Travel Age West
September 11 Stories
The question will be asked a lot in the coming days: “Where were you on September 11, 2001?” For most Americans that day has special—and painful—memories as the United States was attacked by terrorists. For those in the travel industry, it has special significance because it was their industry that was hardest hit. Here are the recollections of some of them.
JENNIFER OBERSTEIN, LEADING HOTELS OF THE WORLD
I was then working at The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park downtown by the World Trade Center. We hadn’t actually opened yet, but I was working on-property in our pre-opening phase with the other managers. We were just waiting for some artwork and furniture and then we would open on October 9, 2001.
I got off the subway at the Bowling Green station. I was running a little late. It was a beautiful day, and as I got off the subway I looked up at the twin towers as if I was a tourist. Suddenly, I saw an enormous fire ball at the top of one of them. I looked around, but people just kept walking. It was as if nothing unusual had happened.
My father worked next door to the World Trade Center. I called him but I couldn’t reach him. I wanted to tell him to get out of his office, that it was dangerous and something was very wrong. But I couldn’t reach him after several tries. I called my stepmother and told her to tell my dad something was wrong at the WTC.
It was about 8:48 a.m. I used to work for NBC News in New York as an associate producer. I decided to call the network and tell them what I had seen. I was still standing near the subway exit up on the street. I could see debris falling but there was no longer a fire visible. I told the NBC Today Show control room who I was and they put me on hold. The came back on and said that they couldn’t confirm that anything had happened at the World Trade Center, but they knew me so they’d like to put me on the phone live with the show’s anchors. They broke into the Today Show. There are tapes of this, but I’ve never watched them or listened to that phone call.
I saw a police officer nearby, so I asked him what had happened. I was still live on the air. He said, “A small plane crashed into the World Trade Center.” So I reported that on the phone.
Then I started walking toward my hotel which was only a few blocks away. I was standing within 20 feet of the hotel’s driveway listening to other people being interviewed on the phone. Then suddenly the ground below me started to shake. There was a loud, loud noise. I looked up and saw the giant silver belly of a huge plane. It was not so close that I could touch it, but it was the closest I’d ever been to a plane in-flight. It was going right up the West Side Highway, almost as if it was using it as a guide. Then it suddenly did a 90 degree turn and hit the second tower. I saw a big hole. I was unnerved, to say the least. Reality was starting to set in.
NBC knew something big was happening, so they got me off the air. That was the last news we had for hours.
AGNES HUFF, AGNES HUFF COMMUNICATIONS, LOS ANGELES
I was at home waking up to the horror of the whole thing watching it unfold on the news. It was just devastating and sickening. My client at the time, ABM Industries, was the vendor for janitorial, elevator and other services for the WTC Twin Towers, so I assisted with the crisis management and communications for them for the next few months. I also had a contract with LAWA, which was abruptly ended following 9/11 as everyone regrouped for airport communications and security.
I came to my office at Howard Hughes Center, as did my seven employees, but it did not take long for me to send everyone home since they were all traumatized by what was unfolding and wanted to be home with their families. I was worried that maybe Los Angeles was the next target and so closed the office. I placed calls and sent faxes to my clients who were so immediately impacted and offered to assist with any communications or post crisis debriefings because I am a former flight attendant and also have a background in psychology and have handled numerous major air accidents and their aftermath. In this case, I too was in shock, but my training kicked in and I focused on what had to be done at that moment to handle the work of the agency for the clients.
But my immediate thoughts were on the flight crews and passengers on the flight – what a terrifying ordeal that must have been for them. It brought back memories of my work with US Airways accidents in Los Angeles and New York and the Delta accident in Dallas and the feeling came flooding back to me. All I could think of was the families of the thousands of victims and how their lives had changed in one split second. I recall a friend of mine after the US Airways accident that killed about 40 people telling me of the times she sat in the local shopping mall, just counting 40 people as they walked by and how many that seemed to be. And the gravity of the loss of life in the WTC and the Pentagon was so much more it was almost incomprehensible.
The day seemed like it was many days long and then the weeks that followed seemed to be a blur of disbelief and denial as I and millions of Americans tried desperately to make sense of what exactly we had experienced. In a selfish way, I felt relieved that I was not a flight attendant any longer, because I would have been so afraid of flying after what happened.
