Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2001

Five years ago at about 8:30 in the morning I boarded a flight to Cincinnati. My company had been bought and I was going to check out Cincinnati to see if I wanted to move there and keep my current job. At about 9:15 the plane had suddenly landed. We were on a commuter flight and all the passengers were looking at each other saying, “Did we miss the announcement saying we were landing early, or at all? We still have another 20 minutes to go.” The pilots never came out of the cockpit to send us on our way and the flight attendant got off first looking somber. As we walked down the steps to the runway we were greeted by a USAirways representative and police in SWAT gear and machine guns. She said, “The airport is closed and is locked down. Two planes have flown into the World Trade Center towers. If you checked bags, you will not be getting them. Please leave the airport immediately.

My first thought was, “How the hell did a tiny prop/commuter plane hit the towers? And two of them? Those are some big buildings. Those must be some dumb pilots.” Then I took out my cell phone as people around me started using the word “hijacked.” I walked down the terminal towards the rental car van pick-up place and dialed my sister:
“J, what is going on?!”
“Where are you?!?! Are you OK? Two big planes just flew in to each of the world trade center towers! I’m watching it replay on CNN over and over again it’s awful! All those people just died! Do NOT hang up the phone because it’s hard to get a cell line.”
“Whoa, calm down. What are you talking about? What has happened?”

And then she told me. At least all she could at 9:20 in the morning. I got to the car rental place and people who did get calls thru were telling everyone else what happened and that they weren’t going anywhere. The lines at the rental car place were getting longer by the minute but I had a reserved car and was given it immediately. Several people asked if I was driving anywhere and could they get rides? Michigan? Chicago? California even? Would I give up my rental for $100? I was still so flustered all I wanted to do was check in to the hotel and sit in front of a TV.

The next few hours were a whirlwind. I was trying to get a hold of friends in New York as I had no idea what happened when the towers fell and who was affected. My boss and co-workers had been terrified as they knew I was flying to Ohio and in those early hours there was a “missing plane” flying over Ohio which we then would know as flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, PA. I did get to the office to be enveloped by the Vice President of my company at the time who told me to gather myself, use his office and do what I needed to do in the way of calling anyone and everyone.

My parents were living in England at the time, also knew I was flying and, of course, couldn’t get a hold of me or my sister. We found e-mail worked best but over the next couple of days I managed to rack up a $300 phone bill at the hotel. My parents had friends and neighbors calling them and asking if they had turned on their TV (it was 2 in the afternoon their time) to see what had happened. Their postman knocked on their door and asked if my sister was OK as he knew she worked in New York City and to offer his condolences to them as Americans.

All I wanted to do was be at home in Philly to be comforted by my friends. I, however, was stuck in a city where I didn’t really know anyone to sit alone and watch ongoing coverage of it all.

I finally made it back to Philly on the Friday. I was on the only woman on my flight and there were only two other business men on it with me. The flight attendant walked down the aisle and asked us to please buckle up and as he did he touched us each on the arm in the most reassuring way. We were all in this together and we would fly home and be OK. We were and we did.

I had several friends who lost several of their friends. One friend of mine’s brother was in one of the buildings next to the first tower and saw the first plane hit. He was on a conference call and was looking out his window. He immediately shouted, “Holy shit a plane just flew into one of the towers. I’m out of here.” My sister’s friend was also in an adjacent building and witnessed it all first hand. Another of her friends was in a conference room and watched the first plane fly “straight down the street” and couldn’t figure out what the hell a plane was doing so low and, essentially, in between the buildings. Seconds later the whole world knew why.

Later I found out that a former classmate of mine from high school died in the first tower. He was an absolute gentle giant. As a senior he helped coach our Junior Varsity girls team and was the first person I’d ever seen palm a basketball. He’d then take the same hand and put it over our heads and I swear his fingers went clear down to our necks. Kenny, you were such a sweet and gentle man and I am so sorry that you are gone. I’m so sorry for your family and for the community because you never stopped volunteering your time even after you moved to New York and started your professional career. You will be missed by all who knew you.

When I got back I decided to take the job in Cincinnati. Part of the decision was made out of fear. When I got back to work my old offices were across from the Federal building and I watched snipers walking on the roof top, I went thru several bomb scare evacuations and we were no longer allowed to open our office windows. I couldn’t get a job in Philly back in the financial services industry where I had worked prior to my current field as all my friends in that field were starting to get laid off. The Midwest didn’t seem too bad and it was guaranteed employment in my current job.

Yesterday, five years ago seemed like a lifetime ago. Today it feels like just yesterday.


Blogger Wine Girl said...

I totally understand, your words are eloquent, take care, I will think of Kenny every time I think of the Towers.

September 11, 2006 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Today it feels like just yesterday."..I know exactly how you feel when you say that. I will say a prayer for Kenny and his family, your vivid memory was wonderful to read.."his fingers reached down to our necks" made me smile. Each 9/11 since I feel palpable fear, mixed with such sadness, grief, gratitude and rage. I don't think that will ever change. Glad to know you E, even if it's only through the ether.


September 12, 2006 9:30 AM  

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