Sunday, September 10, 2006

9/11-a Recollection

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While thinking about how to compose this post, I considered many ideas. I've decided just to explain what I saw and thye emotion involved on that day.

I was driving to Long Island from New Jersey to meet a client. For those of you who've not been to the NYC area, you take the NJ Turnpike and get off at exit 10 for the Outerbridge Crossing into Staten Island. While approaching the Outerbridge, I heard on the
Imus show that a commuter plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. Until that point, Imus was talking about the election set for that day. Maybe I've read too many Tom Clancy books, but it didn't seem possible that on a day a clear as any I'd seen before or since that a plane could have mistakenly hit the towers. I crossed the bridge and took the 440 freeway toward the Staten Island Expressway. I called my wife and told her to turn on the news and called my Dad to tell him the same. While on the phone with him, the second plane hit. I simultaneously heard my pop and Imus say
something to the effect of Damn!
I looked over and through the trees could see
the explosion of the plane hitting the towers.

It's tough seeing the city from the Staten Island Expressway, but the towers were high enough that I could see the explosion in the gaps between trees and buildings. I don't remember if I heard anything.

I soon made it to the Verrazano Narrows bridge and could clearly see the towers in flames from that distance of three miles. Traffic essentially came to a standstill on the bridge and the bridge was shut down on the outbound side from Brooklyn. It seems that within minutes, fire trucks from Staten Island and Perth Amboy were crossing the outbound side to aid the FDNY in Manhattan. I recall looking at the people driving next to me on the bridge and seeing the expression of horror. Pretty much everyone in NYC knew someone who worked at the towers it seemed.

Eventually I crossed into Brooklyn and contemplated whether to go over to Manhattan, for what reason I don't know but I felt I had to do something. When I realized that was a futile effort, I continued off the bridge and took the Belt Parkway. The Belt follows the coastal outline of Brooklyn past Coney Island and JFK Airport near the Van Wyck and eventually goes to the Southern State Parkway.

Traffic was moving slowly but steadily. The towers were behind me so I couldn't see what was happening because of buildings and such. Eventually the Belt takes a more northerly route as opposed to the eastern route when you first pick it up at the bridge. The tower were visible for a large stretch of this time and I kept craning my neck to see them burn. It never occurred to me that they would fall. I--like many others--had heard that they could withstand a direct plane hit. I was wrong and watched them come down from a distance. I recall looking at a woman next to me and the look of sheer horror on her face as the first tower tumbled into lower Manhattan. I looked at the building fall and couldn't quite comprehend that it was actually hapening. I knew the second tower was coming down as no structure could withstand what that building did.

Things were crazy at this time as I switched all around the dial from 1010 WINS to Imus and WABC 770. Information was coming fast and furious and alot of it was erroneous. The Pentagon was hit, the State Department was hit, the White House was hit. No one really knew how bad things were.

I eventually made it to the Southern State and made it out to my clients office in Bethpage. The client said they were closing for the day and we'd have to meet another time. I agreed whole-heartedly as I knew I was stuck on the island and needed to find a hotel room.

I headed east on the island and started calling hotels. They were all booked. I stopped at a hotel which I will not name but is a national chain and they said they had a four page waiting list and wanted $300 a night. I was outraged of course but it was comforting to know that indeed capitalism would survive.

I eventually made it to a motor lodge in Bayshore and got a room. It seemd in the middle of the day that it was only me and some dude cheating on his wife staying there. All I wanted was to get somewhere I could watch events play out on TV.

I hadn't expected to spend the night so I went to a nearby gas station to buy a toothbrush, deoderant and of course a twelve pack. The guy behind the counter was what I believed to be Pakistani and had a look of fear when I was in his store. I'll never forget his face when I came in and he seemed to want to say that he had nothing to do with this. I have no idea why that stuck in my mind.

Anyway, I went back to the motor lodge and tuned into the news. I recall how much Giuliani calmed the city. He was dynamic, reassuring and an absolute leader when the city needed it most. He led the city through very difficult hours and I'll always remember how well he did it.

The events played out and I called home whenever I could get through.

I set the alarm for 4:30 the next morning and didn't sleep well. I finally fell asleep very late and maybe got two solid hours in a REM state. I got up and headed out attempting to get home. I contemplated going east and grabbing the feery into Connecticut then heading west and south from there. I decided to take the Southern State to the Belt and hope for the best. It turned out to be a bad choice for traffic reasons but a good choice because I saw the resilience of a city. New Yorkers--whom this south Jerseyan had zero patience for pre-9/11--handled themselve with class and dignity. There was no looting, people waved each other into traffic, they thanked the police at every opportunity and--although looking quite bewildered, went about their business.

The Belt was closed around JFK so I had to take the Conduit and slowly work my way toward the Verrazano Bridge. I made it home after about eight-hours (for a trip that is usually less than three).

I'll post more tomorrow about the changes the nation has seen since that day.

I chose to write this because I wanted to ensure that 20-years out I can recall the event as clearly as I did that day.

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