RAINY CHAN, THE PENINSULA HOTELS
It was a beautiful sunny morning that day, and I remember having breakfast with a guest–I was Resident Manager of The Peninsula New York at the time–and glancing over to the table next to us, where Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was having a business breakfast on a long table. I remember looking at his face as he chaired the meeting and then the next thing I knew, the whole table was disbanding and running out of the restaurant.
At that moment my General Manager called me on my cell and asked me to go to his office immediately. It was here that we watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center, and at that point we still thought a terrible accident was unfolding before our eyes.
KENNETH SHAPIRO, TRAVELAGE WEST
At the time, I was living near the South Street Seaport, just a few blocks from the WTC, and my nine-month-old son had just started daycare in the neighborhood.
Everyday, we would walk through City Hall Park, at the base of the first tower on the way to his school. That morning, just as we were about to round the corner in front of the WTC, I heard the sound of a jet flying way too low and the next second there was a huge explosion. When I looked up, there was a large, black, smoking hole in the center of the tower.
Immediately, I called my wife in Midtown and told her that she was about to hear some news about the WTC, but that we were okay. I then held my son close as the fire in the first tower grew. I felt sick to my stomach as people, desperate to avoid the smoke and flames, began leaping out of the building’s windows.
I knew instinctively that this was not an accident and, a few minutes later, a second fireball exploded by the second tower. I watched a huge chunk of the airplane’s engine sail across the skyline of lower Manhattan (days later, they found the engine a few blocks away), and I decided to get my son to safety.
When the first tower collapsed, my son and I were sitting on our sofa. There was a deep rumble and suddenly a fine white cloud swept over the building, blocking out all the windows of our apartment.
Later, down on the street, people covered in white dust stood around looking confused, while others ran away from the collapse. Two guys covered in ash saw me with a baby stroller and together the three of us picked it up and rushed my son indoors to safety. I never got their names.
Before that day ended, my wife, son and I had evacuated lower Manhattan with whatever we could carry — walking uptown as part of a steady procession of other New Yorkers turned refugees. Along the way, people stood and watched us in shock. Some offered us food and water, and told us it would be okay.
DONNA KIRK, ANDERSON TRAVEL, PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA
We don’t usually have the TV on, but for some reason on September 10, 2011 we did. The Kids were getting ready to walk to school, the neighbor kids had come into the house, and everyone was standing in front of the TV when the news break came on. We all just stared at the TV watching the smoke coming from the first tower, then the second plane hit, we saw it! These middle-school kids and I were all in disbelief.
We watched as long as we could, but we had to get going. The kids left for school, and I left for work. Who do I have flying from New York today? Who is on a trip? How do I find everyone? Let’s find out who is where. With Sabre you can have the system pull all of you current records by date or airline or city or another item, and it will put them into a queue. So I ran the Spectra for Sept 11 all airlines, all flights.
I had two elderly customers are departing Heathrow, they just finished their SilverSea cruise. I have my two nurses in Washington DC at a conference, my two produce guys in Baltimore on a sales call, my medical center president in Dallas, two sales men in Denver, four distributors in Chicago at their conference, two more produce guys in St. Louis and one in Des Moines, and three flying out of Miami. Nobody in New York.
My account here in the desert calls, They just heard that there was a United flight from Boston hijacked, the executive assistant was flying from Boston, she used miles, is she on that plane? Wow, how do we do this? United is not giving out information, if we don’t have the confirmation number, we are not getting anything from them. We can only wait.
I get a call from my account in Washington, DC. He is looking at smoke coming from the Pentagon, did his company have anybody flying this morning to or from DC? No.
Then the call comes in, they are grounding all flights, landing anywhere they can. Better call everyone who is out to have them sit tight, stay at their hotels, and keep their car rentals.
The Miami guys, where are they? Have to be ready for them, I can watch their flight in SABRE, they are on American. Looks like they are going to St. Louis. Okay so now I have five in St. Louis. Have to get hotels in St. Louis, got two rooms.
My sister-in law calls, her parents are in Newark heading to Europe for a cruise. Their flight was grounded and they are stuck at the Newark airport, have to get another hotel in Newark. They want a rental car, so got them a Hertz Car.
