some point, I think it was around 25th. And fifth, she said to me, I’m gonna go to the gym now. And she just, you know, made a right turn and headed off the gym. And I’ll continue going down Fifth Avenue. And I’m approaching the building where my wife works. And I, you know, so I said, you know, I’ll go in and get in my wife, Jackie. So as she was working with this company, Harris Interactive, I go into the building, take the elevator up to her floor. And, you know, they asked me, can we help you? And I said, Yeah, I’m here to give take my wife home. And they were like, a little confused themselves, like, why would happen, you know, they were sort of oblivious to it. And that’s what I’m saying. It took a long while I think, for a whole lot of people to understand what happened and for the start to sink in. And he starts at, you know, the gravity of this situation. So, you know, I said to Jackie, come on, we’re going and it was like, I became a hero in her office, because it went the next day, they realize, Oh, he came in to say that he knows. So I got major props. Yes. You know, I was the hero for that three minutes. So continue the walk down Fifth Avenue. And when we got to 14th Street, it was very difficult. There are a lot of police and army, etc. And at some point, and I don’t think it was that day, I think it might have been the next day, to go below 14th street where we lived, you had a show ID to get by. But what the amazing thing that happened right at that point, when my wife and I are, we’re just crossing 14th Street. And there’s, I’ll never forghet this. There’s is a diner on university place. And that’s the street we lived on was University. And as we’re walking down, all of a sudden, you hear throngs of people screaming and running. And we didn’t know what happened. Was this another bomb? Was it What was this? Because there were literally 1000s of people like running, not sure where they were running, including myself, we were just running down. And, you know, what happened was it was someone’s phone went off in the restaurant, and it caused mass hysteria, and people started running and screaming. And when they got out to the street, it just increased, more or more people started. So I, you know, my wife and I held hands and just started running towards our apartment. And and that sort of became, you know, the mind frame at that point of, Oh, my God, what’s going on here that you know, and I remember saying to my wife, you know, this must be what it’s like to live in Israel or Lebanon, you know, where you’re constantly on guard and stay that way. So once again, this is still the first day we get home andone of my nephews who has gone to NYU and we live on the corner, right across the street from NYU, and the corner of Washington Square. He was there with his roommate. And they came, they were just shocked. They didn’t know where to do what to go. And I don’t know how much NYU had told us to you know, because this was all happening live. So they sort of came in and lived with us for the next few days. And, you know, that’s when he would walk in, you couldn’t stay in your apartment that you had a there was a sense, you had to get out. You had to be with people. You had to learn more, you had to see what was going on. So then, you know, we started walking around, you know, our neighborhood, the village, and all sudden signs, like, you know, and this happened more and more as days went on, obviously, but sighs we’re beginning to go up anywhere you can imagine. Have you seen this person? Have you seen this person? I’ve seen this person and it didn’t matter who it was. It was pasted on sidewalks on walls. Anywhere you can imagine you can hang a little flyer, you know, eight and a half by 11 sheet of paper. People were there. And, you know, going back to like my Dazed and Confused comment. I do remember people Just walking around like zombies, just, you know, everyone’s like making eye contact, but you don’t know whether smile and nod, say hello. And it’s just everyone’s walking around just like dumbfounded, what has taken place and don’t forget at the time, there’s massive amounts of smoke in the air, there’s masses of amounts of whatever chemicals, etc. The smell stayed in the air for days, we I don’t even know. I mean, it always smells like to me like wire burning somewhere. And you just, and the thing that struck I think everybody more than anything, is a hush came over the city. I mean, you have to live in New York and understand the level of decibels of sound, the noise, to hear the absence of that is just astounding. And because once again that day, nothing was running, except fire trucks. And every time you saw a fire engine go by people on the sidewalk, just broke into applause. And you know, and the same thing with the police as well, because these were our heroes that day. And there was this camaraderie in New York that I don’t think I’ll ever exist like that, again, where everybody is, was we’re all in the same boat, you know. And it’s something you know, you just don’t forget.

 

Allison Blackstone 11:26
You know, as you’re talking to me, just thinking about my own experience. Again, I said, You know, I was in Florida when, when this happened, and I remember being I was working in a different agency, very early on in my career, I had not yet met the formidable Larry Vine. But I remember, you know, just getting to work in the morning. And then, you know, the news was on or, and I remember someone running in, and we have a little TV in the creative department, and they turned it on. And it was, it was right as the plane flew into the first tower. And I remember there was a guy I’ve worked with at the agency I did not get along with at all his name was Richard, and I were just like, diametrically opposed. And I remember, just, like being so scared, and starting to cry, and Richard came in, and I remember him just like, hugging me, and rubbing my back. And, like, it was the kindest most human thing anyone has ever done for me, because I remember just feeling just like, this sense of powerlessness and fear. And I remember thinking over and over in my mind, because then it’s like, in no short order, the second plane hit. And I remember thinking, why is this just not stopping? Why with Why won’t this stop? Like, why is this and again, that confusion in that fear? And, you know, I mean, we’re 1000s of miles away. You know, I just remember feeling like, Why won’t it stop? What is happening? Like, is this the end of every

 

Larry Vine 13:05
Right. That’s a good point, because the second plane, I think, that shocked the hell.

