I realized today after reading some of the personal accounts of 9-11 posted by NY Times reporters that I had never written down my own memories and perhaps I should do so so my children would know what I remember and felt.
Like most New Yorkers I was in disbelief. I was at a tax seminar over on 57th and 10th when my wife called me and told me of a plane crashing into the Towers. Years earlier I had worked in Tower 2 as an intern for the NYS Tax Department on the 58th floor. She knew I was at a seminar but did not know where it was. I thought perhaps that a small Cessna or something had crashed and shushed her off the phone as the speaker was beginning.
I think she called back and told me to get to a TV or something like that. I think I must have stood in that hotel bar for an eternity watching those pictures not believing what I was seeing. When the first Tower collapsed I woke up and realized I had to get out of that building and find my way to my wife, who was pregnant with our first child. It was at around this point that all cellular phone service disappeared. Finding a pay phone not in use was impossible.
My wife and I both worked in Midtown in the 50s by Lex and Third Avenues. After initially taking a bus across 57th street, traffic became snarled and I got off around Park Avenue. What I saw was a sea of people walking their way up Park Avenue. I thought at first they were heading towards Central Park as there were fears of more buildings being struck and collapsing and that the park would be a safe place. But in truth these folks had been walking for already an hour or two and were heading home. The amount of people on the streets was incredible.
After finding my wife and my sister who was in New York City by chance, and very pregnant, we all three headed towards the 59th Street Bridge as her husband was walking down from the Bronx County Court House and they planned on walking across the bridge together into Queens. How they planned to get to Long Island after that I don't recall. Again the amount of people on the streets was incredible. Some folks in a car saw her condition and gave them a lift as the bridge was packed.
We lived at that time in Stuyvesant Town on 16th Street and we began to work our way South and got lucky when a City MTA bus appeared and picked up passengers. I am still amazed that these drivers continued driving. The subways had been stopped but these drivers, who must have been in fear for their own families, were still driving. As the bus drove South on Second Avenue we saw that each cross street heading near the UN had been blocked by City Buses or Mega Dump Trucks to protect from any car bombs I guess getting through. We passed lines of people snaking onto Second Avenue already waiting to give blood at Cabrini, Special Surgery, and Beth Israel. Blood which was never to be used we learned later.
When we got home we spent the afternoon either glued to our TVs or on the roof watching the fires downtown. We used to see the Towers from our bedroom and bathroom windows. We no longer saw them. I don't recall how long it took before I heard that my sister and husband had gotten home.
The initial border the police set up was 14th Street and you were not allowed South of that point unless you lived there. I am not sure when this was phased down to Houston and later Canal but it seemed like forever. In those first few days even the police looked shell shocked. Ladder 5 was based on 14th Street between First and Second Avenues. We'd see the faces of the firefighters and the shock on their faces. It took a long time for them to recover if they really did at all. Still the fires burned and we watched in disbelief. It does not read as an exciting story. Certainly friends of mine who worked down there saw horrors I can't even think of. But I have now written it down.
My apologies for the length of this post.