I called the nurses in Washington DC, they have a car, and the two Baltimore guys, they don’t know each other, but hey they can drive together, Asked each if I could give their cell numbers to my other customers in the same city so they could work out a trip home. They did! Got them hotels for driving across the country.
The British Airways flight was turned around and sent back to London. So have room at the Hilton Heathrow airport. They are covered.
NANCY CASTLES, LOS ANGELESA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
We had about 25,000 passengers at LAX when the first attack occurred. It was about 6 a.m. our time on the West Coast. Then 20 minutes later we heard about the second attack. We shut down everything, all the airport operations. We told the planes to “land and park.” We tried to divert some of the planes to Palmdale, but the runways weren’t long enough to accommodate the bigger ones. At one point we had hundreds of planes on the airfield. They were parked everywhere, on the taxiways, at the gates, everywhere, easily more than a hundred planes. It was like looking at a bunch of cars parked at the curb.
Unlike a lot of airports around the country that day, we didn’t let people stay at the airport. I think we were the only airport in the U.S. that didn’t. They didn’t try to stay a rebook, as they did in other airports. They were told there were no more flights and we didn’t know when there would be. The terminals were empty. The runways were empty. I would guess that about half of those 25,000 were from the L.A. area, so they simply walked away. Or they called friends to come get them or they got taxis. They were local and could get home easily. The rest were not. We had Travelers Aid then, so we swung into action and tried to get passengers who were stranded hotel rooms at reduced rates. It was kind of like what we did during the recent “Carmageddon,” finding rooms at local hotels for people.
RAINY CHAN, THE PENINSUILA HOTELS
I remember Concierge and Front Office being inundated with calls and guest requests, from people who were trying to get out of New York and get back to their families. Our team came together as a unit to assist everyone. We then did a room count to ascertain which guests had left for the day, and which rooms were occupied or were still vacant. Most guests had returned by the evening and many had to walk back to the hotel, as transportation in the city came to a standstill and there were no taxis to be had. Then once we knew that all the guests had returned, we provided as much information as possible for them. We had to keep them in the hotel–this was probably the hardest part.
One woman was screaming and insisted that she had to leave the hotel to get her Starbucks coffee… None of our security personnel was able to convince her to stay, so I finally stepped in and after a few minutes of talking to her, I realized that she was travelling alone and what she really needed was to be with someone at that moment because she was so frightened. Demanding a Starbucks coffee was her cry for help. I sat with her over coffee in the lobby until she was ready to go to her room and then I gave her my cell number so that she could call me if she needed to at any time. Exchanges such as this really made me mindful of the needs of people who travel alone. This was a profoundly personal fear experienced by someone who was incredibly vulnerable at that moment.
BRANDY KING, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES
I was driving my office in Dallas-Fort Worth that day. In fact, I had been hired as public relations coordinator exactly one year earlier, on Sept. 11, 2000, so this was going to be my one-year anniversary. When I heard what had happened on the radio, I knew it was going to be an emotional and difficult day, for the country and the airline.
I reported to the media phone bank, part of the headquarters emergency command center. It was a really emotional day. There was a lot of bonding that day with other team members. We were getting updates and watching it on the television news. We had 100 planes, then 200 planes and then all our planes were safely on the ground. We broke out in applause. There was a huge sigh of relief. We knew it wasn’t just an attack on Southwest, but on all airlines.
I went back to my office to check my voicemail. And, in the middle of this chaos the president of the company had left a gift on my chair for my one-year anniversary. I don’t remember what it was, but just the fact that they remembered meant so much.
Once all the planes were on the ground, we immediately turned to, “What was our next move?” I think we were one of the first airlines to begin flying again after 9/11. Also, without prompting from us, our in-flight crews changed their presentations. It had always been very light-hearted and funny, but now their tone matched the situation. Still, we had the attitude that, “They’re not going to let this hold us back.” And we didn’t furlough any employees. And we were the only airline that didn’t cut its schedule back.
We were also trying to get all our stranded passengers and crew home, by bus or rental car or any way we could. We also had to start thinking about getting the planes back where they should have been.
