Archive for September 12, 2001

Teaneck, NJ (It did WHAT?)

September 12, 2001 Leave a comment

Tuesday was perhaps the most surreal day of my entire life. Perhaps of anybody’s of my generation. Aaron left for work at 6:15 in the morning yesterday and I was planning on leaving in time to get to the city at around 9:30 so that I could get in line to see The Producers. They have a cancellation and standing room line and I was advised that getting there by ten would get me in.

I caught the 8:39 bus into the city which was due to get into the city at 9:28. We made excellent time to the Lincoln Tunnel, but as we were about to enter it (and were waiting in line at the toll plaza), I noticed a really cool looking cloud sitting low over the World Trade Center. I wished I had my camera, because it looked like the building was on fire! Oh goodness, then I realized it was on fire!!!

About 4th in line to get into the tunnel when a cell phone rings and a woman behind me is told that a plane flew into the building. Everyone’s reaction was “holy crap what a moron to fly into the World Trade Center!” Pretty much everyone considered it a loony, except for one gentleman who commented “No no no it’s election day, it’s probably some terrorist.” I called Aaron and asked him what the heck, and he told me that Keiko (his ex-wife) works in the other building on the World Trade Center. I said they would probably evacuate both buildings, and I was mostly right.

Next thing I know I’m in the Lincoln Tunnel. We pull into Port Authority and the loudspeaker on the bus blares:


So now I had a choice (it was offered to us). Get off at Port Authority and possibly be stuck in New York or go back into that tunnel. Hell if I was going into a fucking tunnel when terrorists were wreaking havoc on New York. But did I want to be in Port Authority?? I chose the option picked by about half of the passengers on the bus. I got off the bus and ran as fast as I could out of Port Authority. Then I walked into Times Square to look at the pictures. A huge crowd had already gathered to watch the televisions – at this point they were showing a corner of the White House on fire as well. I decided at this point that I did not want to be in Times Square either.

My cell phone was dead at this point – I am guessing my antenna was on top of the World Trade Center. I stopped at a payphone and left a message for Aaron telling him where I would be. So now I did something pretty silly, but it was the only thing I could think of. I went to the Producers box office and got in line. I was sixth in line. We were talking about the World Trade Center a little, but more about cheap Broadway tickets. About 15 minutes later, some guy walked by and said “I think the show is probably cancelled – you can go home now. The World Trade Center just collapsed.” It did WHAT? I hardly believed him – I thought maybe the part on fire had collapsed. But he was probably right about the show being cancelled. Must the show go on? Of course not. About 10 minutes later, they cancelled the show.

So now what was I to do? Where was I to go? I walked over to Port Authority. If I could get a bus to New Jersey, I could get to my car, and although I would be locked out of Aaron’s house, I could find something to do. So I walked over there, but the busses had stopped. So I looked for a pay phone and every phone in the area had lines 10-12 deep with people making calls. Now what?

I walked into a bar where people had gathered to watch the news. Everyone in the city seemed to be coming west towards the bus station and it was getting mightily crowded. The stores in the area were all quickly closing themselves up and shutting their metal doors. I am sure fears of looting had a lot to do with this, although the stores that remained open seemed to be doing brisk business. Anyway, I watched in disbelief the video of the two towers crumbling to the ground like an implosion. I saw today on the news (nothing else is on TV) that these buildings were designed to collapse in that manner if it ever collapsed. Eventually the fire alarm went off in this bar (bad sense of humour?) and I didn’t see any need to stick around.

So I walked downtown as far as 38th Street and East a little bit and found a pay phone with a line of only 4 or 5. When I got my turn, it took me about 15 attempts calling both my cousin David and Aaron to get through to someone. Aaron told me he was in the Hotel Benjamin at 50th and Lexington. A long walk, but what choice did I have?

Walking a 20 minute walk in 45 minutes as I was walking against the sea of people heading west. Crowds of people were huddled around car radios listening to the news. Dozens of people sat on park benches staring in shock or weeping in disbelief. I was completely freaked out myself, but I had somewhere to go where I hoped I would be safe. My heart sped up every time I walked by a Ryder truck or a delivery vehicle – would it explode? I couldn’t believe how frightened I was.

As I walked, I heard “the news.” They blew up the Sears Tower in Chicago. They flew a plane into the Pentagon. They bombed Pittsburgh. They stopped a plane in Cleveland full of explosives. Eight planes were hijacked. The rumours came fast and furious. All I knew was if I saw Kurt Russell, I was going to seriously freak out.

After I got to the hotel, I could not find Aaron anywhere. I went to the payphones and began the phone calls. I tried to call my grandmother collect to let her know I was OK, but she wasn’t there. I called Lori to say I was fine and ask her to try Grandma periodically and tell her I was fine. I then asked her to try Aaron’s phone for me and find out where the hell he was? Luckily, this payphone took incoming calls as well. Aaron eventually got in touch with me and told me he was in Room 1207 and then he told me that already! Well he had, but I guess I had heard it as an address or something like that.

