My 9/11 story

[this was originally sent to friends and family in the early hours of 9/13/01]

Hello everybody – hope all is well with each of you… I’ve probably talked with all or just about all of you by now, and thanks for your calls and emails and such – twas very nice to hear from you all – sorry if I’ve been short with any of you – had a lot of craziness going on….. I figured I’d use my little email list here to send out a little story….all of which is totally true…all of which is totally insane. most of it you have heard parts of on television, but I have a slightly different perspective… So here goes. And I think for once I won’t be telling you to enjoy it…..if it doesn’t make sense totally at some points, keep in mind it’s the middle of the night… =)

6 something a.m., 9/11/01… I woke up… Decided not to rush and take the 6:30 train, and took the 7:05 out of Belmar. Gets me to work, in my chair before nine a.m….. No big deal… Take the train, read my book, get on the PATH in Newark at 8 something, ride my 22 minutes to the Trade Center.

just about 8:50, or whatever the clock said…. – got off the PATH, went up the escalator to the ticket level – walk about 30 feet, fire alarm flasher things start to go off in the Akbar’s or whatever breakfast place. No one is running, figure it’s just something in there like a kitchen issue with smoke or something… Make my left turn, up the left side of the escalator…. Get right about to step off, and see what I described to my friends as “50000 cops” but you know what I mean – RUNNING into the area screaming for us to run, orderly, but RUN out the doors to my left. I pass the Sbarro pizza place, up the stairs, out the door.

Police and security are calm and keeping everything in order. I get out the door. Out the door, there’s some little rocks of concrete around, nothing really bad… Then I see the huge metal trash can crushed about 30 feet away… There’s literally thousands of people across the street standing there looking up – I’m in the shadow of this little trade center building, can’t see anything – I cross the street and turn around.

There are holes in at least three sides of the North tower… smoke and fire are blazing – it’s now been maybe two minutes…. I keep walking up the street trying to get through to the office on my cellphone..dammit, doesn’t work. keep walking, looking up the whole way…. and then back at the road…. I’m at the corner of whatever that damn street is now that’s parallel to broadway – liberty or church or something like that – I think it’s liberty – kind of odd how you don’t remember these things after crossing them every day. I’m now about 200 feet from the base of the north Tower.. There’s a 2 foot wide piece of building in the middle of the road – it’s easily 4 or 5 inches thick… Bad…. Not good.

I cross the street with the cops getting us over there safely around the firetrucks and police cruisers and ambulances – the bulk of the people are still standing – within 300 feet of this building. Someone next to me screams…. I turn around, we’re looking up… People are jumping from at least 80 floors up, if not higher. It’s been maybe 10 minutes since I got out of the building, so I’m guessing about 9am or so. I walk down the street towards the East River, avoiding people running, talking to people who are lost, just trying to get through on the phone to the office and getting away. Someone mentions for sure that it’s a plane accident as per the radio or something….. I’m now about a block and a half or two from the buildings…. I turn south – go one block, and I’m closer to the Federal Reserve buildings – we’re all kind of walking slowly but not getting anywhere. I’m calling and standing and walking back and forth – a couple minutes pass – people don’t know whether to run or walk or scream or sit down – it’s very odd…..

It slows down a little bit, like everything wise… I get right about to the two Fed buildings – the big one is blocking my view of the left side of the South Tower – we’re looking up, hear the boom, and then the explosion…. Holy you know what. You couldn’t see the plane from where I stood, but you heard it and saw the hole open up on the other side – we didn’t look – debris is hitting us – i have to be two city blocks away and dust and little rock type things are landing here – the woman next to me is hysterically screaming and trying to run or walk – pandemonium. it was like television, only worse.

I run around the other Fed building, and people are looking for shelter – I tell two or three people NOT to go in the Fed, no one knew where to go – I didn’t think the Federal Reserve Building was a good choice at this time, just a reaction – I’m now running down Nassau St., which also runs parallel to broadway. I turn left, then right and I’m on William – running past the back of Chase Plaza, people are all over the place – no one knows which way to go – there’s just fire you can see with no problem from anywhere – I get to the back door of my building, and they let me in. I get to the elevator to go up, out of it a bit.