At some point we had accounted for everyone except one pilot. We knew he was safely on the ground, but we couldn’t contact him. Finally, we found out that he had taken his entire planeload of passengers to a movie. He’s just whipped out his credit card and did it.
ANN FLOWER, ANN FLOWER COMMUNICATIONS, LOS ANGELES
I had already gone out for coffee and when I returned there was a message on my cell phone form the West Coast – a friend who gets up early to check the surf had said, “I hope you are no where near the World Trade Center – a plane just flew into it.” I switched on the TV just in time to see the second plane fly in to the other tower. For a moment it looked like tape capturing the first plane, but then the realization that it was live TV and that this was a deliberate act of terrorism sunk in.
I was staying south of 14that 8th in a friend’s apartment. Even as a non-New Yorker, I knew I could see straight down towards Wall Street if I walked a few blocks. I joined a gathering at a pocket park and watched in stunned disbelief until the buildings came down.
The memory that is most etched in my mind is the grim looks of the firefighters as the trucks shot down 8thAvenue.
The next few days are a collage of indelible images. The sound of jetfighters overhead, the rattle of metal gates as stores shut in the middle of the day, the image of the medical personnel standing outside St. Vincent’s Hospital with gurneys lined up for the survivors who never came, the tangible quality of the air as the dust wafted through the streets of Greenwich Village and the strange feeling of camaraderie one felt with every stranger.
I had only high heels with me and I wanted to buy some tennis shoes. I knew I’d need them. But all the stores were closed or closing down, their gates in front slamming down. And there was nobody out. I even walked down the middle of Fifth Avenue the day of the attacks looking for an open store. I finally found a Foot Locker that was about to close. I went in and bought some tennis shoes. I remember being in there with a bunch of firefighters and policemen. They were buying black tennis shoes to match their black uniforms. Some of them must have had their dress uniforms on when the planes hit and they wanted to look right.
It was fashion week in New York and I had many associates in town. I knew I wanted to leave, but not only did I not want to wait for planes to start flying again, I didn’t want to fly under any circumstance. I contacted a couple of friends to see if they would be interested in sharing a rental, and driving back to California. They did, and I started calling. It seemed every car was taken in the tri-state area. I eventually found one available at JFK, but we were unable to get it because the airport was still closed and no one was allowed in. Luckily, we had a backup reservation. I’d had a friend call and make it from the West Coast, and by Friday, we were able to pick up a car on the Upper West Side. There were no cars on the street, no cabs, nobody. Actually driving out of Manhattan was a breeze. There was nobody on the road.
We made it back to Los Angeles in two-and-a-half days. I’ve never spoken to my companions again.
OFFER NISSENBAUM, THE PENINSULA HOTELS
The morning of September 11, I was at the Omni Berkshire Place hotel in midtown Manhattan, where I was based as Regional VP and Managing Director. As usual, I had my morning stand-up meeting at 8:15 a.m. with all of the department heads of the hotel to review VIP guest arrivals and all of the days’ activities. During the meeting, my assistant, Jeanette, interrupted, which was very unusual for her to do, to advise that there had been a terrible accident downtown at the World Trade Center. We all assumed it was one of those small, private tour airplanes that took visitors for aerial tours above Manhattan.
As I returned to my office at the conclusion of the meeting, Jeanette said there was an unbelievable amount of smoke coming from the Trade Center buildings. I then climbed to the roof of the hotel to get a better view, and as I looked in the direction of downtown, I saw the second airplane hit. I then immediately realized we were being attacked and felt this had to be the work of terrorists.
My immediate concern was for my family — I quickly took the elevator to our apartment on the 12th floor of the hotel where we lived. Our babysitter, Celine, was home with our two children at the time, but she did not know where my wife, Bonnie, was, only that she had an appointment. I tried calling Bonnie but cell phones did not work.
I next gathered my Executive Team and we went right into”’emergency mode”’, but nothing prepared us for this kind of crisis. I assigned our Director of Security and select managers to the entrance of the hotel, in case wider impact of terrorist activities took place.
Then I went upstairs again to the apartment to check if Bonnie returned, and she had just arrived after voting in the New York mayoral primary in midtown. A few moments later, glued to the television, we watched one of the towers collapse and we were very distraught.
