Skip to comments.Huck's Report from Manhattan
Posted on 09/12/2001 7:52:57 AM PDT by Huck
I am setting down my recollections, in detail, of this day. This is not to aggrandize in any way anything I went through. I was blessed today. My day was easy. There are thousands of people whose experience was so much more severe and harrowing than mine. For many, the suffering has just begun. All I did was escape without a scratch. So please dont take my account as any big deal.
I am hesitant to even express my experiences, because I dont want to make a big deal out of what wasas you will seea lucky day for me. However, I do so because I want to remember what happened to me, and because I understand that it is of interest to people what a witness observed, and also it is interesting to people what went through a persons mind, how did they deal with the events as they unfolded. So I will put it down to words and share it. You will see that I had a momentary brush with what occurred, and was then swept away by the events of the day, at a fairly safe distance, though we had no way of knowing that at the time. So,please,take this story for what it is: a dramatic recounting of what I experienced, as I experienced it, expressed for whatever benefit may be derived from it.
A beautful day
Today began like any other day. Actually, it was a beautiful day. Clear blue skies, cool crisp air. My favorite kind of day. After I got off the train, I took the ferry from Hoboken, NJ to World Financial Center (which as I writethe day afteris on fire). I crossed the walkway over West St., cut through WTC 6, walked across the plaza by the Globe fountain which sits between the Twin Towers, and crossed Church St. This is my daily route. It is so well timed that I often pass by the same people at the same place on the same street.
A diagram of my route past the WTC: The X is where I was when the first plane hit
The first plane hits
As I crossed Church St., directly across the street from the twin towers, I heard a whistling sound overhead, like the sound Wile E. Coyote makes when he falls several thousand feet. Then a boom. I turned to look, and saw smoke, flames, and lots and lots of paper flying from one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I and others around looked up, puzzled. What the heck is that? Some speculated aloud that it was some sort of election day stunt. It was primary day today in the New York mayoral race. There are so many nutty things that go on in New York, it wasnt out of the realm of possibility. And even being right there, it was difficult to see what exactly had just happened.
My daily walk to work
I thought it might have been a helicopter crash. I waited and watched as the debris and paper came falling down. I grabbed a piece of paper that fell, and saw that it was something from some business within the building. This was not good. I decided to get to my building quickly. I followed my normal route, up a block from Church St., then down past Federal Hall (where General Washington was inaugurated President), past the New York Stock Exchange (quickly and with anxiety), and down to Water St., to my building.
I got to the 51st floor, and went to the window and saw the Tower burning. Good God. It was horrifying. I went to my office and called my wife. While I was on the phone, I logged on to Free Republic. I had time to post one message, saying that I had been there and seen the explosion. While I was on the phone with my wife, my co-worker came to my office hysterically saying that a jetliner had hit the other tower.
Honey, I have to go, I told my wife, and hung up.
I was told that the building was being evacuated. I exited the building and reported to the designated location. We have these emergency cards which specify where to go in the event of an evacuation (life in the big city, I guess). Lo and behold, no onenot a soulfrom my floor showed up at the location. So I ran down to South Street Seaport and bought a disposable camera. Snapped pictures of the damage and headed back to my building.
The first tower collapses
I got back to my building and asked a security guard what was going on. He said there was no formal evacuation, people were just leaving. So I went back up to the 51st floor. There I found my boss, and soon thereafter we heard that a tower had collapsed. The building was now being evacuated. So my boss and I exited the building. Everywhere we saw hysterical women crying and hyperventillating.
When my boss and I got out of the building, the situation had deteriorated since I had come back from the seaport. The ash and debris and smoke from the collapse of the first tower deluged the whole financial district in a blizzard of soot and smoke. The air was foul. We were being pelted with ash and airborne particles.
The Exodus from Manhattan
What was our plan? I suggested we head for Battery Park. Not much of a plan, but I said we could go down to the edge of the water, sit down, and see what happens. Along the way, we passed a donut cart. I purchased two orange juices, an iced tea, and a cola (thats all he had) and stowed them in my backpack. We then saw a policeman directing people towards the Staten Island Ferry, at the southern most tip of Manhattan island. We went that way.
In fact, we ended up following the multitudes towards and ultimately over the Brooklyn Bridge. At this time, as far as any of us knew, the city was under attack. We had no way of knowing if there would be more attacks, or where they would be. So our primary objective was to get out of Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge was the closest outlet. And besides, whos going to mess with Brooklyn?
The Brooklyn Bridge viewed from Brooklyn
So we walked onto the bridge. At this point, ash and soot was raining down on us. People had shirts over their faces. Women cried. We heard a jet plane go overhead. Because of the smoke we couldnt see it. No one knew if it was friend or foe. Time stood still. It flew by. We exhaled.
A third of the way across the bridge, we looked back at the one tower standing there, as the smoke cleared to bring it into view. One tower. It was so strange. So odd. Then we heard a rumble, we saw glass shatter in all directions from the remaining tower, and we saw it go down in smoke. Women screamed and wailed. It was the most shocking, stunning thing I have ever seen in my life. Horrible. All at once, the brain struggled to comprehend the destruction of a building which had seemed as permanent as a mountain, and the awful loss of life which went with it.
As we walked, I imagined the bridge itself being hit. I imagined what, if anything, I could do to survive such an event. Should I fall to the water? Could I hang on? Probably in denial, I imagined myself at the ready to grab on tight if the bridge got hit.
