Contributor's location on 9/11:
In downtown Manhattan
January 29, 2002
I remember waking up that Tuesday morning and looking out the window, remarking on what a beautiful late-summer day it was. I immediately put on the news so I could follow the New York City Mayoral election while I ate breakfast and dressed for work. I was excited to see who would end up winning--the billionaire businessman or the politician.
I left the house around 8:45 AM, turning the TV off as Jim Ryan, the Fox Morning News anchorman joked around about candidates Green and Bloomberg. I got on the F train in Brooklyn and it was a typical morning commute. I transferred at Jay Street to the A train. As we were going under water to Manhattan, the train slowed down and the conductor announced, "Due to a fire at the World Trade Center, this train will be delayed. Please use alternative routes if you can." I decided to get off at Chambers Street instead of Canal Street (my office was pretty much in between these two subway stops), because that stop came first and I could get out of the delayed train sooner. I was trying to make a 9:30 AM staff meeting at my office on 99 Hudson Street in Tribeca.
When we got through the tunnel, the first stop we made was Broadway-Nassau. People rushed into the train looking and acting shaken up. They were all talking about wanting to get out of there, away from the WTC disaster. I was reading and still only half awake, and didn't pay much attention to these conversations.
When I got out at the next stop, I was not prepared for what I saw on Chambers Street. It was about 9:20 AM. People were running past me uptown, occasionally turning back with a look of pure fear and amazement in their eyes, before returning their attention forward and away. Still unclear on what was going on, I turned around, southwest, and saw one tower in flames, the other in smoke. I stood there on the corner of Church and Chambers for a minute staring in disbelief, unsure of what happened. Then I saw specks of movement falling from the towers, which I later learned were bodies that had jumped for a less painful and quicker end.
I decided to get to work. I was unsure of how to process this sight. But I knew that I could get a better sense of what was going on if I just got to the office. Maybe someone there had heard about this. I didn't understand why I hadn't, since I watched the news. "Stupid Fox 5 News," I thought, "More interested in making bad jokes then reporting on what is actually happening in the world." I started to make my way to Hudson Street. I occasionally turned around to look, as if thinking maybe I had seen wrong before, maybe everything's okay. I walked past amateur photographers and people on the street standing in groups just staring up.
I finally got to the office and heard that a plane had crashed into the WTC. We went into the Conference Room and turned on our TV and saw the coverage. We learned that there had been two planes, they were hijacked American passenger aircraft, and it was probably terrorist activity. Just then there was breaking news that the Pentagon had been hit by a plane. That's when we all got scared. That's when we understood that there was an attack on America going on, and who knew where it would end. We still don't, to be sure.
I appreciated that I had my co-workers there with me, especially since they're historians and helped give me a context for understanding this surprise attack. Although no one could really talk smartly about it, we were reacting more emotionally. There was some discussion about what we should do--should we have our staff meeting? should we go to our other office at 34th Street far from the WTC? should we go home? We finally accepted the severity of the situation and decided to all walk uptown together.
We decided to leave the office. On our way out, I tried to call my parents in Boston to let them know I was okay, but I couldn't get through. I just got an automated message that said all lines were busy. Normal phone service, in fact, didn't resume in NY for weeks. My uncle somehow got through to see if I was okay. I told him I was. I did manage to email my mom and tell her I was okay but was leaving the office, and would get back to her later in the day when I got home.
We left the office and joined a mass exodus of people, some covered in sut, walking north from downtown. We walked along Hudson Street. At first we walked as a full staff, but within a few blocks we were separated. I stayed with some of my closest coworkers. Of this group, only one of us lived in Manhattan. I live in Brooklyn, and the two others live in New Jersey and Long Island respectively. We decided we should walk to the Manhattan coworker's apartment and rest there for a while before deciding what to do next. The subways were out, it wasn't clear whether we could walk across the bridges. The police just pointed us in the direction of north.
As we walked along Hudson, Eighth Ave., and Central Park West, all pretty much the same street but with different names at different points, to 110th Street and Cathedral Parkway, the towers went down, one, then less than an hour later, the other. We heard a thunderous noise, then we all turned around, the mass of people who I walked amongst, and saw them crumble down to the ground, bringing up a cloud of smoke and dirt where there once stood an emblem of Americana.
I ended up walking 8 1/2 miles to Harlem, to my coworkers apartment. It took about 2 hours to get to his house. My feet were blistered and I was starving. Along the way, I spoke to some other survivors, updating them on the Pentagon situation in case they hadn't had access to a TV or radio before they started walking. When we got to the apartment, my coworker's step-father was there watching the news. He was very hospitable to us. He was concerned that his son's best friend was in those towers and would have died. We sat around the TV as the expected death toll climbed and as guesses were made at who was responsible. We also heard about a fourth hijacked passenger plane that had crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Two of my coworkers went to the market and brought back lunch food. While we waited, I managed to get through to my parents and tell them I was okay. We made sandwiches and ate them. By then it was around 2 and the news announced that limited subway service had resumed. Myself and the New Jersey and Long Island residents of the group decided to try commuting home. I managed to get on the F and get back to Brooklyn.
When I got home at around 3, I tried to call my mom again, but all lines were busy. I tried for hours. I finally got through late in the evening. My mom was furious that I didn't call sooner, but I explained I couldn't get through. My boss emailed me and said that the next day we should report to work, but Thursday we should all meet at our 34th street office. We all went on Thursday, but agreed that it was hard to concentrate. And, although less so, it still is.
Story #16, The September 11 Digital Archive
, 29 January 2002, <http://911digitalarchive.org/stories/details/16>.
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