September In NY

Man, the weather is gorgeous here right now. There is no finer place on earth than New York City in early September: deep, cloudless sapphire blue skies smile down upon a city basking in warm, radiant sunshine, gently shining with a temperature in the mid-to-upper 70s and virtually no humidity, and there is always a slight breeze out of the west/northwest that bears just the barest hint of a chill; a teasing promise of the Fall to come that is so refreshing after the oppressive, moisture-laden air of July and August. You can always feel the carefree joy in the people when the weather’s like this. Oh sure, Summer is officially over, the kids are back in school and there’re only 113 shopping days left until Christmas, but this weather causes everyone to feel refreshed, to wear a smile, and to be beautiful. It’s a scientific fact: all women are beautiful in New York during the first half of September.
As I was opening up a bottle of wine for dinner tonight (I guess this is how those slanderous rumors began: let me amend that by saying “a bottle of wine to go with dinner) my bride (who is beautiful on non-September days, as well) summed it up perfectly by remarking “It’s September 11th weather.”
She’s exactly right. It was the most glorious day of the year: not a cloud, bright laughing sunshine that you could just taste and worship in but not so hot as to raise even the slightest hint of a sweat.. A dear friend from Brazil was in town, having just flown in from Oregon where he had dropped off his 15 year old son to spend a year in school in America on an exchange program.

I picked him up at his hotel at 7:30 or so and we caught the 7:55 ferry out of Highlands, which is tucked in behind Sandy Hook, bound for Manhattan. Gosh, did I mention it was a glorious day? We sat on the roof of the ferry, laughing and joking on the cell phone with friends in Brazil as we sped along at 35 knots, the breeze rippling across our clothes. As we neared going under the Verrazano Bridge my friend said “That plane is awfully low.”
And so indeed it was, crossing the mouth of the harbor from west to east at a slow, leisurely pace and turning up the East river. But then we saw another jet follow it a few minutes later and I thought, well, if there were two planes then the controllers must be routing them that way because of the wind. One can rationalize anything, at least then. And yes, I’ve seen all the diagrams and maps of how the various experts say the planes flew that day and none of them mention this, but that’s what I saw.
We got to my office on the very end of Maiden Lane around 8:45 or so. I started looking through my emails and the first one I always read was from my friend Sylvia San Pio, who was a coffee broker at Carr Futures. Her husband, John Resta, also worked at Carr. They had gotten married in August of 2000, and man did we have a blast at their wedding. Sylvia was seven months pregnant with their first child, a boy they were going to name Dylan. I would always kid her that she was condemning him to a life of whiskey drinking, and she would laugh and say that at least they’d get some good poetry out of him.
Carr Futures was on the 92nd floor of the North Tower.
Flight 11 hit the 94th floor.
A few minutes after the first plane hit word came out that a plane had crashed into the WTC. That’s all we heard. Since the weather was so perfect we knew it wasn’t an accident; I figured some guy in a Piper Cub had committed suicide, as none of the initial reports said ‘airliner’.
I remember when the Mets (yes, the Mets) won the World Series in 1986. I worked in an office on Lower Broadway at the time, so I got to see the ticker tape parade from our windows. And at that late date, as the computer era was just starting to take hold it was still ticker tape; that, and all those millions of tiny paper dots that that all the multitudinous Telex machines that were in every office had produced. Fine, fine particles of paper cascading slowly down, like the crystalline snow you get on a January day when the temperature is in the low teens.
As I looked out the window on September 11th I saw it snowing again.

Except this time instead of small paper bits it was entire sheets of paper, whole sheets of deals and agreements and lives fluttering about like the first fat flakes on a Fall day.
We turned on the small portable tv in the office and saw pictures of the smoke pouring out of the towers just a few block away. I had tried to call Sylvia but had gotten only a busy signal, which for some reason I took as a positive sign. Then the tv signal went blank, and we got word that a second plane had hit the South Tower. One of the oddities of that day is that the huge tv antenna was on the North Tower, but we only lost the signal when the South Tower was hit.
Anyhow, by this point the phone lines were a mess and the internet had gotten extremely overloaded, piggish and slow; the only way I was able to get any outside information (aside from the radio) was when I could get a line to Tree Hugging Sister in Pensacola, who would then tell me what the tv was saying. No one had any idea what was going on. Obviously, there had been multible hijackings, but whether it was 3 or 30 no one, least of all the media, knew. I truly want unedited transcripts of the broadcasts of, say, CNN and Newsradio88 from 8 am until, oh, 5 pm or so from that day. I think it is a critical piece of our history, to show the evolution from bliss to fear to resolve.
I leaned out my window and looked up Maiden Lane at the two beautiful smoking towers that had always seemed so strong and sure. The paper continued to flutter down.
I called my wife in her car and got a hold of her on the Garden State Parkway as she was driving to work. I said “Honey, don’t worry; I’m ok”. I could tell by the tone of her “Uh, ok, I’m glad” reply that she had no ideas what was going on (the KC and the Sunshine Band I heard blaring in the backround was another clue that I picked up upon). “Turn on the radio,” I said, “Planes have crashed into the World Trade Center.”
I really can’t recall when we started using the word “terrorist” that day, much as I can’t recall a day since when I haven’t used it, but it certainly gained prominence early on in the many reports, many of which were false, that were broadcast during the day of explosions and crashes about the country.
We sat in our office wondering what to do. Obviously no work was possible, as our market was in the WTC and had been evacuated. Thousands of people were milling about in the street below staring mutely at the glorious towers as they burned and belched out thick columns of black smoke and rained paper down upon everyone and everything.
What could we do? What should we do? As we nervously looked at the tall green skyscraper across the street we hadn’t a clue. How would we get home? Hell, would we get home? We had no idea.
And then I heard incredibly high pitched screams of terror from the street. I ran to the open window and looked up the street. I saw people sprinting frantically towards the river, running a desperate race to escape this huge roiling khaki-colored cloud that was bursting down the street between the Federal Reserve Castle and the Chase building. I shouted for everyone in the office to close the windows, and they did so just in time, for immediately the cloud enveloped us in its dark dusty shroud of fear. Where seconds before one could literally have seen for miles one could now not see a foot through a mantle barely illumined by a diffuse gray/green/khaki glow that eliminated all reference points. We were isolated. Alone.

