As my bus is approaching the Lincoln Tunnel at approximately 8:50am, I remember hearing a woman seated behind me telling the person on the other end of her cell phone conversation, "I'm not kidding you -- it has a big hole in it." Having no idea what she is talking about, I continue reading my book, The Black Book of Communism, without looking up. (Had I only looked up, I would have had a perfect view of the first damaged tower). Somehow, I manage to make it through the Lincoln Tunnel, across midtown on the subway, and up to the main concourse of Grand Central Station before realizing what has happened. The time is now approximately 9:15am. As I pass the "Hudson News" bookstore on the main concourse level, I notice swarms of people crowded around the store's two television screens. "What's going on?," I inquire of one of the many gathered New Yorkers. "A couple of planes have crashed into the
," comes the reply. World Trade Center
Crashed? My split second reaction is that there must have been some terrible mishap. This lasts for about three seconds. "Did you say two planes?" I ask the man again. "Yes, two," comes the reply. "Well then that's gotta be deliberate," I answer aloud -- more to myself than to my fellow commuter. "Holy shit," I mutter.
By the time I reach my office five minutes later, it seems everyone has begun slowly to grasp the horror of the situation. Radios are playing in almost every office -- a weirdly exciting fact. I begin trying to get through to Lisa on the telephone. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I finally connect. She is, of course, relieved that I'm O.K. -- but it is clear that the situation has not really sunk in with her, either. We're talking about it -- but almost as if it's merely an unusual news story affecting people far away. Eventually, things begin to sink in and Lisa breaks down crying.
I manage to get through to Marianne and Clem. I learn from Marianne that another plane has hit the Pentagon. Shortly thereafter, we begin hearing that one of the two trade towers has completely collapsed. This is when the head really begins to spin. It's clear by now that an event of monumental and historic significance has just occurred a mere two miles down the street.
We have a real estate department luncheon scheduled today. I ask Jim McIntyre if it is still on and he replies something like "I don't see why not. Everyone is here and so is the food." Needless to say, after the second tower collapses and the enormity of the situation begins to sink in with everyone, the luncheon is cancelled. I end up eating in the cafeteria with Jim. I am strangely annoyed at how aloof he seems. I'm sure he is every bit as affected as me. How odd that I am annoyed at him!
I am sure that I will be sleeping in my office tonight. The mayor has ordered all of the bridges and tunnels closed indefinitely. At about 1:00pm, I take a walk around midtown (in my stiff, two day old, leather shoes) to try and clear my head. There are people everywhere but very few cars. A gorgeous sunny day. It feels very strange. Looking south down
Madison Ave., I can see the huge plumes of smoke from where the twin towers had stood only hours before. After about an hour of walking, my feet begin to ache so I head back to the office. On the 8th floor, the tech support people have set up television sets so people can watch the coverage on CNN. This is the first time that I see the footage of the planes flying into the buildings and the buildings collapsing. The mind simply cannot compute these images. I feel as though it must be some fancy special effects from the latest Hollywood action movie.
The radio stations begin announcing that some ferries are running to
. Jim McIntyre and I decide to give it a shot. If we can just get to the other side of the river, we figure, we should be able to get to our homes without too much difficulty. After waiting in line for about 45 minutes for the "Circle Line" ferry, we luck-in to a new ferry that has just opened up a few blocks south. I'm again annoyed at how aloof Jim seems about everything. As the ferry is pulling away from New Jersey , I am looking back at the forever-changed downtown skyline -- in complete disbelief at what I'm seeing. Jim is engaged in light conversation with a friend he bumped into on the ferry. How can light conversation be possible for anyone at a time like this? Manhattan
Jim and I part ways on the other side. He's headed for Holmdel -- I for
. I walk about a half-mile to the top of the entrance ramp for the Lincoln Tunnel (no cars anywhere -- an eerie feeling!). On my way, some kind people are handing out cups of water in front a what looks like an old church building. By the time I make it to the main highway, empty buses suddenly begin flooding out of the tunnel (or perhaps from some other point of origin, I cannot really tell) -- apparently headed for a central staging area at Giants Stadium. One of the buses pulls over and offers to take me to Giants Stadium. We get as far as Seacacus when the driver realizes that the road to Giants Stadium has been closed off for some reason. Now I have no choice but to begin hoofing it home (about 10-12 miles away). I make my way up to Route 3 and begin heading west. Some asshole cop gives me a hard time about walking out on the empty highway. I pretend to comply, walk a few hundred yards west off the shoulder of the road, and then resume heading down the highway proper. My feet are beginning to kill me. By the time I hit Giants Stadium (after about 4-5 miles of walking), I begin to wonder how much longer I can walk in these damn shoes! I end up making a huge semicircle around the north of the stadium -- about 1/4 mile distant from the stadium itself -- in order to avoid bumping into all of the cops who have gathered there. I just don't want any of them telling me to turn back or making me stay there for some lengthy period. Clifton
On the far west side of the stadium, one of the buses that has gathered there has begun heading out on its route. The driver pulls over and asks me where I'm headed. I'm relieved to learn that his route runs within about 1 mile of my house. I ride that distance -- relieved to be off my feet. In fact, I'm feeling so good at this point that I get the wild idea to just walk the last mile (it's about 7:30pm at this point). I make it about 1/2 mile -- past at least one church that has its door open and is conducting some kind of impromptu memorial service -- and can go no further. I end up calling Lisa on a pay phone near an intersection she knows well. While I wait, I take off my shoes and socks and sit down on some concrete steps. People are stopping at the traffic light -- many cars already are flying American flags. I wonder if people can figure out why I'm sitting there with my shoes off.
I'm of course very relieved when I finally get home. I plunk down in the chair and watch the news coverage with Lisa for a little while. A bomb threat at the
is being reported. I fully expect the thing to come crashing down -- but fortunately, it stands fast. I remark to Lisa how glad I am that our kids are totally oblivious to all of this (ages 27 and 9 months). Empire State Building
Thus ends the first day of the 21st century and the first battle of WWIII.