I get to the fifth floor – four or five people are standing with a building employee talking at the door – they’ve heard but not seen – I tell them what I just saw, and they’re just like agape about it – I get to my desk, throw my bag in the corner – get on my computer – start trying to make phone calls. thank god i didn’t turn off the computer.

msnbc – no dice. drudge report. no dice, cbs, nope, nbc, nope, cnn, nope. damn. phone rings.

it’s jill, one of my agency people from chicago – she’s on a treadmill asking if I’m okay – i tell her quickly what i saw, answer another line with her on hold… it’s a little fuzzy here. I just know I talked with Pat and Ursula in greensboro, my mom at some point, my friend jill. I have friends in the towers – just a few I know well, but lots of people from college and from the train that I’m familiar with and see around frequently. jill can’t find her friend diane – diane works for Morgan Stanley on floor 70. no dice in the office, no dice on the cellphone. where is she… (I just tonight found out the plane hit like floor 71) My friend Johanna from my last job is a WTC person as well. I call my old boss Tom – left a message, he’s not there – I asked about Johanna – then I call Kelly, his wife to find out where Tom – he works in a health care place. I try a bunch more people at home – jessica, diane again, jill, no dice on anyone – after about 10 tries randomly I get through here and there… but otherwise busy busy busy-.. At work, people are all on the phone – trying to figure out what to do. some co workers, Myron and Rosemarie – both live in Brooklyn. we knew we could huff it to the Brooklyn Bridge and walk across. It’s now 9:30. Oddest 20 minutes I’ve ever had. I can’t get through to my friends at the WFC Amex tower… I change my voicemail to say what time it is – it was about 9:40 and I was okay, but leaving the office. Call my cellphone if you need me. Myron is ready, Rosemarie is ready – people are all getting a gameplan – some going to metro north – some to brooklyn, etc.

We leave the office. I don’t know the exact time, but I guess it was like somewhere after 9:45. By the time we get downstairs, we’re all anxious, the three of us.

We exit the back door…. Walk across Pine, around the corner of chase plaza that I’ve just ran through earlier. Now you might remember my stupid joke a few months back in this message, that how far the Trade Center was from where I work…. Doesn’t seem too funny to me now, but you catch my drift. We’re like 1500 or 1600 feet away, tops. I guess. something like that – …. we get to a point 30 feet down William where you can see all the way to the towers. then the noise. I’ve never seen anything that big move in my whole life – we can only see about the left half of the building, but it’s all coming down, like blocks, almost – not smoky like you saw on tv. i saw the freaking building dropping. papers that have been flying for almost an hour now are filling the air again. Then the debris came. It was like a movie – jill from chicago summed it up from something she heard, being “like independence day, the movie” It was actually coming straight at us – it’s been maybe 5 seconds. we’re running like hell down whatever side street this was…. people are tripping, falling, helping each other up – it’s been maybe 10 more seconds – myron gets way ahead as I help rosemarie get her keys and stuff – it’s at william street now – a man is opening a door as I’m about to run past it – I scream at him to “get in!” but he comes out anyway – I cna’t believe he ignored the hundreds of people running past… we get to the next block – or maybe it was two blocks = i don’t even know – we make a left – and watch the dust and stuff fly right past – starting to seep around the north-south blocks – I was going east at the time running. There’s an HSBC behind us – I’m screaming with other people to get inside somehwere – the bank opens the outside door to the ATM thing.. Then lets us all in….. Safe… Outside, the debris/dust stuff is coming down, left right, all around – people outside look grey. cars have easily an inch of covering on them. – it was like snow. we get in someone’s cube… We’re on the phone – people are all talking, crying, sitting, standing – the bank has a huge water cooler – they let us do whatever we need to – a woman in the next cube has no shoes and is absolutely covered in dust… you can only see her eyes and that’s because they were red. A girl and a guy, who didn’t know each other but had come in together are talking. she’s crying – rosemarie is trying to use the phone – we get her to sit down with us – she has no bag, no money, no id, no nothing. on the whole the place is calm. It’s been maybe three or four minutes now since the south tower came down.