I remember going down to the lobby at that point and panicked guests asked if we had weapons on hand to protect the hotel, and we received various requests such as demands for transportation to get off Manhattan island and asking us to lock down the hotel. Soon after, we started to see some of our guests returning to the hotel from downtown, coated in soot and ash and debris, including a man who couldn’t see out of his eyes so we administered water rinses so he could regain his vision. Our hotel was completely full but no one could leave, as all modes of transportation – taxis, public transportation, car services, trains, etc. – all ceased.
The next day I learned from my parents who live in Israel that one of their best friends’ son was missing in the World Trade Center attack. He had been living in New Jersey with his wife and two children, and just by fate, was giving a presentation at a breakfast at Windows on the World, the morning of September 11. He was one of the very first victims to be discovered, and his funeral was that Sunday, September 16, and I was one of the pallbearers.
For many days, stepping out onto the terrace of our apartment, we could smell the fallout from the destruction of the Twin Towers. Weeks and months thereafter, as we were located two blocks from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we recall hearing the mournful sound of bagpipes playing for the funeral processions down Fifth Avenue, for so many of the New York City firemen and police victims.
JACKIE PASH, SWISS INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES
I was working for Swissair at the time. I had a sick newborn at home with my husband. It was his turn as we both worked. I was on the train from Long Island heading into Manhattan for a meeting. Needless to say as a Mom, my day had already started with worry.
We had not reached the first stop along the way to the city, when cell phones on a very crowded Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train started ringing like mad. At first I thought we had all traveled through some phone company glitch, yet when I answered my cell, my husband told me calmly to get off the train as something terrible is happening, something about they are bombing Manhattan, get off the train. I questioned him about the movie he was watching, and his voice grew firmer and more commanding. As I moved toward the door to get off the next stop so did everyone else. A solemn march to the exit doors, and there we all stood with our cell phones glued to our ears. We then boarded the next train heading back. Not a word was said.
I got into my car, and headed directly back to our corporate headquarters about a 40 minute drive in the opposite direction from Manhattan, passing emergency, police and ambulances along the way and showing my airline identification to get through police roadblocks. Upon arrival, many of our employees were glued to the TV, others were trying to call loved ones who worked at or near the World Trade Center with others by their sides for comfort. My first point of contact was with a very accomplished airline executive, who knew I had two brothers who worked in the area, and my elderly father, a resident of Manhattan. There was nothing he could say. Phone lines were constantly busy. Hours went by before I got the message that my family had been accounted for, yet the tears could be heard by those employees who struggled to find information about their loved ones.
In the meantime, open lines of communication were organized with our head office in Switzerland, discussions about flight cancellations, re-bookings and employee assistance, and passenger assistance to those stranded in Canada due to the grounding.
I remember telling myself that I cannot lose my composure, so I started to walk the hotel floor-by-floor to check on the staff and try to comfort them, and also to get my mind off what was actually happening, the realization of it all. I was hugging guests, hugging staff. It took me three days to finally manage to cry; until then, I had been numb with the gravity of what was happening. It was an outpouring of grief. The candle-lit vigils on street corners that followed were the city’s way of dealing with the magnitude of what had happened.
On a personal note, I remember calling my Mom in Hong Kong just after the second plane struck, to let her know that I was OK. Shortly after that the mobile networks went down, so I was glad that I managed to do that.
A few days after 9/11, a lot of the hotels in the city donated their rooms to the firemen, allowing them to rest since they were working around the clock. So many hotel staff volunteered their time to take care of the fire fighters, either with room-related services or by providing food and emergency supplies. Then, when everything had settled, there were the horrific weeks of hearing the non-stop funeral corteges of the firemen that had died. In the weeks following 9/11, Fifth Avenue was filled with the sound of sirens and funeral processions of fire service crews transporting the remains of their former colleagues. The smell of death hung over the city for weeks.
