No American civilian should ever have to experience the events of 9/11 on American soil. And, my experience of that day is in no way comparable to the heartache of the families of the victims. The following is just my personal recollection of that day.
As my train pulled into Grand Central Station that morning, I heard some buzz from other commuters. But, it was none of my business so I just got off the train and walked the underground tunnel to the Forty-fifth Street exit. As I walked up Madison Avenue, I saw a throng of people standing around a bank looking at a TV. As I tried to see that they were looking at, somehow I got the message that something happened at the World Trade Center. I remember looking in that direction, seeing smoke, and trying to use my phone, and then, trying my Blackberry. No signal. I proceeded north to my office on 52nd St. When I arrived, I saw that I had a message from my daughter who worked near the World Trade Center. However, I could not reach her since I had no phone service.
I proceeded to work. A short while later, I heard that there was a TV in Personnel. So, I went to that floor to see what was going on. After a few minutes, I squeezed into the room. The scene was incredulous. I decided that for me the best thing was to go back to work. Young people on my floor were just milling around. We were the IT (computer) department. They either had IT friends in those World Trade buildings or, like me, had previously worked there themselves. I tried to work, but at the back of my mind were all the tens of thousands of commuters who literally poured out of the ground from the PATH (a train from New Jersey). What happened to all those people? Many, many times I had walked through the underground shopping Plaza and the passage ways under those buildings as a shortcut to save time. Since my commute was 2 ½ hours each way from upstate New York, I was always running to be on time at work. In November 2000, a co-worker and good friend gave me a job lead that resulted in my leaving the World Trade Center and moving to 52nd Street. As an aside, I later heard that a very smart female executive of the Port of Authority ordered the trains diverted to the mid-town area of New York City, saving many lives. I thought of how I would take my lunch into one of the glassed-in areas of my building and look at the Towers. How magnificent they were. Of course, I was just looking at the lower floors. I thought the design was intriguing.
Later that morning, I finally heard from my daughter who was with her co-workers at an apartment in lower Manhattan. One of the workers just took his whole department to his home. I advised my daughter to stay right where she was with her co-workers unless they were evacuated. Then, I was contacted by a great friend from Merrill Lynch inviting me to stay the night at her place since the City was in "lock-down."
Being in Computer Security, I decided, since I had no phone, to try sending emails to get messages to my children. I thank the good Lord for the “Information Highway.” Being able to contact my family in an event such as this is why I feel so strongly that there should be no Government interference with the Internet. I emailed friends in San Diego requesting that they contact my family. My children thought I still worked in the World Trade Center. Exactly where I worked was not one of their concerns. I didn’t know my son’s work e-mail address, but decided to create the addresses in different ways. Surely, one of the emails would get through. Not knowing was going to happen next, I wrote to my son that his sister and I were OK. I gave him the address and phone number for the apartment where she was staying. Then, I gave him the phone number of the friend with whom I would be staying. Without being melodramatic, I thought this might be the last communication we could possibly have. It brings me to tears when I think of it.
Around noon, I went to the bank to get money since I couldn’t get home that night. The sea of people walking, shoulder to shoulder, north out of the City on both sidewalks of Park Avenue was at least five people deep. It was an amazing, yet fearful sight.
Around 1pm, my daughter, accompanied by a co-worker, walked the 30 blocks to be with me. Her hair was covered in ash. I got her in our “locked-down” building. When we reached my office, the phone rang. It was my son in Los Angeles. My daughter, wide-eyed and in shock, told him what happened….her words just spilling out. I tried to calm her down. Her only response to me was, “You weren’t there.”
Then, my daughter told me we just had to get out of the City. She kept pressing. As far as I knew, we couldn't go anywhere. I decided to leave and walk to Grand Central to see if any trains were moving. I never in my lifetime had been prepared for what I saw.
As we walked the now eerily empty Park Avenue south to the train station, we were met with men with megaphones ordering us where to go. We walked a sidewalk cordoned off with safety tape into what seemed like the only open entrance. Other than the sea of people in the great expanse of the center of the building, I don’t remember much except that my mind kept reeling, thinking that something else could happen at any moment. Before long, we were on a train leaving the City.
That evening, watching TV, I saw the real events I knew nothing about because I tried to work that day. I realized that I, being the kind of employee I was, would have returned to my desk in one of those buildings when the “All Clear” announcement was given.
My daughter and I were now safe, but what about those people who died. What about their families? Even today, my heart goes out to them
I realize that this is a sharp contrast to my usually light-hearted and hopefully informative blog. I will always remember my daughter walking 30 blocks to my uptown office, covered in ash from those collapsed buildings….wide-eyed and in shock, having seen death and destruction not many American civilians have ever seen. And, as I said in the beginning of this writing, no American citizen should ever have to experience the events of 9/11 on American soil and no one should ever forget.