One thing was how, around 11 in the morning, there was absolutely no traffic on the streets. Another thing was the smoke, at first a gigantic plume and then sort of everywhere. And the feeling of despair, loneliness and helplessness. And then the days, weeks and then months of flyers, posters, pictures, almost all with a face or a family photo, always with the same message: “believed to have been in the World Trade Center on 9/11, someone said they saw him being taken away in an ambulance, please call if you have seen him.”
Just thinking about how beautiful it was that morning in
I lived in northern
I basically had two real choices for the commute – either an 8:25 train or an 8:50 train. There were earlier trains, all known as the MidTOWN DIRECT on the Morris & Essex line, but it really didn’t matter too much because regardless of how early I got to work I was going to be there until midnight or later. And the nice thing about being a lawyer in
The train station was uneventful, bought a bottle of diet Coke from Joyce at the coffee stand, put it in my soft leather briefcase, and assumed a standing position at where I hoped one of the train doors would stop, briefcase on the asphalt between my feet, New York Times in hand, waiting for the train. How stupid I was all those years to be spending so much time – so much time – waiting for a train.
The train only made a few stops before NYP – South Orange, Orange, Brick Church, Newark Broad Street, and then the long stretch across the Passaic River, the Newark marshes, past the still-under-construction Secaucus transfer station, and then if lucky a smooth trip under the Hudson River into New York City. If unlucky, you’d sit and wait while an Amtrak train or two passed by, since Amtrak owned the tracks and got priority use.
Shortly after leaving
Just a couple of minutes past Broad Street, I looked out the window to the north and noticed traffic was stopped heading toward the Lincoln Tunnel. No biggie. Then I noticed that traffic was stopped on purpose, and people were standing on the south side of the road, shading their eyes and looking south toward the bay or lower
At that moment, the guy seated across from me, his cell phone rang. He answered it quickly. He listened, his face turned white (well, he was a white guy but his face got even more white), and then he stood up and abruptly bent over to look out the window on the right side of the train car. He said “Oh my God,” and sat down and folded his phone. I seriously thought he was having a heart attack, he was sweating so bad and shaking. Uncharacteristically for the morning commute, I leaned over and said, “hey, are you okay? Do you need some water or some air?” He said “no, that was my wife and she said the radio is saying that a small airplane had hit into the
The guy with the headphones (who I frequently ran into several times in the next three years and whose face always reminded me of that day) turned his radio dial quick and was listening intently. He took a few seconds, took out his earphones and told me and the other guy that 1010 WINS was saying that a plane had crashed into one of the towers, but that they were getting reports that two planes had crashed.
I looked back out the window to the left, saw all the people staring south, and then stood up and bent over to look south. The day was so clear: I saw two gigantic candlesticks, the tops in flame, and a huge plume of black smoke rising from each, merging somewhere before
(Short explanation: I had first visited NYC in June 1988, and returned in September 1989 and lived in
I reached into my pocket for my cell phone, dangit! My wife and I only had one cell phone at the time (and that had only come after a lot of discussion about the fact that we’d never get rid of it if we got it). We didn’t think two were necessary, just one for me to have to take to work and to call if a train was late or I needed to make a personal call. My wife had the phone because she needed it that night and knew I wouldn’t be home in time.
For a few moments everything happened slowly. The dude listening to the radio, the other guy sweating and trying to call his wife back, the people pulled off the interstate, and the rest of the people on the train oblivious to what was happening. The enormity of it took what seemed like a long time to sink in. And then it hit me:
I didn’t pull the cord. We started under the river. I started praying, but I didn’t even know what to pray for. I didn’t know if this was a one-time deal, if the danger was over, if I was going to be able to get back on a train and go back home once I got to NYP, or if I should just go to my office. I actually thought about how much trouble I might get in at work if I didn’t show up. Imagine.
When we got to NYP, at around 9:18 or 9:20, that decision had been made for me. They were announcing that all commuter train traffic in and out of Penn Station was stopped. There were TVs on all around Penn Station, all broadcasting New York One (the NYC all news station). It was hard to hear, but it was clear that planes had hit into each of the towers.
I thought I’d better just get to my office, call my wife, and sit it out. I also thought that the last place I should be in an emergency was on a subway train, so I decided to walk even though it was a bad shoe day.
