Scenes of 9/11
It begins. One of my managers, Mike, who is downstairs getting his coffee and bagel calls us and tells us to get out of the building because a plane just hit the building. My first reaction is, “wow, that’s weird that a private plane would be flying so low — Manhattan is restricted airspace.” I assumed, we all assumed, that it was a private plane that had some kind of accident. I walk over to the windows on the north side of the trading floor and look up. There’s a big hole in the side of the North Tower and fire. The whole building was full of paper, and it was fluttering down like snow.
The second tower. After the first plane hit, the building emergency procedures went into play and we got regular announcements not to leave the building because of falling debris. My folks are in Texas, and I knew my mom would see it on the news and worry. I told all my managers to have their people call home and let their folks know that it wasn’t our building and that they were ok.
I was in my boss’s office and we were talking with the people upstairs talking about our plans if we had to be out a couple of days when the second plane hit — I could see the fireball and the debris reflected on the black glass of the Merrill Lynch tower next door. We made the decision right then and there to evacuate, and let the trading managers know we were clearing the floor. As we’re walking around floor to make sure everybody’s out, I see a new set of Ping golf clubs that one of the traders, Rhino, had just bought. I was going to grab them for him, but figured we’d be back in a day or two, max.
Milling around. Crews of firemen were staging in front of our building — huddling up, then rushing across the street into WTC 1. It was only later that I realized I was probably one of the last people on Earth to see those men alive. We stayed much longer than we should have getting phone numbers and telling them the plan. The WTC had a huge metal awning over the circular drive on West Street. I heard a loud BANG! and look over and up. We would make objects out falling from the top of the tower, and one of the young associates who worked for me was the first to realize. He was almost screaming as I was struggling to get phone numbers and keep everybody calm.
“Maybe the firemen have a net set up?!”
“Around the whole building?” I asked impatiently, “that could catch them from 100 stories?”
“Maybe they’re not what we think they are???”
He was losing it, scared and panicked, trying to process what was happening. “Maybe they’re already dead? Maybe, Mark??? Please?”
“And the firemen don’t feel like carrying them down?” I asked. I told him in Spanish to gird his loins, that he was scaring everybody.
We finally start moving. Finally, a woman asked, “Why are we watching this?” We start moving uptown, but stop at the convenience store around the corner so that people can get water and cigarettes. The shopkeeper was Sikh, and he pointed to the television and yelled, “They’ve attacked the Pentagon!” As we walk out, we can hear a jet screaming in from the north. The crowd screams, and some of them hit the ground. I grew up in West Texas and New Mexico near Army and Air Force bases, and served in the military. “No, no,” I told them loudly, “That’s one of ours!” One. Of. Ours.
The first building falls. We started walking uptown on West Street. Firetrucks from all over southern NY were racing down West Street towards the fire — Yonkers, White Plains, crews from all over the surrounding counties and cities — Yonkers, White Plains, even Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Fishkill ad Peekskill were on scene quickly. We’d already lost almost all cell service, but still had it intermittently on my phone. We were talking with our London office, arranging coverage when I saw a reporter running toward the towers stop dead in his tracks, face frozen in terror. I turned around and saw the South Tower wobble, then fall in a great tidal wave of noise, like somebody pouring broken glass out of a bucket from the sky. The fall felt like and it lasted for an eternity.
“The skyline is going to look weird with only one tower,” I said out loud.
“I hope it stands,“ said my friend Jim, “that whole complex shares a common foundation.”
The morning after. The morning after we were at the Lehman operations building in New Jersey, rebuilding a trading floor in record time — we weren’t going to let them take a win by keeping the financial markets down. One of the biggest obstacles we faced was the lack of cat-5 networking cable — it would literally take hundreds of miles for all of Wall Street to rebuild their trading floors. Within a couple of days, factory workers in Kentucky and Tennessee busted their asses to fill this need, working double shifts around the clock. One of the giant rolls, wrapped in white plastic wrap, had hand-written messages encouraging us, and pictures of the crew that made that roll. Even now as I write this, I’m tearing up. I don’t know why.
The aftermath. The subway stations serving the WTC and the site itself, of course, were closed. To get to work in Jersey, we had to ride the subway all the way to the tip of Manhattan and take water taxis to the passenger dock near our building. Instead of just walking to the nearest subway station, I would walk up Broadway. Blocks of the storefronts and fences along Broadway were covered with hand-written and printed flyers with pictures, all pleading the same question: “Have you seen my dad/mom/husband/wife/son/daughter/grandfather/grandmother/love of my life. Miles of Broadway covered.
Epilogue. The day they finally came, about a week later, when they finally opened the Wall Street subway station serving the 4,5 and 6 subway lines that took me home to East 86th Street in Manhattan. When the doors opened at the World Trade Center Station, there was an overwhelming smell. The whole car was silent except for one girl who was in her early twenties, who was overwhelmed by the stench, as we all were. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed loudly, “what’s that smell? Did something die here? Is that a rat? Why doesn’t somebody do something about that?” We were all quiet, looking at the floor, at the ceiling, some holding back tears.
When she finally realized, she was inconsolable.