 

Allison Blackstone 13:11
It was like, the first one was, was just like, yeah, I can, I can, you know, attribute that to a pilot’s lost his way, or someone’s had a medical emergency catch a freak accident. But when that second one hit, it was like, the world just went insane. To me in that moment, everything that I thought I knew and understood and felt grounded . Tcollapse, literally collapsed, you know, and, you know, I think about, and that was always so impactful to me that you would come in and tell these stories. You know, I had one in my, in my family, we had one person who was touched every good families friend whose son right had passed. But I think about you and all the people that you were connected to.

 

Larry Vine 14:00
But you know, once again, I was very fortunate. I mean, I could give you examples of six degrees of separation people have known through someone else. Yeah. But I, you know, I was so fortunate that not only did me or my family suffer any, you know, thing, but no one I know that as well. And but I mean, it doesn’t change anything, but that the city, the city came together, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. And I guess at the time, let me think I was probably living in New York around 30 years. And I had never seen the city that way where people just had respect for each other and people wanted to help each other. And it was like, you know, like, like I said, I lived across the street from Washington Square Park. Well, that became sort of one of the focal points in the city for groups to congregate because it was this great park right and you know, the NYU area and I remember, I guess it was the second day, Amy Goodman from NPR spoke, and to sit in Washington Square Park and hear total silence was just unbelievable. You know, because the, here’s the place where bands are usually playing, and people are yelling, and you know, all kinds of activities are going on. And now all sudden, this is just the place for people to come and congregate and be together and not feel the need to talk or, you know, it was, it was just something and I, the, you know, the biggest revelation I think I had that day or that week, whatever. You know, one of the kids who was staying at our house with us, my nephew’s friend, his parents came like a week later to see his their son and they wanted to take my wife and I out to dinner being so nice, etc. And we were talking and they said, I remember that we’re walking down the street, I said, Do you think this could happen again? And I remember thinking, how could it not happen again, you know, if they pull this off, you know, and so I am amazed that nothing has happened since then. But that’s the revelation for me. The epiphany was, even though intellectually I knew all these years, I was living on an island. On 911, you can’t get off that island, you’re stranded, because there’s no transportation. So how you know, so it was the epiphany was, I will you know, if this ever happens again, there’s no way we’ll get off this island, you know, and it was just it was shocking. I mean, like I said, I knew all my life, it was an island, but I never thought about being stranded on that island. And, you know, there was 11 stranded

 

Allison Blackstone 16:49
In the middle of New York, right? Yeah, that’s, you know, I was just gonna go back to something that you’d mentioned, because it was something that, you know, again, a personal reflection, but that idea of, you know, that, that shared human experience, and that pain, that pain that shared collective pain, you know, I remember being in my house, and just crying and crying, and, you know, they were asking people to light candles in the windows. And I remember, you know, lighting candles in our front window, and looking out and just feeling comforted because I could look across the street. And I saw other candles, you know, and there was just something about that idea that we were all going through this together. That was really honestly the only thing that that felt like any comfort at that moment.

 

Larry Vine 17:41
Well, I think that’s a great point. Because if you think about it, when has the country ever been closer? Right? Yeah. In mass?

 

Allison Blackstone 17:48
Yes. Yes. Well, someone asked me that the other day, they said, you know, and they were they weren’t, you know, it wasn’t a political conversation. But it was, do you think if that occurred right now that we would have the same American reaction?

 

Larry Vine 18:09
That’s a great question.

 

Allison Blackstone 18:10
Could we come together, you know, as a nation, and have that shared experience and put aside all the things that are dividing us right now?

 

Larry Vine 18:21
Well, that’s interesting. Because if you if you think about it, and I don’t know, if you want to go off in this direction, but COVID could have been that, yeah. In other words, here’s this massive disease, and we’re all suffering from and all, you know, you know, we’re ready to get your contact. And that’s that, in fact, it had the opposite of a support. And you think that would have brought us together? Like, I’ll help you, I’ll get a vaccination, you know, because I don’t help my neighbor as well as me. But no, you know, I think it was like an anomaly 911 in some ways.

 

Allison Blackstone 18:56
Well, you know, that what do they always say? It’s like, nothing unites you more than a common enemy, right. And in this case, we had, you know, this common enemy. And when I think about COVID, I, it’s strange to me, and not to go down the rabbit hole, but we don’t ascribe the same kind of right, you know, unity around this issue. And this event, very true. You know, this sad but true. No, it’s important. I think, you know, one of the things that when I when I asked you to come and share your story, again, going back to that tradition of oral storytelling, and you know why that matters so much as a culture and how we preserve these watershed moments in our history. I think, you know, you are an amazing storyteller. The fact that we’re both in advertising makes us storytellers. I know you roll your eyes, but I’m a big fan of, you know this, but I think it’s important to talk about these things and to have these these moments in time recognized and, and talked about and delivered over and over again, you know, as we started to talk about, I was doing some research on the oral tradition of 911 and storytelling and I came across the name Studs Terkel, right. This was someone I’d never heard of. And of course, you were like, Oh, yeah, Iknow a guy who knows a guy whoI’m like, Oh, my God, sorry. But you know, Studs Terkel had this amazing career came out of Chicago. And yeah, it’s, I want to say it’s WFMT could have those two letters backwards. But, you know, there’s I came across this, you know, amazing repositories cut, like over 2000 radio broadcasts where he’s interviewed some of the most amazing people in American history. And I’m, you know, it was this 911 path that brought me here, right, you know, when I, you know, I’m just interested to hear your thoughts on, you know, kind of that idea of why it’s important to as a writer, right, you are, why, why we need to tell these stories, why we need to share these stories.