When we got to the other side, to Brooklyn, we stopped at the Duane Reed drug store. We bought water and Snickers bars. We then went to the Marriot hotel down the block, to see if there were any rooms. I wanted to get a room, because a) we didnt know if we would get out of the city tonight, b) they had showers and we were covered with dust and soot c) they had phones, and d) they had TVs. So we went to the hotel, and found out they had no rooms. We located a big TV screen in a conference room showing the CNN broadcast. We sat and watched, getting for the first time information about what had taken place. Crossing the bridge, we had heard a lot of things, and didnt know what to believe. Someone had said the White House had been hit.
We waited on line to use the payphones. Neither of us could get through to our wives. My boss reached a neighbor, who we gave the phone numbers of our wives, so that they could be told we were OK.
After washing the ash out of our hair and eyes in the Mens room, we went to Juniors on Flatbush Ave. Juniors is famous for its cheescake. Bill Clinton has been there. His picture is on the wall. My boss used to live in Brooklyn and likes this place. We went to the bar and ordered beer. We watched the local tv news and talked with some locals. I went out on the street and bought a little am/fm radio for 10 bucks. News.
In the thick of the smoke, when we evacuated, we had taken the closest route out of Manhattan. But now we were in Brooklyn, marooned, with access to Manhattan closed. I didnt want to let that be, partly because I didnt want to spend the night on the streets of Brooklyn, and partly because I know from experience that if you keep moving, keep busy, you delay any breakdowns or emotional releases. I wanted to put that off until I got home. But after talking with a few cops, it became clear we werent getting out of Brooklyn any time soon. It was around 1pm.
Talking with the locals in Al Sharpton Country
So we went back to Juniors and had lunch. By this time, I was ordering my beers two at a time.
Ill have a turkey club sandwich and two Heinekens.
This place is in the heart of Al Sharpton country. On the street there were posters of Reverend Al endorsing this or that candidate. The restaurant patrons were mostly local blacks. While we ate and drank, we met and talked with 4 or 5 black women about the events of the day.
There was one woman who cried as she spoke about the attack. She said that the people in the towers were at work early, many of them just like her, trying to pay their bills. They were innocent people. She said she loves America. She said America provides opportunity for all. She said forget about black American, Jewish American, Irish American, we are Americans. She said she has no sympathy whatever for Arabs. They hate our country. She spoke of seeing the Palestinian children on tv, celebrating. She said she wanted the USA to blow them all to hell. The other women agreed.
Another woman came over, put her hand on my shoulder, and spoke to me and my boss, and the two women who had joined our table. She told us that she has been to several countries in South America, Central America, and Europe. She said she loves America. America is the best country. The world hates us because we have the strongest economy, the best infrastructure, the most powerful military. She spoke of her desire to see vengeance done. The others agreed.
The next woman made some disparaging remarks about President Bush, expressing a basic lack of faith in his abilities. I spoke to the women, on this point. I asked the women to do me a favor, and simply give the President a chance. They said they understood what I was saying. I can only hope that someday in the future, even after this disaster has begun to fade, that my friends from this day will remember our conversation, and be inclined to simply give the President, and therefore the Republican party, a chance.
My boss and I finished our beers and sandwiches, and left the restaurant. We spent the next hour looking for a way out of the city. For a while it didnt look like wed get back to Jersey. The trains and subways and bridges were limited to outbound traffic only. Finally, we were told the A train was running into Manhattan. I had heard on the radio that ferries were running from Battery Park, and trains were running from Penn Station. We got on the A train and decided to go to Penn Station. From there, I got on a train to Newark. I then walked across town to the other train line, where I called my wife and told her I was in New Jersey.
When I got to my train stop, there was a local detective on the platform. He was asking if anyone was coming from the trade zone. I said I was. He asked if I had been close to the action. I told him I had been across the street when the first plane hit. He asked if I was exposed to ash and dust. I said yes, when we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, we were covered with it. He said he wanted my contact information, which I provided. He asked if I had been decontaminated. I said no. He instructed me to go home, put my clothes in a bag, and wash up, including a thorough wash of my nasal cavaties. Which I did. I was too tired and dazed to inquire with the cop. I dont know if this was a precaution taken by the local police, or if it was a state initiative. I assume it is a precaution. He said a prosecutor would eventually be in touch with me.
When I got home, I showered, then I hugged and kissed my wife. Then I answered all the Are you OK? emails and phone messages and Free Republic inquiries. When I was sufficiently drunk, I passed out.
What I went through today was easy. All I did was escape without a scratch. My thoughts and prayers are with the wounded, the dead and the suffering, and the tribute belongs to the heros.
You'll have to make sure to write me offline & relay the tales he'll surely have to tell.
Sandy, thanks for the photos. They were outrageous! You can't see these things on television.
I am supposed to be flying down to Birmingham for Thanksgiving this year, to be with my uncle, aunt, and cousins. I once drove from Alabama to New Jersey in 16 hours. I'm considering not flying after all. I guess I'll see how things are going come November. I am not sure when I'll be in the mood to argue American history. All I can say is I hope y'all aren't thinking of seceding now. We have far too many hard hearted warriors in the Southland to go into a war without them.
Glad you are safe, Huck. My prayers are with you. :)