Surfacing to street level, I was amazed that foot traffic was virtually stopped, everyone looking south at what even from 3.5 miles away was clearly a major disaster. Police, fire trucks, and ambulances were all racing south, even on streets that were one-way north. I walked north past 34th Street, 35th, 36th, 37th, stopping every so often to turn around and look downtown. I didn’t know what to think – I was there, just a few miles away, but I also felt far removed from it all. Today I regret that not once did I have the thought that maybe somehow I should go downtown and see if I could help. Not once.
By the time I reached
And then I suddenly became very conscious of where I was – smack dab in the middle of Times freaking Square, in the middle of New York City, the largest city in the United States. I entertained a quick thought, “if I were a terrorist and wanted to kill people, I would crash a plant into
I finally got to my building, the Morgan Stanley building (it’s the one you see all the time on TV commercials and TV shows and movies, with the three electronic tickers across the front of the building, all moving at different speeds). My law firm was sandwiched on about 10 floors in the middle of the building between all the Morgan Stanley people. I walked inside the lobby, pulled out my ID and swipe card, and headed toward the turnstiles by the elevators. I didn’t get ten steps across the lobby when a security guard told me I had to leave. I showed him my ID and told him I worked there and needed to go to my office, but he said the building was being evacuated and that everyone had to get out NOW. Well, I had another selfish thought, what the hell am I supposed to do now? I don’t have my cell phone, I can’t go to my office, I’m wearing bad shoes, and I can’t leave Manhattan. (Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was not just commuter trains that had been stopped – all car and train traffic into and out of
I wandered west on
I went back to the bar, got a diet Coke (free, courtesy of the barkeep), and tried to decide what to do. I couldn’t remember where exactly any of my other friends worked, let alone their numbers. I finally remembered where one worked, but when I went to the building about five blocks away, the building, like mine, was locked down. Nobody was going in.
I finally convinced myself to think rationally and logically. I was stranded. I was diabetic and eventually would have to have some food, although if worse came to worse I could survive for days and have no problem. So that was basically a non-factor, although I had to convince myself of that. I only had about twenty dollars on me, and if things were bad – no electricity and bad phone lines – we might be a in cash-only society for a few days. I had no place to go, but knew if I hung outside my friend’s building, I’d eventually see him (although an hour and a half of waiting later that afternoon proved that theory a bit unworkable).
I went to the ATM and got out $300 in cash. Good. I stopped and grabbed lunch at a pizzeria when I realized that for some reason the stores were closing. Whey were the stores closing? I had, and still have, no idea. Places like Duane Reade and CVS that were open 24 hours were closed. McDonalds were closed. So I had lunch while I could, and then found a deli where I stocked up on a box of granola bars.
I finally decided to walk uptown to Cornell University Medical College (CUMC), where my wife had worked for three years when I was in law school, to see if her old boss was there (and who had shown us unbelievable kindness and generosity over those years), and see if I could just hang out in the lab. I had begun my walking (bad shoes, remember) at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue, already had re-traced my steps several times back to that payphone, and was on about 8th Avenue and 49th Street when I had this idea. CUMC is on
The barren streets still get me. That and masses of people that occasionally appeared, walking uptown in the middle of the street. And the fighter jets – I don’t know if they were F-16s or F-15s, but they flew low across the city several times that day, scaring the beejesus out of me each time – crazy me for thinking that perhaps more planes were on their way to crash into buildings.
I got to CUMC and by a stroke of fortune – and acting like I knew exactly where I was going and who I was going to see – the security guard let me in with my ID and signing a log-in sheet. Lucky indeed. The PA kept breaking in, announcing that all employees and visitors were being encouraged to go to a certain location in NY Hospital next door to give blood because they were expecting a deluge of emergency and severe trauma cases any moment. (Those trauma cases never came, at least nowhere near the expected volume. There weren’t that many injuries. Everyone was dead.)
I got upstairs and luckily Bill was there and welcomed me in. He had no idea what was going on outside, at least the magnitude of it, and seemed content to just be doing lab work. He said he’d sent everyone else home.
At that time, I had no idea the towers had fallen, although certainly they had by the time I was walking from West side to Upper East side. The prospect never even crossed my mind, and there were so few people that I passed that I didn’t even overhear it.