It turns out someone at Aaron’s company had gotten 5 hotel rooms as soon as the second plane hit – she had once worked somewhere where they had a fire and they needed hotel rooms, so she thought of it right away. Probably 15 minutes later, every hotel room in Manhattan was booked up. There was a crowd of about ten people in the room all huddled around the television, attacking the in-room bar with verve. I’m glad I wasn’t paying the bill! There were two phone lines in the room, a land line and a cordless, and both phones were being used non-stop to call around to friends and family.

I finally got my turn and made as many calls as I could. I have friends and family in New York. Where were they? My Aunt Ellie and Uncle Allen live a couple blocks away! Were they OK? I spent about an hour calling as many people as I could possibly think of calling. It turns out I didn’t call as many people as had called me (about 18), but I hope I did what I could. I also decided to let someone (whoever it was) pay the $10 to use the in-room Web TV to post a brief journal entry, which some people have told me was the only contact they could have with me.

As it turns out, everyone was just fine. I didn’t find out with certainty until this morning that my aunt and uncle escaped without a scratch, which was the final relief for me.

Aaron, however, was completely freaked out because he had not heard from Keiko. While others went for walks or went for food, Aaron didn’t seem to have the urge to eat. At three o’clock (seemed like HOURS later), I decided to get some lunch and to make Aaron eat something. I hope this helped.

On the Keiko matter, we still hadn’t heard anything by 4:30 when Aaron managed to get through to his home answering machine again, and there was a message from Keiko where she said she had been late to work and missed it. But then Aaron talked to Keiko herself and got a completely different story.

She had been on the 79th floor of Tower 2 when the plane hit Tower 1. As I had expected, they began evacuating her building. But when she got to the 44th floor, they announced that the fire was in the other building and they could go back to work. All of her coworkers and she, save one, continued down the stairs. When she was on the 30th floor, the plane hit her building, and she made it out with 40 minutes to spare before it collapsed. Her coworker who went back up to Floor 79 also made it out, although just before the building came down.

After that news relaxed the room, we continued to watch the endless coverage hoping for some word that we would be able to get back to New Jersey tonight. (Whoever thought I would ever be in such a rush to get to New Jersey for anything?) No word came, so when we were invited to dinner, we went. It was a very nice meal, at Oscar’s inside the Waldorf Astoria. They had only two waiters, so they made a buffet with a limited drink menu. They were doing great business, as I suppose anyone serving liquor would have done last night. I had a glass of wine, as I was pretty darned jittery. The meal was excellent and I was eating with some of Aaron’s coworkers and their friends and family. Basically it was the New Jersey and Staten Island crowd as methods of getting to Westchester, Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens were already open. KBC paid for dinner, too. (Thanks KBC!)

When we got back from dinner, I turned on the Web TV again to and found out the PATH was running from 33rd to Hoboken, shuttle busses were running from Hoboken to a spot in Teaneck about a 20-25 minute walk from here. At 10:15 we were told that these busses would run until about 11:00 which gave us 45 minutes to get to Hoboken. So the last adventure of the night was about to begin.

A cab was dropping someone off in front of the hotel with his “Off Duty” light on. I asked him if he could take us to 33rd and 6th, but he said he couldn’t go lower than 42nd. So we had him take us to 6th and 42nd. From there, we ran to the PATH. We got on the train at about 10:28 or so and got to Hobken by 10:40 as it wasn’t making any stops. When we came up the stairs, we found that the Hoboken station had been turned into a relief facility and shelter. We got offers of free water, but I didn’t need any (sure I was thirsty, but I didn’t NEED any). We asked about 4 or 5 people to tell us where the busses were, as we kept getting pointed closer and closer.

When we got to the busses, there were two there, and about six people waiting for the bus. All of us were going different places. We asked the drivers where they were going, and they didn’t know as the dispatcher hadn’t told them yet. Finally, the dispatcher showed up and said there were no more busses. But what about these two busses right here? So he asked us all where we were going and after much negotiation, it was decided that one was going to Secaucus and one to Fort Lee. Aaron called his friend Kristoff who said he would rather pick us up in Fort Lee, so we got on the Fort Lee bus. We were dropped off at some random corner in Fort Lee and 15 minutes later, we were in a car on the way back to Aaron’s house. And by 12:15, just two hours later, we had made it home!

We both made a bunch of phone calls to concerned citizens and I finally just crashed out on the couch. Then Aaron sent me upstairs to the guest room because I was snoring too much!!!

Of course New York was basically closed today, so we stayed here all day. We watched a little Red Dawn (looking for something patriotic), played an extensive board game, watched an Ayumi Hamasaki concert video, ate a chinese buffet, and now I am finishing up this journal as the news is reporting of a bomb threat at the Empire State Building. This kind of thing is going to go on for a LONG time.

Who knows what my schedule looks like from here. Ben Folds is obviously not playing his concert tomorrow night in downtown New York City. We don’t know if Major League Baseball will be playing this week. All I know is that I am going to stay here, on this side of the Hudson, for the rest of my time here. And when it comes time to pick a new home, Butte Montana is going to get some big consideration! Far away from famous buildings and when the war comes, I am sure there will be a militia nearby that I can join!

I’ve said to everyone I’ve seen on this trip that there are always more stories in person. I hope I haven’t left anything out in this report. I went on the road expecting an adventure, but I never wanted it like this.

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