We all have water now, people have gotten through on the phone to others. We don’t know where Myron is… No cellphone working at this time – radio reports are sketchy – we shot a plane down, (which didn’t happen) then suddenly, the pentagon has been hit – time was kind of odd at this point – it had to have been a while in there, maybe half an hour – we hear a rumble, no one knows what it was… i guess it was the other building coming down – but i am not sure – it might have been a little later – you heard screaming planes and all kinds of craziness. finally it seems to have cleared a little – we get a ragtag bunch together, cathy with no shoes, rose the girl with no anything, rosemarie, and another woman whose name escapes me, unfortunately. we get a bunch of water, tons of paper towels. I throw them in my bag… I guess I forgot that I had thrown in my laptop at this point – literally unhooked it, hit the power button, screw SHut down dammit, and now had all kinds of random things in there… We talk to the manager guy – we ask for his card and stuff – he’ll be getting a letter from me, that is for sure. They were excellent to us, telling us we didn’t have to leave, could stay as long as we needed to, etc. But we wanted out of the city – so we get out the door – out towards the east river again – something you’d never think to see if you weren’t from here – all that you heard on the news about people being helpful, etc – it all happened…. I did it, people next to me did it – it was very cool… All the fishermen on the outside of the island in their shops near the south street seaport were outside with paper towels, hoses, ice, cups, whatever, just giving out whatever they could as hundreds upon hundreds of people walked north. we trudge along a while, just trying to get to the bridge – winds come up here and there kicking more dust and whatnot along. Finally we get to the bridge – we saw cops mobilizing everywhere – cars parked in the middle of the road and people running to help out, it was insane… We get up on the bridge, people are walking at a nice pace, everyone offering water or anything they had – two other guys sort of got in with us, we’re all talking – one of the guys whose name escapes me as well and I keep looking back at the skyline, which was totally acrid black/grey smoke, remarking that the towers looked gone. Keep in mind, we didn’t know they were gone at this point. We had just thought that like chunks of it were falling and were running so fast it didn’t matter. So we trudge along to Brooklyn. We arrive, and are just trying to find transportation for those who are far from there – we find a store that is open for cathy to get shoes or something – they only have socks her size it seems – but she gets them, and we all get out – subways are shut down – buses are running. we walk along for a while – one apartment complex has 20 or so people outside handing out cups of water…


some of the group gets on a bus finally – cathy needs to go another way…. finally we get to a point where she decides she’s going to walk a bit across a few blocks at the direction of a woman on the street to where her bus should be. we get her telephone number of her daughter to call to let her know cathy is on the way…. she takes rosemarie’s – we go to her apartment, and get up on the 4th floor – are looking at the skyline, and this is when we realize that the buildings are gone…. we just sat there for a while – I don’t know how long it was… maybe 20 minutes… I get my mom on the phone, and am amazed when she tells me that they are flat to the ground…. what the hell. I can’t get out a call on my cellphone, but messages are piling in. we spend the next hour or so just making calls, watching tv, etc. I go to get water across the street at the grocery store – it was busy, but orderly – cash only, telephone lines are not working… no problem. get back to rosemarie’s, continue to make calls… she runs out to try and get money at the bank… i clean up a bit, getting dust stuff out my face and eyes and hands and stuff – that feels better… I knew there was a lot when I realized my sunglasses were covered in it – but I had nowhere near as much as the people who were outside for all that time….

finally i start getting through to my voicemail – make a ton of calls – rosemarie’s telephone bill is going to be huge – we were both making calls all over the place – sometimes my cellphone worked and the landline didn’t – but whatever – we were going to give blood soon… rosemarie couldn’t get money, ended up going back out to try and cash a amex gift cheque – that worked with a little hassle – but that’s good – she had some money then. not sure where I was going – we had accounted for everyone that day except for Abby, one of the managers in the group – i could have put this earlier in the story but was frantic and it was just sort of out of my picture – myron had done so in the office – abby’s cellphone got voicemail, and we hadn’t heard back. Turns out she was on the ferry from hoboken and watched the second plane crash into the tower. abby finally gets through to people, myron has accounted for her… I talked to like 30 people that afternoon.

finally we are going to give blood – i hear that I can take the ferry to atlantic highlands if I could get back on manhattan island… I could have stayed, but knew it would or could be days if i didn’t go then.. we walk to the hospital, but they’re not taking the blood there anymore….. you had to go to a hotel – i decide i’ll go when I’m home at jersey shore medical center near me – i’m going to go tomorrow morning, they were apparently backed up today.

