At that time, my days were spent in the New Jersey of oil refineries, warehouses, ships that carried natural-gas, and trucks. Lots of trucks. I left my office and drove the two minutes to the harbor and the first thing that struck me was the number of trucks parked along the road. Maybe thirty, maybe fifty. To this day I don't know. What I do know is the truckers we're all doing the same thing I was doing. I parked my car and found a clear view of the city and my eyes confirmed what my brain could not conceive - the south tower, the one nearest my vantage point, was gone. Chalky white smoke hovered over the area and a plume of it was starting to head south toward the Verrazano Narrows.
Later it was reported that the south tower collapse registered 2.1 on the Richter Scale. The north tower collapse registered 2.3. The seismic shock of the energy of the collapse reaching the ground has been "proof" to the moronic conspiracy theorists ever since that the spikes are indications of explosions set off by George Bush and Dick Cheney in the basements of both buildings. Obviously, physics are not a strong point of conspiracy theorists, among other things.
I stood on a guardrail overlooking the Upper New York Harbor talking with a trucker from Nevada or Arizona, I can't remember which one. It was obvious to us all that we had been attacked.
Black smoke billowed from the north tower and wafted west toward Brooklyn in the unfettered winds a quarter mile above the earth. The smoke was blowing away from us which gave us a clear view of the orange fire ringing one of the upper floors. It was mesmerizing.
I heard a collective gasp from the people around me before I caught up with what was happening. My consciousness was not operating at the same speed as reality.
We saw the unbelievable before we heard the unimaginable. The north tower began a slow descent, picking up speed as it went. None of us were able to comprehend what we were witnessing. We had no idea at that moment that we were watching the collapse of the remaining tower. Then a few seconds later, from across the water, carried by the still, crisp air, the noise hit us. It was faint, but it was the noise of death and destruction. Of sadness and defeat. It stabbed my gut like a dull blade. Over the years, my mind has mercifully dulled what my eyes saw, but time is no match for what I heard. Everyone was silent. Slowly, some of us began to make our way back to our vehicles.
I went back to the office and got a call from my daughter from my first marriage, who was a sophomore in high school at the time. Her mother and I divorced when my daughter was just a baby, and at the time the relationship between myself and my ex and her husband was exceptionally difficult. My ex worked in Lower Manhattan and hearing the panic in my daughter's voice I realized I had get to her and pick her up from school. Meanwhile my wife was on her way to pick up our daughter who was in third grade. The nice lady at the school told her that the safest place for our daughter was right there in school, and not at home with her family. Needless to say, my wife picked up our daughter and held her tongue from the well-meaning but incredibly stupid school receptionist.
I drove the forty miles from my office to my oldest daughter's high school in a little over twenty minutes - a ride that would normally take well over an hour. Tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway were closed and there was no traffic. It was like something out of a Stephen King novel. I'm not saying traffic was light, I am saying there were no other cars. I passed maybe fifteen cars during the entire ride. I hit 100MPH several times, but the overwhelming feeling I had was that the ride was taking far too long.
I picked my daughter up, my wife picked our daughter up and we met at home where we sat transfixed by the news on the television for the rest of the day. I called my son who had just started college in Providence after hearing news that an Amtrak train in Rhode Island had been hijacked. Because of the foolishness between my ex and myself, my relationship with my son was strained, if not non-existent, but the events of the day were bigger than the folly of any one individual. At least that's how I looked at it. The pit in my stomach grew exponentially as I was unable to reach my son and I hadn't heard back from the ex. Later in the day my ex called to tell us she was safe. My son never called back, but I did later find out he was safe as well.
Of course there is a backstory and I realize this is a bit personal and uncomfortable, but one harsh lesson I learned that day is that people will let the folly of their day-to-day emotions control their every action regardless of the circumstances. Why am I adding such a personal note to an otherwise objective column? For the same reason I am writing a three part remembrance of my experiences on that day and the days that followed. I wasn't at Ground Zero, I was near Ground Zero. I know people who were killed but I did not lose anyone close to me. I know dozens of people who did. We all have our stories from that day, and by telling mine my hope is to maybe tell yours as well.
News continued to pour in. Twenty-thousand dead possibly. A plane down in Pennsylvania. Unknown number of people killed at the Pentagon. American airspace completely shut down on word of possible attacks in Chicago and San Francisco. President Bush at an undisclosed location. By the end of the day all of our family members were accounted for and safe. That evening we took a ride to the beach and watched the smoke from the fallen towers manically drift south on the horizon.