The morning was beautiful, bright blue sky, not a cloud in sight. A crisp, clear September morning.
I woke at the regular time, got my 19 month old son ready to go the babysitter’s house. I had to get to the car dealership, so my husband took our son over.
I remember thinking as I drove Route 80 east into the office how I was never going to be able to make it to the office by 9am. I was to make a presentation at the weekly sales meeting, and how the sales staff was not going to like being made to wait, in addition to pissing off the Sales manager.
I was listening to 880am, traffic and weather on the 8’s, on the radio. I was nearing the turn off 80 on to Route 19 to take me in to Clifton and a report came across the radio about an airplane having hit one of the World Trade Center towers.
These were the days prior to hands free cell phone laws. I picked up my cell phone and called in to work to speak to a colleague who I knew was also listening to the radio. We spoke about what the hell could have happened and our thoughts on who did it and why. We ended the phone call with her saying just get in here and we can find out more, and you are going to be late for your meeting.
It was at this point I rounded the last the last rise of Garrett Mountain and took the turn off to get to work. From this vantage point you can usually see across to lower NYC. The sky was still a beautiful blue.
I speed through the side streets trying to get to work, and the radio announced there has been a second plane and it has hit the other tower. Speculation of pilot error has gone out the window.
Getting to work and parking the car, I run out of the car and up the steps. I am greeted by the receptionist and I ask, have you heard, what is being done, does anyone know anything? She is bewildered and knows nothing of what I am asking.
I quickly stride through the doors leading to the Sales department, and ask the bullpen of clerical staff what they know. No one seems to be aware of anything amiss. They tell me about how my presence in the meeting is noticeable and how I am to go straight in for my presentation.
I drop my things on my desk, grab my notes and head in to the meeting. There is an overhead radio system throughout the building, but in the conference room, they have the ability to turn down the sound when they hold meetings. They have employed this ability today as the meeting has already begun.
I ask around the table, while trying to catch my breath, of their knowledge of the events unfolding 10 miles away. They do not know of them and all look at me as if I am Chicken Little and have pronounced the sky to be falling. Annoyed faces stare back at me, the Sales Manager’s being the worst, and I try to gather my thoughts to make a presentation, that at the moment doesn’t mean anything to me.
All I want to do is turn on the TV behind me and find out what has happened. I proceed to start, having no idea if what I am saying is making sense. My thoughts are 10 miles away, and worried for people I know in that area. Worried for complete strangers who jam in to those buildings daily and which by now would have been full and bustling.
Five minutes in to my presentation, the Plant manager, Shipping manager and half their staffs come through the door to the conference room without knocking, ignore the people in the room and proceed to turn on the TV set. Finally, people who understand how important what’s going on is, and won’t be silenced.
We all gather around the 13” TV and start to watch what was for some of us the start of a days long marathon of TV watching. We see for the first time the sight of the towers, parts of them in flames, black smoke pouring out of them.
Newscasters, trying hard to remain objective, are giving a narrative of what we are seeing and the information being fed to them through their earpieces. Still no idea of who has masterminded this coordinated attack, and speculating on further incidents yet to come.
As the minutes tick by, I cannot sit in that room anymore and watch people die on TV. I leave the conference room and head for my desk, and the phone. I call the babysitter and tell her that unless it is to go to the hospital for an emergency, I do not want them leaving the house today. She has the TV on at her house and agrees. I tell her I will call her back when I can and to sit tight.
I pick up the phone again, and try to call my husband’s cell phone. The lines are tied up; cells are pushed to their brink. It takes me a few tries, but I finally get through. He is in a car. “Where?” I ask. “Lori, I can see it all, we are on the sky-way.” Crap, my heart sinks.
He tells me he is safe, but they are stuck, traffic is at a standstill and all they can do is listen to the radio and watch it all unfold from their vantage point. I tell him I love him and to keep me in the loop.
I go up to the reception desk to see how she is faring up there. I realize while talking to her that one of the things they said is that it might be extremists who carried out the attack. The owners of my company are Hasidic Jews and that while we aren’t in NYC, could someone walk in here and do something?
Not knowing enough about what was happening, I run downstairs to the first floor lobby and lock the front door. We have a bell and if anyone wants to get in all they have to do is ring. We have a glass front to our building and we can look down from the second floor landing and decided whether they are a threat or not.
While at the reception desk the phone rings and it is one of the two brothers that own our company. He asks to speak to me. We talk about the events as we know them so far. He is still at home in Borough Park and they have since closed all the bridges and he cannot get in. He asks me what we are doing. I tell him that I have locked the front door and while it might seem extreme, I thought it the right thing to do. Everyone else was crammed into the conference room watching the TV. He agreed that for now, keeping the front door locked was the best idea and that he would call back soon.