 

Larry Vine 21:11
Well, it’s, I think, is the history of man. It’s, it’s so it’s always been, where stories were told and passed on. And knowledge was passed on. And history has passed on. Because people weren’t, they weren’t books, obviously, and things like that. So, you know, oral discussion became crucial. I there’s in terms of Studs Terkel, I know he his thing was about working people yeah. And he would interview with tons of working people and about and find out interesting aspects about each person’s job and then you get you gain a respect for what each person.

 

Allison Blackstone 21:47
Common…common man, your neighbor.

 

Larry Vine 21:49
Who’s going through the same trials and tribulations you are. Yeah, the coincidence with with Studs Terkel is a friend who I grew up with, who is, at one time was big on Broadway did hair, he conducted hair when he was 18. He wrote the music for working the play, right brought right

 

Allison Blackstone 22:09
Based on his 1974 book, which I just discovered and planned to read.

 

Larry Vine 22:13
And I have the album at home if you have questions. But you know, I’ve also read, you know, like, I think the term is griotte and griotte, is what’s passed down. Where another words that doesn’t exist in written form, okay. And like in Australia, there’s, there’s something called song lines. And what happens is that by oral tradition, families pass on their story, through the song lines, and like, someone will yell or sing something, it’ll reach another person, who will then continue it and it’ll reach another person further down the line. I may be getting this somewhat wrong, that’s okay. But it’s just fascinating that this was how that culture was passed down. And you know, in place of books and things like that.

 

Allison Blackstone 23:04
Yeah. And I think hearing someone’s voice, you know, there’s such power in a voice like, I love your gravelly voice like I can, I can hear it, you know, and, and for someone to hear, it’s so different than reading it on the page, you know, the emotion and the context that hearing it orally delivered, right gives to me is so powerful.

 

Larry Vine 23:30
You know, it’s funny, because I have a friend who listens to a lot of audio books, as opposed to reading Yeah, I always read the books as bad as the audiobooks. And he was always saying to me, just what you’re saying that when you hear the word spoken, when you hear the intent of the emphasis placed here or there, it changes everything, you know, and I think there’s probably a lot of truth to that.

Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing your your story, Larry, you know, ever, I would love to hear it every year. And thank you for sharing the photographs. And, you know, just helping us preserve this, this historic moment in American history. No, pass on,

I just add one thing, you know, last night, I was saying to my wife, I can’t think of a woman’s name, who I walked down Fifth Avenue. And like, say, for the first 10 years afterwards, you know, 2001 we’d always exchanged like, an email or a nice that way. Sure. You know, and I got off Facebook like 10 years ago, smart and smart. Yeah, but I can’t remember her now. Geez. So, you know, I’ve lost that connection, unfortunately.

is there anyone else from New York that you keep in touch with around this time of year that you, you know, kind of do I was sharing that you know, there was someone else that we worked with the agency and sometimes a little like pieces of your story? overlap, right? You know, and they’ve they’ve kind of combined into A different narrative for me, which can be a problem with storytelling. But is there anybody else who keep in touch with?

Yes, there was there was a friend of mine, a woman. She was a creative director at Ogilvy. And her were very friendly with her her and her husband. She had two young children at the time. Ava and Ben, An B as she would all them, and somehow we ended up with them. I think we have the first day or the second day and the I guess the six of us, including the kids, we just sat in Washington Square Park, because she lived in the village as well. And just we will always have that connection. And some, this is a quick aside. I was with the same people when John Kennedy Jr’s plane went down. And there was another catastrophe. I always seem to be with these people.

 

Allison Blackstone 25:54
We need to stop youneed to stop getting together. Yes, yes. That feels important. Yeah. So two, two follow up questions. What was the name of the agency where you were working?

 

Larry Vine 26:05
Roberts & Tarlow , and what was the name of the deli that you were walking by?

Allison Blackstone 26:10
Was it your like, neighborhood deli?

 

Larry Vine 26:12
Oh no, it was a diner diner. Yeah, I can’t I don’t you know, I was trying to think it was a Tom’s but I think Tom’s was the one up by Columbia. I can’t remember the name of it, but I just remember that feeling of panic. It was that brahmanic just desperation running just oh, no, no destination in mind just running clueless as to where we’re going. Or even why we were running. But we just ran and ran, you know, yeah. So yeah, I won’t forget that throw. I bet you won’t. I bet you but thank you for this opportunity.

 

Allison Blackstone 26:43
Yeah, Larry it’s so good to talk with you.

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