Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11th

Today is the 11th anniversary of September 11, 2001.  It was a beautiful Tuesday morning, just like today.  On that day, I was flying from Newark to West Palm Beach, Florida on a business trip.  My flight departed at 7:30 am and was to land in West Palm around 10:30 am.  I was going to my company’s training center in Boca Raton to teach an investment class to the sales force.  Everything was proceeding like a normal business trip. I was excited because Serena Williams was in first class on my flight.  I was in coach, so I didn’t get to talk with her.  I’m a big tennis fan and the US Open had just ended Sunday.  Serena was probably flying home to Palm Beach.  At about 10:00, the flight attendants told us to put our seat backs and tray tables up for our landing in Jacksonville.  Everyone started asking why we were landing in Jacksonville instead of West Palm.  We were informed that there had been a terrorist attack at the World Trade Center.  That didn’t explain the unscheduled landing, but everyone stayed quiet after the announcement. 

When we landed, the airport looked like an aircraft parking lot.  Many planes had already landed there and the airport was shut down.  The pilot must have radioed ahead to get Serena whisked out of the airport because I was only sitting 3 rows behind her and did not see her after I deplaned.  Meanwhile, the airport was a zoo, with many people wandering around.  All the rental cars were gone.  I then heard about the planes crashing in to the World Trade Center.  I could not reach anyone in New York City by phone, I had no idea how to get either to West Palm Beach or back home – I was stuck in Jacksonville!  I called relatives in Massachusetts because they were the only ones I could get through to – the phone lines in New York were overloaded.  I told them to try to get in touch with my husband because he did not know where I was.

I ended up on a bus from Jacksonville to Boca Raton and arrived at 7:00 pm.  I managed to find some of my colleagues at the hotel and borrowed a car so I could get toiletries and some clothes.  It felt good to be somewhere that I at least knew someone.  After hearing more about what happened, I realized that United Airlines flight 93 took off about 10 minutes after mine on the same runway that morning.  That gave me a shiver….

Even our hotel in Boca Raton was crazy – by the next day the FBI was all over the place because they thought the terrorist pilots had taken flight lessons in this part of Florida so they were at our hotel looking into things.  Weird!

On Thursday afternoon, three colleagues from the New York City area and I took off in a van to drive back to New York.  We took turns driving for about 5 hours each and got into Northern NJ early Friday morning.  The bridges and tunnels into New York were still closed, so the 2 of us that lived in New York City took the train into the city.  The city was like a police state when I got there.  I live about 3 miles from where the World Trade Center stood and the burning smell was really strong in my neighborhood for about 3 months after that.  It was surreal.  I was just happy to be home, alive and well.  There were pictures in front of the hospitals of the people who were missing – it all seemed so sad. 

My husband, Owen, worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for over 20 years.  He worked on the 55th floor of the World Trade Center.  He had taken an early retirement package in 1996 – thank goodness or he would have been in the building!  He was there when the first bomb went off in 1993.  He knew some of the people who died in the 2001 attack; I did not.

Now, 11 years later, the time has dulled some of the shock and pain that was the character of New York City at that time.  I was out with friends last Friday night and when we finished dinner we saw the beam of light that shines well into the night sky down at the World Trade Center site for the week or so around September 11th.   The light is visible from most places in Manhattan, the other boroughs and New Jersey. 

Despite the beautiful weather, this is a sobering day in New York as we remember that fearful time and all the lives lost on 9/11/2001.  I remember that day clearly as most people do and am happy that my plane landed safely.