Archive for September, 2001

Sep 11 2001

September 2001 New York Trip

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Robert, my boss, picked me up WAY too early to catch our flight to Newark to meet with a wireless carrier. We dumped his Suburban, hopped the flight and got to Newark unscathed. As we landed, I got a picture of the towers.

We needed a plan for Sunday, our one free day on the trip. Originally we’d considered driving down to DC to see the Air and Space museum, but decided that it was too long a drive. We looked at the maps we had – Newark/NJ, NY, and Philly, and decided to spend a day in Manhattan. We asked the waiter if we should drive, and he suggested a train right into the city.


We got moving at 7a. I’d mistakenly thought this was 10a our time. Sleepy, but it got us conditioned for getting up the rest of the week. We drove to Metropark, got our tickets, and headed over to NY.

There was a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) on the schedule screen at the Metropark:

We emerged at Penn station and started walking to landmarks – Madison Square Garden, Times Square, Broadway, etc.

There must have been 3 different parades and 3 more events all starting. I got this picture thinking I’d have a funny story to tell about a police state:

Now I wonder how many of these guys are no longer with us.

As we walked past Trump Tower, they were shooting a sports show and right in front of me was DITKA! Here I am sharing a moment with Iron Mike:

We walked up to Central Park, and found Tavern on the Green. Beautiful place set in the park. We found the Metropolitan Art Museum, bought some gifts.

By now, my feet have had it, so we hopped a taxi to the UN.

Took some pictures outside, then got in line at the security checkpoint into the UN. Very strict search, then on into the lobby. Some pretty blue stained glass.

Very `60s looking décor and design. Downstairs were many gift shops and the United Nations Coffee Shop.

We grabbed some nick-knacks, and jumped in another cab – this time to the World Trade Center.

These towers dominate the view in New York, and we knew we wanted to see the city from the top of them. Before we went in, I took a picture, shooting up the side of Building 1, next to the awning over the door.

Once we got in, we saw that we were in the wrong tower and had to go to Building 2 for the Observation Deck. We passed through the cavernous, immense mall under the towers, and went into Building 2.

Robert got us tickets, and we joined the long line waiting for an elevator. We both decided to just walk past a couple of photographers who were asking people to pose in front of a painting of the towers so they could sell them pictures later. They gave us a little guff, but we just walked on. After waiting about 20 minutes, we got on the fast moving elevator and walked out on stunning views of the city.

Each thin window had a metal corrugated seat that you can duck into. I sat and just stared for many minutes, trying to absorb the clear view of hundreds of buildings, the rivers, the bridges. Absolutely gorgeous. I took many high resolution pictures. I also leaned my head against the glass, and looked down the length of the building. It was so large that I didn’t even feel vertigo, just that I was on top of something very sturdy. Then I cast my eyes down at an angle and wondered how many blocks would the building cover if it tipped over just then. What numbered street would be my landing place?

You can see my sneakers in the reflection on the window.

Each of the four sides of the building yielded wonderful views. I paused a long time again at the view of the Statue of Liberty and the open waters beyond.

Then, as I got up, Robert had found that there was an escalator to the top of the building. We could go outside on this 110 story building! Up the long escalator we went, and were deposited in a garden not made of trees, but of openness and clear views.

Robert yelped for me to look over the edge quickly as he was surprised by the passing of commercial jet flying LOWER than the top of the building. I snapped a blurry picture and watched it float by. Amazing.

We took pictures of each other framed by Building 1 and a north facing view of Tower 1 and Manhattan.

Robert was struck by all the nationalities represented on the tower. We heard several languages. As we were getting back on the elevator down, an Asian couple pushed past the lady getting us organized to fit into the elevator car, and she had to yell at them to get them off of the car, so I could get on. I looked her in the eye and she smiled and rolled her eyes.


Today we went to our first meeting with the carrier in Edison, NJ. Our meeting was on the 9th floor of the building and we were told that if it were less hazy, we could see all the way to Manhattan. We met all day and had dinner with the carrier team by Rutgers University.

I really wanted some night time shots of the Statue of Liberty, so I asked the carrier team for a good spot to take pictures, and they directed us to Liberty Park. We got down there at about 11p, and it was closed. We drove around a bit and got a few pictures, but the only really recognizable landmark is the twin towers with a green smudge, the statue, in the foreground.

This is about 9 hours before the attack.

Robert and I tried some different locations to get better pictures, but just couldn’t find a great location. We ended up by a massive new car lot by a deserted dock and it was almost midnight. We decided to call it a night and drove back to the hotel.


As we entered the elevator of the carrier’s building at 9a to go to today’s round of meetings, our host, Bruce, asked us if we’d heard that a plane had hit one of the towers of the WTC. We all went up to the 9th floor to see if Manhattan was visible and it was. We could clearly see the city’s skyline, and the WTC was on fire.

The camera makes it all look very small and far away, but it seemed closer. Someone had a radio on and we were all looking for news about what happened. Was this an accident? How big was the plane?

As we watched, and I took a few pictures, I called my wife in San Diego. She was asleep and I told her to turn on the TV. As I spoke with her, we saw an enormous flash and ball of fire from the crash site. At first we thought it was a gas line or some sort of after effect of the plane crash. Then we heard on the radio that it was a second plane or helicopter hitting the other tower. In the photo below, you can see the mushroom cloud from when the second plane hit.

Geek that I am, I assumed that some sort of airport transponder was off kilter and these planes were flying by instrument. But as the reports started coming in over the radio, it became clear that this was an attack.

We were all just stuck to the window, trying to process what we were seeing. Nothing made any sense. The reports on the radio were spotty at best. No one knew what was going on.