The radio crackled that the South Tower had collapsed. Dear God. And just as the air was clearing it happened again as the North Tower fell. Shock and numbness doesn’t begin to describe how we were or whay we felt. We assumed that thousands were dead, and we saw thousands more shuffling about in the street, ash covered and heading ever north and east like so many souls on Judgement Day.
There seemed little point in leaving just then: where would we go? So we waited. Eventually the air cleared and we could see that the ferries were loading people for the trip back to the Highlands, so I grabbed a pack of coffee filters and handed them out to people to use as a mask (my only useful act of the day. Well, that and the many bottles of wine I opened that night at home).
I can’t say I’ve ever been sadder than on that ride home, retracing our happy path of the morning, only this time the brilliant blue sky was marred by an enormous black cloud that headed up and south east out over the harbor.

The usual crowd from the morning was missing many members, lost in the ruins, and they had been replaced by scores of people, many ash-covered from head to toe, all dazed and uncomprehending, who had gotten on the boat simply to get away.
My Brazilian friend ended up staying an extra week until he was able to get a flight back home.
With regard to Sylvia, John and Dylan…

all that was ever recovered were a few of John’s teeth.

5 Responses to “September In NY”

  1. Cullen says:

    Bing, that hurts the heart, man. Eloquent.
    I was at work. I was stationed at Fort Polk, working for the 11th Public Affairs Detachment. I had just come back to work after having to run some errand or something.
    I saw my NCOIC, wide eyed, his first words to me, “The World Trade Center has been hit!”
    I ran up the stairs two at a time to our offices to see the news. Shortly after I got there, I saw the second plane hit. Sickened, I called my wife to tell her, but she was already watching the news.
    My first thoughts were that this was an attack. That someone was responsible, and as I watched the skys around the towers darken, I said softly, “We’re now at war.”

  2. Lisa says:

    I was home recovering from breast surgery that I’d had the previous Friday.
    I had just gotten back from taking the boys to school, walked into the house, went immediately to the kitchen where the computer is and logged onto a message board. There were all these messages saying, “People in NYC are you ok?” and I thought, “Wha. . . ”
    Then the phone rang, and it was my MIL. “Turn on the TV!” So I went into the living room and turned on NBC. They were showing footage of the towers, on fire. My MIL was blathering on and on about suicide and planes and ohmigod ohmigod and all I thought was, “Mark. Mark lives in NYC.”
    Mark and I were close friends in high school. We’d lost touch after graduation; he’d moved to NYC to act. We’d only just gotten back into contact with each other through, and were really enjoying e-mailing back and forth, catching up. Now all I thought was, “I’ve to get in touch with him.”
    I hung up from my MIL and got back on the computer (Thank God for the internet. Imagine what life would have been like if 9/11 had been in 1991.) and e-mailed him. “Just let me know if you’re okay. Are you okay? Please let me know.” The thought of losing him after finding him again was unbearable.
    I had a doctor’s appointment that morning. My doctor’s office is in an office building that also houses the local Smith-Barney office, and when I got there, they had shut down. It was surreal. Everywhere you looked, people were glued to TVs.
    I went home and waited for school to get out, wondering how I would explain to a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old what had happened, what it meant, when I didn’t even know myself.
    I heard from Mark around 8:30 p.m. All his e-mail said was “I’m fine. Pray.”
    So I did.

  3. Mr. Bingley says:

    When I got home I also went to pick up my daughter from school, which is something I’d never been able to do before. I sat off on the side, listening to folks talk about it, going through the names of all the people they knew who worked in lower Manhattan, figuring out who they had heard from, listening to wives and mothers sobbing softly, trying to think of ways to tell their 1st graders that dad wasn’t coming home that night. It was surreal. It was awful.

  4. After I got through to Bingley the first couple times, I called Cruella, who was working in Cranbury for Aetna. No one had heard a thing about any of it when she asked around. So they all gravitated to the building’s cafeteria, to watch the TV. And then had to call EMT’s. When the first tower went down, so did three of the poor girls watching. Their husbands were in it. Cruella said the saddest reminder every day on the way to work were the hundreds of abandoned cars in the train station and bus parking lots. There was no one to come back for them.

  5. Nightfly says:

    We had a conference and a lot of guests in our building that day. Everything pretty much ground to a halt. Facilities set up a couple of televisions in the rotunda and everyone in the building, guests and staff, just watched in dead silence. Pray God I never see anything else like it again.

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