My September 11th Story

I have not blogged regularly as of late.  Largely this is due to a lack of motivation for blogging that I have been fighting.  But I attribute this lack of motivation to the fact that I have veered from the path somewhat with my personal finances.  I am fighting to get back on track with both and hope that this blog will reflect that in the coming days.

With today being September 11, 2019, the 18-year anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11/2001, I thought I would suspend writing about personal finance and use this space to talk about my memories and experiences on that date in our country’s history.  Here is my story.

In September 2001, I was working in New York City as a technical recruiter, trying to take advantage of the Tech Boom of that time.  This was not a good job fit for me as it was largely a sales-oriented role that did not fit well with my introverted nature.  Once we have a req to fill, I was very comfortable (and I would even say I was pretty good at) recruiting quality candidates for the req, but the heavy lifting was doing the business development to find companies willing to use our services.  

I arrived at the office thinking it would be another routine day of lifting that phone receiver that felt like it was 100 lbs. at times.  Shortly after arriving, as I sat in my nondescript cubicle making small talk with my co-workers, I heard an airplane fly overhead.  It was an odd sound since we sat in a building in mid-town Manhattan.  I even joked to my co-workers that it sounded like we were at Shea Stadium (former home of the New York Mets, which was close to the airport and regularly experienced flyovers by commercial airplanes).  After that simple comment, we moved on and didn’t think anything of it.

A little while later, one of my co-workers saw a news headline stating that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  This didn’t even register as a major event as we all just assumed it was an inexperienced pilot in a small two seat plane or something along those lines.  Around that same time, we started to experience internet slowness.  As the story unfolded and we realized this was a much larger event, our staff all reacted differently. One co-worker left the office to head down to a local electronics store to watch news on the TV’s there.  Many of us went out to our rooftop patio, which had a straight-line view down 6th Avenue and we could see the top quarter of the World Trade Center buildings, or as we locals still called them, the Twin Towers.  By this time, we could see the damage and fire.  We alternated between this view and running back into the office to get news updates from our boss who was tied to his computer getting whatever updates he could.  Around this time, I realized that my family would be hearing the news and worrying about me since I worked in the area.  I began my efforts to connect with my fiancé or parents.  However, by this time, enough cell towers were damaged that calls were not going through.  This started my day-long process of hitting send, waiting for the message that my call could not go through, hitting END and then repeating this process.  

Once the second Tower was hit, we began to understand that this was a major event and we came together as a team to come up with a plan.  By this time, we were hearing stories of the bridges and tunnels being unpassable with stopped traffic and people even walking across them.  Trains were also not running as needed.  As a group, we decided to leave our office since we sat in a skyscraper and had no idea what we were dealing with.  As we entered the elevator to exit the building, a maintenance worker entered with us.  As the doors closed, we heard over his walkie-talkie that the building was being closed and not allowing anyone in or out.  Luckily, we were already on our way out, so they did not stop us.  We moved to a local park to figure out what to do next.  We found a homeless person with a transistor radio.  We huddled around this gentleman listening to any information we could gather.  Shortly thereafter, his radio died.  We quickly ran to a convenience store to buy him new batteries.  We already noticed that any and all supplies were flying off the shelves.  We huddled with that gentleman for a while longer before my boss offered to take us all to his apartment, which was uptown.  The group of us began that walk, which took a few hours as the streets were packed with people in the same boat.  During this walk, I was finally able to reach my fiancé.  I had enough time to tell her I was fine and ask her to inform my family before the call was cut off.  

At that point, I began to think of others that I knew who lived or worked in the city.  My little brother quickly came to mind as he worked downtown in the area of the World Trade Center.  I quickly put that out of my mind since he worked in a bar and would not have been near work that early in the morning.  My next thought was my close friend who worked in one of the other buildings in the World Trade Center complex.  I began trying to call him over the next several hours without luck.

We arrived at my boss’ apartment and spent the next several hours there, watching news and trying to figure out next steps.  During this time, several hours later, I was able to reach my friend.  Luckily, he was running late for work that day.  He stepped off the subway just after the first plane hit and decided to stay on the street to watch what was going on.  He wandered around downtown for a while and when the towers began to fall, he was chased by the cloud of smoke and debris until a doorman of a local building grabbed him and others and pulled them inside his building and rushed them to the basement.  The basement had a camera on the front door and for quite some time, the camera showed nothing but the white cloud.  Eventually, that cloud dissipated, and they moved on from that building.  It took him the better part of the day to work his way out of the downtown area.  Around dinner time, we finally connected, and I decided to go meet him and stay with him that evening.  

Once he and I met, we went on search of something to eat since we had each gone all day without eating or drinking anything.  We hit a few markets only to find that there was not a single item left on the shelves.  We decided to head back to his apartment and figure out what we could scrounge up there.  On the way, we found a bar/restaurant that appeared to be open.  We wandered in and found one person working there.  We ordered beers and the three of us sat in silence for the next several hours.  At some point, we went home and passed out.  

The next morning, I decided to try to get home to my parent’s house in Long Island.  I learned that trains were running, albeit sparingly.  I walked the deserted streets of New York City and found my way to the train station.  This was such a surreal experience as the streets were empty of people and filled with trash and debris.  It looked like a scene from a movie where the world had come to an end.  I made my way home and slept for what felt like several days.

I was closer to the scene of events than most people but was certainly incredibly lucky to not be too close or worse.  It was something that I will remember for the rest of my life but also understand how lucky I am.  I later learned that I lost a family member in the day’s events.  This was not someone that I was very close with, but I will never forget him.  Each year on this anniversary, I take the opportunity to speak with my children about that day’s events and make sure to mention to them the name of that family member to ensure that his memory survives.  

A few years ago, my daughter had the opportunity to visit New York City with her grandparents.  She went to the memorial and was able to find my cousin’s name on the memorial.  She did a pencil rub of his name and this is something that she holds very dear, even though this is someone that she had never met.  I cannot explain the pride I feel in her for wanting to hold onto this memory as it makes me believe that she grasps the gravity of the events of that day, even though she was not yet alive when they took place.  It is hard to believe that her entire generation will forever think of the events of that day as something in a history book and not the world-shaking events that I lived through but I can rest assured that at least she has a small glimpse of the importance of those memories since we have a small, personal connection to them.

2 thoughts on “My September 11th Story

  • September 13, 2019 at 3:28 pm
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    Thanks for sharing. That was interesting to read and I really like that your daughter treasurers the family connection.

    Reply
  • September 19, 2019 at 12:55 pm
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    This was a great read Tom. I did not realize you were still in NY at this time. I just went to the Memorial and museum this week and it was a very moving experience.

    Reply

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