Sunday, April 02, 2006

It was a beautiful morning. Nothing unusual.

It was a beautiful morning. A mild fall day with a hint of summer. Not a cloud in the sky. I was a consultant at the time so as usual I was up later than most people. I read the morning paper while eating my breakfast. Then I brushed my teeth and got dressed for work. Nothing unusual.

I expected to get to work at my usual time, between 9:30 and 10:00 am. They were located just north of the George Washington Bridge on Route 9W. I was driving down the Palisades Interstate Parkway and around exit 4 I turned on my radio to NPR's Morning Edition on WNYC in New York. They were talking about some colossal accident and the correspondent said they were switching to another reporter in Washington DC to continue the story there. Then there was dead air. This too wasn't that unusual. Radio stations sometimes hand off a story to another announcer who ends up not being there.

What was unusual was that it went on for a very long time. Normally stations realize the problem very quickly and gets back on the air to say that they would continue with the story later, but they didn't. Eventually I pushed another button and switched to WBGO in Newark, NJ. Normally they played Jazz, but this morning they were talking about an "accident" at the World Trade Center. Something about a plane hitting one of the towers. I immediately remembered that the same thing happened to the Empire State Building after World War II when an Air Force plane accidentally slammed into the building. Many people were killed and a couple of floors were demolished, but that was the extent of it.

The more I listened the more we, the radio announcers and I, realized that it wasn't an accident. That it was done deliberately. That both towers and the Pentagon had been hit. All commercial air craft were being grounded and there was a rumor that the Air Force had shot down a passenger plane over Pennsylvania. Then they announced that one of the towers had collapsed. The horrible feeling you get in the pit of your stomach began to grow in mine because that's when it dawned on me, that WNYC went dead at that moment because their radio antenna had been on top of that tower.

All of this news came crashing down on me during that ten mile stretch between exit four and exit one on the parkway. When I got to work everyone was in my boss's office staring at the cable news station watching that first tower collapse over and over. It was a surreal site, like the Loizeaux family had done the demolition work, except there were none of the explosive flashes running down the structural joints at the corners that is typical of building implosions. The structure just quietly collapsed from the heat of the fire, one floor on top of the other.

Most were silent throughout the whole time we were in his office, except my boss who kept up a constant flow of sputtering bursts of nationalistic invective. Eventually the moment came when we all got up at once and went back to work, except that I couldn't work. I sat at my desk with watering eyes while outside on Route 9W the sirens of every municipal fire and EMT vehicle from miles around was streaming towards New York.

I estimate that about 50% of the telephone system stopped working that morning. (We found out later that a lot of Verizon's equipment was in the World Trade Center.) The individual problems were strange, some people could call us but we couldn't call them, and vice-versa. Thankfully I was able to call my house and talk to my wife. As with me earlier that morning, she had no idea what had happened because she also never turns on the TV or radio in the morning.

My friend and fellow colleague at this account didn't make it in because he saw the news and knew that there was no way he'd be able to get near the bridge, but when he tried to call in it wouldn't go through. He was mildly shocked when I called him because he wasn't able to get through to anyone. Several minutes after I hung up a close friend of his rang his extension next to me and I instinctively picked it up. She was crying, because she couldn't get through to his home or cell phones, and was relieved to find out that he was OK.

Since I couldn't work I went home and we sat and watched the proceedings throughout the rest of the day. I tried to call every single person I knew, especially those that worked in the city. Of course many calls didn't go through at first, but over the coming days we were able to get in touch with everyone we knew.

The next day I got the morning paper as usual, and tried to eat my breakfast as usual, but the front cover was a picture of the 2nd tower with a massive fire-ball. I felt even sadder that morning than yesterday and after eating a little I crawled back into bed with my wife and we both cried for a long time. Nothing would ever be the same again and I think in some respects we grieved over that as much as we did over the massive loss of life.

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