12 September 2001

I used to think that I would forever remember the events of 11 September 2001; now I am beginning to wonder.  Herewith are my recollections from that day.

6:00 AM: I had to go into the office this day; less because there was any actual work for me to do there (ah, the joys of being a consultant in-between gigs) and more because my sister was staying with me (she had moved out of her apartment in Queens, on her way to be married in a chapel at Howard University and a new home in Maryland) and I wanted to show her the route to the PATH trains into NYC.  Ezina was in town this week - in between performing gigs - and likely to be either in the apartment all day or perhaps off to the club to work-out.

Every day begins in a normal, mundane fashion.  It is only after awakening that the importance of any individual day becomes clear and the little decision trees on the paths taken and not grow or recede in importance.

8:15 AM: With a loving adieu to Ezina, Denise and I hit the trail for the big island - Manhattan.  First we must sojourn over to Journal Square to pick of the PATH and it is here we must make our first choice: WTC train or 34th Street.  I worked in Midtown in those days, so my normal selection is the 34th Street train; Denise worked at the Empire State Building then, so we had to at least consider the WTC.  No direct trains from the WTC to the ESB - and the 34th Street train always seemed to come with a higher frequency - so the choice was an easy, if fortuitous one.  This - E, A, C, 2, 3, 1, 9, N, R - is my list of WTC trains, which I memorized with a little tune sung to the beat of some long forgotten rap, most likely by Black Sheep.  Either way, I was pretty good on the Midtown and West Side trains - the ESB was some old East Side route that would just get me lost, regardless of the 8 years I spent in and around NYC.  So by 0830 hours, Denise and I were Midtown bound on the 34th Street PATH train.

8:45 AM: I walked toward my uptown train, while Denise headed above ground to walk from 6th Avenue eastward to the ESB on 34th.

8:55 AM: Lets say it was the C train that took me to the Rockefeller Center stop, but regardless of the train, I always rode toward the front car as I could then exit at about 50th Street and I still needed to head a few blocks north to 55th, where the Accenture office was located.  And it was here, coming above ground that I noticed today was not an ordinary day.

For rising into the sunshine of was seemed to be a glorious September morn, I witnessed a most incredulous sight: New Yorkers standing stock still on the sidewalk, peering southward through the buildings for a glance at . . . what?  I had no idea and I did not care, so I brushed past the folks pretending to be tourists in a classic, "I'm a New Yorker and only newbies from the sticks gape"maneuver, as I made my way to my office.

9:00 AM: Second sign - the receptionist on the third floor was staring, mouth agape, at something on her computer screen as I walked by and she said to me, "A plane just crashed into the WTC!"

It is possible that my first reaction was to laugh, but I do recall that I was sure it was some dunce in a propjet, who lost control of his plane in a stiff breeze and was pushed into the one of the towers.  I headed for my desk to boot up my computer and get on the internet to see what I could see.

9:02 AM: Passing a colleague in the hallway, he also mentioned the WTC being struck, but added that the second tower had been hit too; and it began to dawn on me that this was some sort of attack.  Reaching my desk, I attempted to call my sister to see if she was okay - but all of the circuits in Manhattan were busy.  I attempted to call Ezina and see if she were still at home, but lines to Jersey City were tied up as well.  The only person I could reach was my Mom - who had seen more of the attack than I had since she was watching television in Pittsford, NY that day - and I was able to convince her that Manhattan was a big island and that I was no where near the WTC.  No mean feat.  I explained that I could not call Denise - and I think she had already spoken to her - so I asked her to call Denise back and ask her to meet me on Sixth Avenue at 34th Street, so we could head back to Jersey City.  Certain that this plan would work, I began to leave work almost as soon as I arrived, feeling more than a little uncertain and with less surety to my step.

9:30 AM: Passing people in the hallway - some still arriving to work, others now leaving - it was clear that a consensus on what to do next had not yet developed.  I said my goodbyes as I headed for the elevator, still wondering where Ezina was and how I was ever going to find Denise in a city of 8 million people.  Little did I know that Denise had turned around even faster than I had, as the ESB was being evacuated upon her arrival there.

Everyone that more attacks were on the way and that the ESB was next.

As she used to work on Sixth Avenue, she was already headed towards me, thinking she was going to stop by her old colleagues and make sure they were okay.  We must have met on Sixth Avenue, just south of 42nd Street.  The sidewalks were full of people, the police were out in the streets and everyone was asking to borrow everyone else's cell phone.