Bill let me use the computer in his office, but the internet was not working. He let me use the phone and I tried my wife, no luck on either home or cell phone. I decided to call my mom in
Another sidetrack. Here is the text of an email message I received from my older brother in
Considering the chaos in NY, just want to make sure you are OK.
Hopefully some communications lines are open. I'll pass on any status you can give me to family.
Here is one from my other older brother, who lived in
I have offered prayers of gratitude for your safety and protection during the horrifying events of today. There was high anxiety this morning until we heard that you had been able to contact [your wife]. As for me, I'm stranded in
I'm anxious to talk to you about what you saw, heard, and felt. I assume you will be home tomorrow. I will try to call sometime.
In case you need or want to chat with me, here are the ways to contact me:
With love and gratitude,
Here is an email I received from one of my best friends, with whom I hadn’t had much recent contact, on September 11 at about 11:00 in the morning, from
I couldn't help but think of you at this time. What a sad day. I hope that you are alright and that your family is fine. I feel like that I am worlds away, and at the same time, I am
scared. I can't imagine how you feel right now. I lost several professional friends today. They worked for Tradespark and CantorFitzgerald in the top 10 floors of the 1st building hit. Fortunately, my best professional friend left NYC for a Westcoast trip.
I apologize for writing now, under such dire circumstances. My prayers are with you and your family. Please, let me know that you are safe.
Love your long, lost buddy.
Here is another from a former co-worker who was in
Hi. I'm not sure if you're back in your office, but I just wanted to drop you a line and find out how you're doing. The pictures that continue to come from
Yes, I still have those emails, saved in my archives. Interestingly to me now, I was still shaken enough five weeks later to write the following email to my parents, siblings, and best friends, seeking their advice. This was dated October 17, 2001:
“Am I completely stupid continuing to work smack in the middle of
Anyway, back to the events. I stayed at the lab for a while, then started trying to figure out how to get home. I eventually was able to contact my wife and talked to her several times. She was attempting to relay messages to me from other friends in the city who lived in
Around 5:45 or so I heard people saying that the NJ Transit trains were to start running at 6 pm, so I half-ran to Penn Station to see. I wasn’t the only one. It was the worst I’ve ever seen it. Crowded does not begin to describe it, and all of us, to a person, was exhausted emotionally, physically and spiritually. Fortunately kindness ruled the day. I managed to find a spot near the “big board” and around 6-ish they announced that a train was boarding to
I got off the train, and figured I was about 15-20 blocks from the Broad Street station, and that I could walk (even though it was getting dark and I wasn’t terribly excited about walking alone in Newark for 15 blocks in the dark, even if people were being nice in a national tragedy). I stopped at a payphone to call my wife, who said a neighbor was coming to Penn Station in
I sighed with relief and began walking toward the front of the station. Just then everyone started shouting and telling everyone to get out, get out, get out. They wouldn’t even let us stay in front of the building, we had to go across the street by the Marriott. There were cops and fire trucks everywhere, and transit cops, and they were saying someone had called in a bomb threat to Newark Penn Station. Would it never end?
Because of the hoohah, my neighbor couldn’t find me. I kept trying to walk back to the station area but kept getting shooed away. I eventually found a payphone about six blocks from the station, called home, called my neighbor and tried to describe where I was. He finally found me. I wasn’t hard to spot. He took me home. I collapsed in my wife’s arms and held her for a long time. I held my daughters. I cried.
And then I wanted to watch TV – even though I had been there, I had missed a ton of information. I had very little details although I knew what had happened. There was no way in hell I was going to work the next day, and in fact the city was for all intents and purposes shut down until the weekend anyway, so I stayed up all night watching CNN and MSNBC. It was horrifying to see, finally, what all the world had been seeing all day and to realize I was there.
Spent several somber days with my family, went back to the City and to work on Monday the 17th. There were army guys with machine guns at New York Penn station. I was creeped out. Didn’t feel safer. Work wasn’t too productive. We all had a lot of stories to tell and heartache to share. Not long after that, within a few days, we got a memo from the chair of the firm, who informed us essentially that he had decided our mourning was over, the firm was losing money, and we needed to start billing again. Callous bastard. I left that firm 8 weeks later, actually went to work at my friend Robin’s firm, where I got to see my angel Valerie every day for the next two and a half years. And I thanked her for her kindness on 9/11 frequently.