In the meantime, the other brother called in. I proceed to get on the phone with him. They had closed the bridges while he and another co-worker where making their way in from Brooklyn and were now stuck on Staten Island. They had rented a motel room so they could sit and watch the TV and have a phone at their disposal. I bring him up to speed on the happenings at the office and how I had just spoken to his brother.
I return to the bullpen area of the office and upon entering, one of the girls says all the cell phone lines are out and she just heard they took out the skyway. I turned ashen as the blood drains to my feet. Turns out it was her way of being snarky. As an aside, I was so glad months later when I had the opportunity to fire her for cause. No one should be that mean at a time like that, and it shows how heartless miserable, drug addicted people can be.
I returned to the conference room. At this point one of the gals is standing in the doorway looking frantic. She tells me that they have said on the TV that there are more planes. They don’t know where they are headed, and can’t account for all the planes in the sky. We just stood there looking at each other trying to hold back the tears.
We are all watching TV and listening to the play by-play of the newscasters. I look around the room, and people have segregated themselves into groups of men, and groups of women. They have announced that planes are headed for Washington, DC, they think.
All of a sudden, we see movement in one of the towers. It starts to sink. In a matter of seconds it is down and there is a mushroom cloud of dust/smoke/debris. No one said a word, I doubt if anyone was breathing at this point. From somewhere in the room comes muffled cries. Newscasters are reporting what we all witnessed. The unthinkable has happened, one of the towers fell, just pan caked on itself until there was nothing.
I walk out. Walked all the way down to my office. I just sat there. Thankfully, I had a corner office and was away from any hustle and bustle, not that there was anyone who wasn’t in the conference room at this point other than the receptionist.
It is at this point that events at the office get hazy. I remember things in general, but not specifically time-lined until I left the building.
I briefly remember trying to call my husband again, and speaking to the babysitter too. I remember the receptionist calling for me as the doorbell rang at some point.
I went to the second floor landing and saw a man and woman both in business suits, carrying briefcases. I went down to inquire about who they were and why they were here. They said they were with some company, I cannot remember which company exactly anymore, it may have been ADP.
I asked why they were here and not at their offices or home somewhere. They had not heard about the events and couldn’t understand why no one was available to meet them. I explained they might want to use our lobby phone to call their office. They did and finally got the message and left, but not before trying to make another appointment. It is at this point they got what is referred to as the bum’s rush. The audacity of self-involved people never ceases to amaze me.
By the time I get back to the conference room, the 2nd tower has fallen. They still do not know the whereabouts of a handful of planes, and no one knows what is yet to come. The entire staff is shell-shocked. No one is really speaking.
At this point the Sales manager pipes up that anyone who wants to go home, should. The men have all already called home to wives and know where families are. The women have all spoken to mothers, fathers, husbands and just want to go get their kids and hug them for the rest of eternity.
I finished talking to a few people and gathered my things to leave. Upon re-entering the conference room, something struck me. All the women had gone home. I was the last female in the office except for the receptionist. All the men were staying. They all were gathered around the 13” TV with tinfoil on the antennae, and were staying together to watch.
I walked out of the building, and stood there for a moment. The thing that is burned into my memory is the gray sky and the silence. Our building was on an industrial street, next door to the train station, and there was always heavy tractor-trailer traffic.
There was nothing, no sound. No trains, no trucks, no cars, and most importantly, no birds. The blue sky of earlier was replaced with gray. There was a smell in the air, but to this day I cannot put a name to it.
I got in my car, and drove towards the highway. There was no one on the surface streets. The town was empty. As I got on the highway, I noticed only a few vehicles now and again. I refused to look toward the city on the entrance ramp to the highway.
As I drove west, mile after mile, there was still no sound, no people. At about 10 miles out, I heard my first bird, saw the skies were back to blue, and there were other cars on the road.
Getting to the babysitters house, I think my breathing had returned to normal when I walked through the door and grabbed the kid in the biggest hug I could manage without crushing him. We watch the TV together for a bit, until it was just too horrific to watch any longer. The kid & I head home.
Finally hear from the husband, he is ok, he is off the bridge, he is on his way back, but does not want to talk about it. To this day he has still not told me what he saw that day, and I don’t really want to know about the horror he witnessed.
We sat there, glued to the television for the rest of that day. We watched live, as other buildings fell, and reporters had to run with the crowds out of harm’s way. We watched buildings burning all around the Trade Center complex. We watched as the search for survivors began even as the rubble still smoldered. We watched the President give a live address that evening on what facts were known at that point.
The facts we all knew that evening were that; every parent hugged their children a little tighter, every spouse lingered a little longer with their lips on their partner’s lips, every American felt a sense of rage and anger at a still yet unknown target, and everyone double-checked every lock on every door to their house that evening.