I think the Nextel Direct Connect phones were still working; all I know is I could not call Denise and she could not call me - but we could each reach Mom.

Denise and I began to head west, so that we could reach the ferries heading back to New Jersey.  Thousands of people were migrating the same way, so we ducked into a bodega to get some water - just in case we were on the streets for awhile.

It never connects in one's mind that Manhattan is an island - until getting off it becomes of supreme importance and the roads and the rails are blocked off.

10:30 AM: As Denise and I finally reached West End Avenue, we still could not see the entrance to the ferry way.  Instead, all we could see was a massive line of people and like the good former public school children we were, we blended in with the line, secure in the knowledge that it would take us to our destination.

11:30 AM: We could tell those who were coming up from the site of the WTC, as they were covered from head to toe in dust and still had the shell-shocked look of a survivor that we had previously only viewed from the safety of our television screens in some Hollywood blockbuster.

12:30 PM: Most of the folks in line only had rumors as too what was going on.  Denise and I heard tales of other planes going into other buildings across the country.  The Sears Tower was high on everyone's lips and of course, the Pentagon.  I began to recall the one Tom Clancy novel that ends with a pilot crashing a plane into the Congress and I wondered if we were going to see that occur in real-life.

1:30 PM: Denise and I begin to be able to view the actual ferries boarding, so we know it will not be long now.  To this point, our only view of downtown has been blocked by buildings and smoke, so we cannot yet add our names to the rolls of eyewitnesses to the calamity, at least.

2:00 PM: At last, we board a ferry heading to Hoboken, but instead of straining westward, my eyes are drawn back to the southeast.  Where the towers had stood for decades, there was nothing, save for smoke and flames.  Overhead, flew F-16s or some other fighter jet - on patrol and searching the sky for targets.

Jets that appear friendly and welcoming at an air show, become terrifying when you know that it is seeking something to kill.

2:30 PM: Finally, back ashore in New Jersey - but we are not home yet.  We still need to find a bus that would take us back to Jersey City from Hoboken.  Thankfully, there are people around who point us in the right direction and we load up on a bus and await departure.  I think the woman sitting next to Denise is carrying some sort of dead animal with her - for what reason I cannot begin to fathom.  All I want to do is get home.

3:00 PM: Denise and I finally arrive back home in Palatine and I am at last reunited with my wife.  We place calls to our parents and let them know we are all fine.  And then - Ezina lets loose with the stir craziness that has enveloped her day and starts to talk about getting her hair done.  Denise encourages this sort of talk with comments like: "I really need my hair done too".  So together they depart for the Newport Mall in Jersey City, in the hope that it remains open.

I am unable to leave - after having spent hours attempting to get home, it will take more than a hair appointment to pry me away.

4:30 PM: Denise and Ezina return as they left; the shops at the mall having closed long ago.

I have no idea what happened on 12 September of 2001 and only fragments of the rest of the month. I know by the end of the month I am on a plane again, returning to Miami for my project at Ryder.  I know that this plane is sparsely populated by wary travelers - each of us eyeballing the other and assessing our odds on whether we could take them - should it come to that.

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1 comment:

Kathy Podgers said...

What a well writen account of 9/11. I actually saw the Towers get hit, from NJ, and was on the highway, Polasky? in the parking lot that developed, when the towers came down. We, the drivers standing at the highway railing, either took photos, video, or just stood, transfixed, by a reality that looked like a movie only wasn't.

I was able to return home that day, but my perspective would never be the same.

Thanks for your comment on my new blog. I hope add something interesting every day.

BTW, the first Black panthers I ever saw were at Dudly Station one day, during the events that trnsfixed our nation. I lived in Mission Hill, and took the bus to Dudly, where I climed the long, long steps up to the train into town.

Most of the way up I looked at the steps, to keep my footing, but near the top I looked up, and there they were. Just like in the photos in the newspapers. and they had mackine guns! And those belts with bullets across their chests, and they were dressed in black. "Hi, there," I greeted them, as they politely stepped aside to let me catch my train.

At work my collegues scolded me, and said I should not risk my life going thru "that neighborhood" to get to work. gosh, I think they didn't appreciate where I lived.

I have no idea why I see things differently than most people.

take care, Kathy