Bruce suggested we go over to the Network Operations Center to see if CNN or the local news had any information. There was a huge crowd gathered and we saw our first close ups of the fires. The local news teams had helicopters circling the buildings.

In all of this tragedy, the one piece I can not lay to rest is the image of trapped people crowding the windows, trying to get out and having no where to go. Many jumped as we watched. The local coverage on a few of the TVs continued showing these images as CNN backed off. Later, when I talked to friends back home and around the country, I learned that most people didn’t see these images. I selfishly envy them that. What kind of utter hopelessness must those people have felt? It haunts me every day.

As more news and info started penetrating our shock, a new story came up that the Pentagon had been hit. At that moment, I have never felt so far from my family. It struck me that this could be a coordinated campaign to follow the sun across the country, dropping passenger jets on many targets. My wife and kids were in San Diego, home to 3 huge military bases. How extensive was this attack, and what could I even do about it? 3000 miles away from home and I could do nothing. Even calling was getting difficult as the phone system rejected call after call.

I eventually got through, but choked because there was nothing I could do. I wanted to get home, right now. As I sat in a conference room, trying to call my wife and call up more news in the internet, Robert and I decided that we needed a plan. We had no room for the night and we didn’t think our flight out that day from Newark would leave anytime soon. I called around and got us one of the last rooms in the area, and we just kept the rental car.

I went back to see what was on the TVs and started to listen to the people around me. These people were beginning to melt down. Yes, I was upset and shocked, but these people had relatives and friends who worked in Manhattan, some in the WTC. There was weeping, speculation, and a general sense of questioning. What was going on? Who in the world could coordinate these attacks? What was up with that plane in Pennsylvania? Where was it headed? Was the Sears tower in Chicago next?

By now, people in the building were thinking that being on the 9th floor of any building was not a good idea, so they evacuated the building. Robert and I holed up in a pizza place for the next couple of hours, watching the news and the smoke cloud out the window.

Robert was for starting driving West right away. There was talk on the TV of shutting down all air traffic. He was once an air traffic controller and knew that there was no way they could get that system up and running again in less than a few days. We both also felt that staying in the NY area seemed risky because everything was so tumultuous. I opted for staying at least one night in the hotel I’d found, just to see what happened.

I don’t even remember most of the rest of that day. We got to the hotel and watched TV like most Americans, looking for answers and getting detailed replays of the plane crashes. I hopped on line and checked in with some of my friends in an IRC real time messaging area.

I finally slept I guess. I don’t remember.


By now all the airports were closed, but we still had a car. I was still feeling a bit paralyzed and wanted to hang in NJ and wait for a plane, but Robert finally convinced me that we’d get home faster by driving. We called our admin asst. Gayle at the home office and she got us lined up with hotel rooms across the country as we made our way west. We made it to Indianapolis that night.


Right after breakfast, I called some of my friends in Champaign, Illinois to meet us for lunch. We had Papa Del’s pizza, very nice. I really needed to see some friendly faces and was well rewarded.

We continued on to Salina, Kansas to spend the night. I think it was somewhere during this leg of the trip that I ripped the RIM pager out of Robert’s hand as he drove 95 miles an hour while talking on the phone while a truck ahead of us was losing retread in chunks. Here’s Robert with his own bottle of Windex:

He’s not REALLY insane. I think.


We got on the road and just before Denver we noticed the first plane we’d seen in the air in many days.

It was very creepy seeing no contrails for days on the road. It was even creepier seeing a lone plane.

We pulled into Denver and this was the first building we saw after we parked the car:

(Note the name on the building. Creepy again.)

I really wanted to get home, and since there were planes flying again, we called into the office and got flights out of Denver for the next day. Gayle lined us up with a hotel, so we decided to spend the rest of the day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

There were many elk. Ironically, my brother, who lives in Denver, was up in the mountains hunting elk, so I didn’t get to see him. My sister also lives in Denver and I hooked up with her and her husband before going to bed.


We had a noon flight, so we grabbed some breakfast and turned the car in to Avis.

I think we put 2200 miles on that car. The rental lot was full of cars with license plates from all over the country. I wondered if they had to drive them all back, or if the cars just naturally ended up in a state and they just switched registration. I didn’t wonder about this enough to ask anyone though.

We got to the airport three hours early and found a healthy line.

Another creepy point – this was the only busy part of an enormous airport. Everywhere else we went was virtually deserted.

We landed in San Diego and I was met with flowers by my wife and kids.


I woke up today to my regular radio station and they were replaying last year’s broadcast. My wife turned off the radio and asked if I really wanted to hear it. I didn’t. I’ve avoided all of the news coverage and media events today. I did have lunch with Robert and he helped me remember some parts of the trip I’d forgotten.

After I first got home, I had terrible dreams, waking up shouting but not really remembering the dream. I think I thought I was caught in the buildings. These dreams have gone away finally.

I still don’t know how I feel about the whole experience. I’m numb because I am so deeply angry about feeling so out of control. I couldn’t help those people who jumped and I couldn’t have helped my family who were so far away. People who weren’t there are shocked by the experience, but there is a sadness I still carry that I don’t really know how to share. I can’t resolve the image of me standing on top of that building with the fact that it is all gone. It just doesn’t compute.

I am so grateful for the support I got on the trip home and throughout the last year. I’m not really a quiet guy, but this experience has closed a part of me. People have been understanding of that, quietly supporting me as I work through this. I have tried many times in the past year to articulate the experience, and I don’t know that I ever properly can. I got home, I got to see my family again. Life goes on.

More pictures here, and here.

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