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Coda

A Moment of Clarity

 

The morning of September 11, 2001, I remember thinking to myself, "If I get out of this alive, I'll quit this day job and do music full time." That day, I was on the 48th floor of World Trade Center Tower 1 when a plane hit the North Tower, and I had no idea how I was going to get out.

Only two weeks earlier, my office sat on the 81st floor of World Trade Center Tower 2; but after a merger, my employer Fuji Bank relocated. Initially, I was not happy about the move. I'd had a great view from the 81st floor, now I'd been shoved into a cubicle on the 48th floor with people I didn't know. My coworker Stanley Praimnath was still working on the 81st floor when he caught a glimpse of a plane approaching the building. He told me later that he saw debris hit my old desk. Somehow, he too got out alive.

My first recollection is of a loud boom and the building shuddering. I saw papers falling outside my window. The building moved first to the left, then to the right, then forward and backward so forcefully that I was thrown from my chair. Irrationally, I thought if only I could hold on to my desk, I could make it if the building fell over.

It felt like everything was in slow motion. I can still see things as clearly as if it were a movie. As I made my way toward the elevators, my heart pounded. After I realized that my new key card didn't work, I headed for the stairwell. When I opened the door, I saw a man coming down the stairs screaming the Lord's Prayer at the top of his lungs. Until then, I hadn't comprehended the gravity of the situation. After seeing him, I knew that something horrible had happened and I needed to get out immediately.

When I got into the stairwell, white smoke was coming through the vents, so I used my T-shirt to cover my nose and mouth. That's when I realized that I'd left my wallet and cell phone at my desk. I had no money and no way to call anyone. A guy on the stairs told me his cell phone wasn't working and loaned me the money to try a pay phone.

As I descended the stairs, I passed firemen coming up with all their gear on. I was struck by their bravery as they headed to the place from which we were trying to escape. The stairwell was small and jammed with people. I went looking for another but found the next one filled too. I was able to get down several flights of stairs to somewhere around the 30th floor, where I saw televisions blaring the news. That's when I first learned that a plane had hit the building. I tried to use the phones, but they didn't work. I looked outside to see how far up I was and even considered breaking a window and jumping. I desperately wanted to escape. I overheard a few people say there was a stairwell that was clear, so I followed them.

At about the 10th floor, water started trickling down the stairs from the floors above, and it gave clues to the severity of the situation. Finally, I arrived at ground level. There was broken glass and water everywhere. All the store windows had been blown out and the place was deserted. I saw a police officer and asked which way to go. She directed me to a distant exit by Borders Books. As I passed the PATH Train entrance, I wondered if I could take the train to get out. I'm grateful that another officer told me the trains weren't running and that I should get out as soon as possible.

Once I reached the street, I started running. I looked up and saw the building engulfed in a huge yellow fireball. People were standing around watching as if it were a TV show. But if they'd experienced the destruction I saw from inside the towers, they would have known to run away.

But who could blame them? In the street, the scene was indeed surreal. There were no cars, just people sprinting uptown to escape the area. I headed toward TVT Records where my friend worked. Along the way, I asked passersby if I could borrow their cell phones and stopped at a store in Chinatown to use a landline, but the phones were dead. At last, I reached my friend's office. He couldn't believe I had made it out alive and explained that the buildings had collapsed. I was in disbelief until I saw the images on his TV. I felt so lucky to have gotten out. I left Manhattan a little later on a ferry going to Hoboken, New Jersey, and made my way to another friend's house.

Back to Basics

I've gone over the chain of events that led me to where I was on September 11. I graduated from Berklee in 1999 and had been signed to LT Productions/DreamWorks Records. After I moved to New York City, I needed a day job. So I began temping at Fuji Bank at the World Trade Center. It offered me a lucrative full-time position, and I accepted. I figured that when my music career took off, I would quit. But after 9/11, many things were in shambles. My record deal fell through, and I needed to get out of Manhattan for a while, so I moved back into my parents' home in upstate New York.

I promised myself that if I got out of the World Trade Center alive, I'd work on music full time. After surviving that day, I experienced a moment of clarity: tomorrow isn't guaranteed to come, so living for an elusive dream began to feel hollow. And I could see that in the process, I'd gotten sucked into the rat race. I was holding down a day job just so I could earn enough money to pay rent in Manhattan and be close enough to the city to nurture a recording deal that, truthfully, didn't feel right. I decided that from that day forward, I wouldn't work in any field but music. It's vital to do what you love.

I recalled that as a teenager, I had a guitar teacher who used to come to our house and teach me the songs I really wanted to learn. He made learning fun. I'd enjoyed teaching guitar on and off after Berklee and decided to advertise in the local paper, offering to teach students the music they loved in their homes. Within a short time, business was booming. I was actually struggling to keep up with the demand.

 
Mark Sly works as a music teacher and performer in Chester, New York. Visit www.slymarkmusic.com or www.createspace.com for information on his DVD.  

Unable to be everywhere at once, I made an instructional DVD so my students could have access to a lesson anytime. I filmed Mark Sly's Secrets Guitar Teachers Don't Want You To Know! and used my original music for the soundtrack. It offers a fun approach for beginners interested in current guitar styles. Taking a cue from my students who play video games like Guitar Hero, I gave the DVD the look and feel of a video game by filming against a green screen and adding graphics later. I now receive requests for instructional videos for bass and advanced guitar.

My young students keep me on top of all the new bands and music. I never thought I'd love teaching this much. I come home totally energized by my students. The feedback is positive, and teaching has improved my own playing. Each year, there is a new crop of 12- and 13-year olds who want to learn to play guitar, and I get the call.

Six years after the tragic events of 9/11, I feel fortunate that life is so good. I have a great wife, and we live in the town where my family has lived since the Civil War. I have reacquainted myself with what drew me to music in the first place. I've learned how rewarding it can be to share my knowledge and love for music with others who, like me, really want to learn. And while I still have lofty musical aspirations, the experience of surviving 9/11 has made me better appreciate the realization of dreams that are closer at hand.