“The dust, it was everywhere. We couldn’t breathe. I could smell the stench of bodies from Brooklyn.”

My friend and I exchange a glance – eyes wide, both in horror. We’re in the backseat of an Uber – driving down Lower Manhattan towards our loft. Turning left onto Greenwich Street, we pass the Ground Zero… the Observatory towering over the site – like a guardian angel.

“None of this was here,” our driver continues to share, as he points to the surrounding buildings.

“This was all taped off. There was still smoke, six months later.”

Six months, I think to myself – amazed at what I’m hearing… my mind conjuring up an image of the smoke blanketing the New York skyline.

“No one came to this end of the city. People were scared this was going to happen again. And Brooklyn – it completely changed. All of the Wall Street guys moved there. They needed a place to live, so they invested in it,” he said.

There’s something about his long dreadlocks, golden skin and Marley-like aura. Although I can’t quite see his face well, I spot his soft smile in the rear vision mirror. We zone in on his every word – captivated.

He tells us he had no immediate friends or family that was affected – and I exhale a big deep breath, thankful, for him.

Only two days before, we went to the memorial site. We bought our ticket, downloaded the app, and pulled our headphones out of our backpack. We made our way around the tribute centre – earplugs in, following a map.

We learned the facts… The number of levels in the twin towers, the time of the attack, how many people passed…

There was a special room dedicated to all of the people that lost their lives. Thousands of faces. Video tributes cycled from person to the next – each family sharing how they remember their loved one. It was a powerful experience.

9/11 was certainly present in our minds. We’d done the memorial. We ate dinner at a restaurant opposite the site, with hundreds of fire department badges on the wall. We were staying 200 metres away from where it happened. We’d wake up every morning to the sound of construction workers re-building the area. But it isn’t until now, that I realise just how much I didn’t relate to it before.

It is this car ride, this man sharing his story that connects us to 9/11. His story was the turning point, and this surprised me. There was just something about what he told us. It was raw, unfiltered and unscripted.

He shared what life was like after 9/11. How people were just trying to deal with it and get on with their lives – as the city was still in turmoil. The stench of bodies. The six months of smoke. This is how they lived, for so long after.

I could visualise it. I could feel it. I could hear it in his voice. He lived in New York before. He lived there after. And he’s still living here now, in the city he loves. His life didn’t stop. There was no anger. 

Up until this point, everything I knew about 9/11 was through the media. But here, in this car, we stepped into a New Yorkers own personal experience… 15 years on. It was only for 10 minutes, but when I think of 9/11 now, I’ll think of him.

This reaffirms exactly why I travel. To continuously challenge myself. To learn about the something as profound as 9/11, from someone who’s actually experienced it. It’s about making connections with people, because I’m genuinely curious about them. To live, through others.

It’s about moments. Moments just like this one. This man, and his story, connected us to New York and its tale… in an Uber ride, on a lazy Wednesday afternoon.

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