from From the Potomac to the Euphrates and Middle East Program

Exactly Fourteen Years Ago

September 11, 2015

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

It is hard to express the trauma that New Yorkers experienced on September 11, 2001. One of my oldest friends, Billy Bauer, does an excellent job. When I read this short post on his Facebook page this morning, I found myself in Billy’s shoes on that terrible day. I am not generally a fan of 9/11 remembrances, but this one grabbed me. I did not know this story. As haunting and frightening as it is, I am glad Billy posted it.

Exactly fourteen years ago...

7:33 a.m. I arrive at the World Trade Center to transfer onto the Path train, which will take me to my office at Fleet Bank on Exchange Place in Jersey City. At 8:30 a.m. I go downstairs to get a cup of coffee. When I come back up to my desk on the trading floor, my desk partner is on the phone with his brother at Cantor Fitzgerald when the line is suddenly disconnected. After several minutes I look out the window, which was directly across from the World Trade Center, and see a gaping whole with smoke coming out of one of the towers. This was prior to any news hitting the wires. Like everyone else, I first thought that a small commuter plane had lost control and hit the tower, but after looking closer I realized the hole was way too big. As the news started to disseminate, I was standing at the window staring and trying to figure out how this can happen when I noticed a second plane circle around the Statue of Liberty and make a sharp left turn. You could hear the plane accelerating as it got closer and took dead aim for the second tower.

The explosion was so vivid and seemed like it was only a few feet away. The entire office instinctively and frantically headed for the exits. We ran down thirty flights of steps in what seemed like ten seconds. We stood outside the building not knowing if there were twenty other planes on their way to attack us. People were scrambling to get into their cars. All cell phone service was interrupted and it was impossible to get a signal to make outgoing calls to family and friends. Landon was only three months old and had just been allowed to come home from the hospital. I just wanted to know that Beth and Landon were okay and I had no way to communicate with them.

I ended up getting in a car with three strangers and, listening to the radio, we found out that the only crossing that was open at the time was the George Washington Bridge. As we drove up the New Jersey Turnpike heading toward the bridge I turned and looked at the towers smoking in the distance and watched the second tower begin to crumble to the ground. By the time we got to the entrance of the George Washington Bridge it had been closed, along with all other crossings. As I sat in a coffee shop in Fort Lee, NJ, watching the news and the turn of events in DC, it was clear we were under attack. It was like a war zone. Hundreds of fire trucks, ambulances, buses, and emergency vehicles were lined up throughout the entire area waiting for their call to get into the city to provide assistance. I had no idea if I would be there for hours or days.

At about 3:00 p.m. we got word that they would be opening up the George Washington Bridge for entry at 5:30 p.m. We waited in a line that was almost a half mile long as buses arrived, filled up, and shuttled us into the city to the Port Authority building just across the bridge. I hopped on a No. 2 train headed downtown to Columbus Circle and headed home to my apartment on 55th Street and Lexington. It was surreal. I practically ran. There was no feeling happier than walking through the door and being able to connect with my family and knowing they were okay. We had dinner with Jeff and Niki off Second Avenue at Luna Piena as the smoke and stench from the burning towers blanketed the city. There was nothing better than being with my family and friends and to be there for each other.

No, I will never forget 09/11/2001. It is crystal clear in my mind.