Remembering 9/11Posted: September 9, 2008
9/11/01: Eight Years Ago
(This is a piece I wrote on the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It is just as relevant today.)
The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote, “grief returns with the revolving year.” That simple premise holds true this day, now more than ever…for New Yorkers, for Americans and most especially for the families and friends of the innocent victims killed in the ghastly terrorist attacks last September 11.
The emotions are truly overwhelming. Foremost is sadness, for those who lost their lives that day at the World Trade Center and for the families who are trying to cope with that loss. For the rescuers. For those who died at the Pentagon. For the heroes who fought back and altered the course of United Flight 93. That remorse is mixed with anger and the question why anybody would do this to fellow human beings. And of course there is a strong sentiment of American patriotism.
It was a day that changed our lives forever.
As I reflect back on the events of September 11, 2001… and not a day goes by that I don’t think about that fateful, clear-blue day…I realize again and again and again how lucky I am. So many lives that day were changed forever by a quick decision, a twist of fate, the luck of the draw.
Several of my IBM colleagues and I originally had a 9 am meeting scheduled on 9/11 with a Wall Street Journal reporter at the World Trade Center Marriott hotel. Purely by chance, I called the Journal several days before and discussed moving the meeting to 590 Madison (corner of Madison and 57th) in midtown Manhattan. The request was made purely for selfish reasons…so that we could accommodate additional briefings that morning…and also so we didn’t have to lug a bunch of desktops, notebooks and monitors to lower Manhattan.
Fortunately for all of us as it turned out, the Journal agreed to the meeting shift.
That morning, as I met the reporter in the 590 lobby a little before 9 (he had stayed at the WTC Marriott the night before and checked out around 8:15 that morning), he asked if there was an airport nearby, and whether planes took off over Manhattan. I replied that LaGuardia was probably just 5-7 miles away, but that takeoff and landing patterns generally wouldn’t take planes over Manhattan. Then I asked why. He responded that as he got out of the cab, he happened to look up to see a large plane flying down 5th Avenue. He thought it was going to hit one of the midtown skyscrapers.
Anyway, we proceeded to the 6th floor and our windowless conference room. The briefing began right on time, right around 9. Within minutes, my cell phone started ringing. Calls from my family, the office, even the Journal.
You know, it was so strange. We were probably only 2-3 miles from the World Trade Towers, but we may as well have been a million miles away. We didn’t hear anything, see anything, feel anything. We finished our briefing around 10, then opened the conference room door.
There were only a few people on the floor, and they were huddled around listening to radios. The gravity of the situation, the extent of the attacks, was readily apparent to us. Reports kept filtering in, the fires were spreading, people were falling from the towers, another plane had hit the Pentagon.
Soon after, we received word via radio reports of the collapse of the Twin Towers, first the South Tower then the North Tower. At that point, I wanted to get out of Manhattan and back to my home, approx. 80 miles north of the city. Ironically, I had driven my car into the city the day before — normally I take the train to Grand Central. People were being urged not to drive, since tunnels and bridges leading into and out of Manhattan were closed. But I reasoned that people would be allowed to drive out of the city eventually, especially to the north, where the bridges are small.
The WSJ reporter was eager to leave with me, since one of his sons attends college near my home. The IBM team decided to remain in New York.
So the reporter and I left, not knowing what would happen, or whether we’d even be allowed to drive. There was lots of pedestrian traffic, similar to St. Patrick’s Day in some respects without the festive atmosphere. But vehicular traffic was fairly light, and we made good time up Third Avenue, all the way to Harlem. We hit gridlock between 122nd and 123rd St.
After 20 minutes or so, people began getting out of their cars. It was eerie — to the north all you could see was beautiful blue sky, to the south smoke and dust.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, a truck driver next to us said he heard that they had opened the Willis Avenue Bridge, where First Avenue crosses over into the Bronx. We pushed through, and were soon on our way northward. I got the reporter to a hotel, then made my way home.
In the weeks and months since September 11, I’ve read with avid interest the accounts of what happened to the World Trade Center Marriott. How debris rained down from the North Tower, cracking the pool, with water cascading down, causing the hotel elevators to fail. How the hotel was cleaved in two by the collapse of the South Tower, then destroyed when the North Tower gave way. How the brave firefighters of Brooklyn Ladder 118 — and other FDNY brothers — were able to evacuate hundreds of hotel guests. How more than 50 people, including hotel guests, employees and firefighters, died in the WTC Marriott.
I thank God I’m alive. God Bless America.