We walk to the brooklyn bridge, and are told it’s closed going back by police – dunno what to do… there’s the manhattan bridge up ahead – and people on it – going both ways – and subways – we walk over to it – i give my regards to rosemarie, and she goes back to her place – it’s now sometime around 4 or so, I guess – I walk across the bridge – it takes you to like canal street, like chinatown – it’s busy there, people all over, but like places were open – good sign… police everywhere – I walk east again, and begin to make my way south…. I need to get to pier 11, at the end of wall street for the ferry… make a bunch of calls…. finally get jessica on the phone after we had traded voicemails all day. she is going to pick me up at the highlands when i get there if I can get a ferry – I tell her I’ll call her on my way if I get one…. it’s now like 5:20, i’m just about on the ferry – I figure out which one it is, and get on – I guess it was 5:30 or so… we leave shortly thereafter…… phone rings again – it’s another Tom, he works for NY Hospital in like midtown – he’s goign home via train…… somehow… i’ll talk to him later…. my ferry ride was free, i got a nice iced tea for free, thanks to the seastreak people – after getting my stuff looked through by police on the boat – which was fine – just a little odd…

I go up top on the boat, and we are out on the water a few minutes now – maybe 5-10 minutes out, the WTC #7 building collapses – we see parts of it from our view, but see the dust cloud cross the island just like the one I was in earlier – out over the river – we just missed it – amazing….

there are little silver NJ police on board, talking to people, and we’re all just happy to get out of the city….

I get to highlands – they tell us to have id out.. they spray off my shoes, and ask me where I was near the trade center, if at all. i tell the first policeman, and end up talking to nypd there who takes my information – i have to spill that same story, at least the early parts, to him – short form…. i somehow didn’t have to get sprayed off or whatever, because i had cleaned off quite a bit – unfortunately, i had thought I would have a way to get via bus or something to where jessica was meeting me at shore casino, but no luck. it had to be at least a mile and a half, considering up the mountain, down, left, right, whatever…. people are at the top of the hill gawking and taking photos of the city – smoldering all the way from here… they kind of look at me funny, but don’t say anything… i have to go through a closed road section, jumped through that, and the workers didn’t even say a word as they were cleaning up for the day…. it’s like 6 something now… like 7:15 i finally get to shore casino – it’s another triage type center…. they’re giving out water, food, shirts, everything. pretty amazing – you’ve not seen that many cars there ever.. I had gotten water from when I got off the boat, they gave us some there… i polished that off plus the water rosemarie had given me in a container… there is jessica waiting for me, and i get to leave… finally.. I’ve never made that many phone calls in a day in my life, and i’m on the phone all day at work more or less, being that people i work with are all over the country, media people, blah blah blah….

So I’m sure I’ve skipped some stuff, because it’s 5 minutes to three on thursday – i think it’s thursday now…. now i’ve heard that the amex tower is being used as a morgue and no one knows if and when it will be inhabitable…. i literally walked out of a structure and tunnel system that no longer exists within an hour and a half of it being there. I can’t believe i saw people jumping off of a building from 80 stories and whatnot. Downtown must look horrible. what you have seen on TV is nothing…. the skyline is gone. it sounds so stupid but the freaking thing is totally gone…… i can’t make fun of the victoria’s secret screen in the hallway anymore… no more sbarro’s pizza for $8. no more bitching that people are holding up the left side of the escalator…. where is the j.crew I can go to in the morning if I spill iced tea on myself to buy some clothes…. this is so ridiculous…. the mayor won’t say so yet, and i guess it makes some political sense, but there have to be 20,000 people dead in that place… absolutely insane. and for what exactly? nothing useful. if i see the people cheering in the streets again on television in whatever country that was I might just have to damage my little tv, which I’ve had since 8th grade graduation (thanks mom). I think it’s weird that i have no work to do for a few days… what about having no office? oh – i knew i forgot, you’ll have to forgive me… diane called out of work and johanna was not in the WTC that day. how crazy is that. they are both fine from what I’m told… diane, however, has no work. like it’s actually gone…. I can’t even grasp that… I know a ton of people whom i’ve met at lunch, or on the train, or from college were in that building…. I have no idea where any of them are…..

Anyway – I’m sleepy now and need to go to bed. don’t mean to throw any of you off more than you all already are most likely, but thought you might find this fascinating. it’s somewhat surreal here to me….. still… All I know is, all my group at work is accounted for, and a bunch of my friends at amex who were in other locations are okay from what i’ve heard – a couple of whom walked uptown 70 blocks yesterday morning……..

so thanks to all of you who called me repeatedly, left me all kinds of messages, sent around emails to all my friends, offered to do anything, let me stay at your place, or spent time with me in the last day or so…. and if you called me and i haven’t gotten back to you, either i was out of it and just didn’t write everything down or couldn’t get through to you – sorry about that… hope you are well, and I’ll talk with you all soon…

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