JACKIE PASH, SWISS INTERNTIONAL
After a straight 18 hours at the office, I drove home to get a change of clothes; the roads were eerie, no one on them. An occasional police/ambulance would fly by, and alongside a seaside stretch before reaching home, I saw two or three cars pulled over with families/friends locked together hugging and crying with a clear view to the west of a smoldering snake-like lift of smoke from where the WTC once stood. The car became filled with a smoky steely electrical smell. It was a surreal feeling blanketed by great sadness, and disbelief. Within two minutes, I was home to a house full of neighbors, friends and family. We all embraced and I held my little one, praying and thinking about what kind of world would be in store for him. Then, it was back to work in the darkness lit only by the occasional siren light, back though police roadblocks, and back to my mind that kept wondering what kind of world would be in store for us all.
STEVE BORN, GLOBUS FAMILY OF BRANDS
On the day itself, I was here at the Globus Family of Brands. On my way to the office on a crystal-clear September morning, I stopped to get coffee at around 7am my time, and listening to the radio in my car, had heard that there had been a plane crash in NYC. As I continue driving, I hear the report that a second plane had crashed, and remember my thoughts changed instantly from the curiosity over the first incident to a palpable concern about the scale of “attack” that we may be under.
As I got to the office, you can imagine the level of activity. Everything was humming at a fever pitch—every department focused on contact with our current travelers in all parts of the world to confirm their whereabouts and their safety. This was one of our heaviest travel days of the season—I believe we had over 20,000 total US passengers traveling with us on Globus or Cosmos that day. While we had the TV on the background, 100% of our focus and energy was on the process of locating our passengers—each group and passenger that was confirmed safe was a small victory. As I look back, I’m grateful that we had that mission to focus our attention away from the bigger questions and concerns that most everyone else was already facing.
We had one couple on a Cosmos tour in New York that we couldn’t locate right away. As the day unfolded, finding this couple became a mission for us—they became a symbol that in some way there was a part of this we could control. At 6:11pm our time (I remember the 11 after the hour), our Tour Director heard from them—they had been ferried from Manhattan to New Jersey, but were safe and sound. That moment became a huge release for all of us, as we had accounted for every single customer in every part of the world. Only until that was done did our minds have the release to actually consider the consequence of the day’s events—and it hit us all like a ton of bricks—there was a lot of emotion at that point.
In the weeks that followed, the effect of the attacks on the travel industry overall started to set in. I remember hearing “experts” predict that 2002 would be a slow travel year, but that we could expect to see a full recovery as early as 2003. What those predictions didn’t take into account was the emotional effect that event had on Americans. Mature Americans who had been so confident about travel and their right to explore were now hesitant about traveling abroad. As we know now, that moment signaled a real shift in the international travel industry—marking the moment that this steady, reliable mature market was officially replaced by a new era of baby boomers. It was a shift that was coming slowly up until 9/11, but that event accelerated the shift.
With this shift came the immediate need for segmentation of travel products, diversification of channels, and the rush to provide online content and transactions, and overall, more specialized travel products. No longer was there one size fits all travel. And as we know now, this transfer between them mature market and the new Boomers took longer than those original forecasts to return the industry to similar pre-9/11 volumes. In short, I feel that the industry is much improved, and in many ways has “recovered” from 9/11, but it’s a much, much different travel landscape today. These shifts had to be made eventually, but that fateful day certainly caught all of us by surprise, and has taught us all some very hard lessons about selling travel.
NANCY CASTLES, LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
I feel safer now with all the enhanced security in place, but I felt safe flying even before 9/11. It’s not just the aviation industry that has seen the increase in security. If you take a cruise, and I have taken several since 9/11, you will find that the cruise lines are very security-conscious too. You even see it with train travel. At Union Station here in L.A. the security has been beefed up. You can see the police with dogs patrolling the station. There is increased security at some of the bridges, like the Golden Gate and that bridge in Long Beach. You may not see it, but it’s there.
JENNIFER OBERSTEIN, LEADING HOTELS OF THE WORLD
There were about 60 managers and construction workers on the Ritz-Carlton hotel site after the planes crashed into the buildings. We were all standing outside. It was around 9:15 a.m. We were all gathered at our fire drill location. People were crying and hugging. As we looked up at the twin towers we could see more debris falling. But we quickly realized it wasn’t just debris. It was people falling to their deaths. People were dying. They were jumping out of the windows. I decided that if I can’t help, I don’t want to stand and watch people die. So I started walking with four colleagues past the Staten Island ferry and through Battery Park to the East Side. I wanted to get back to my apartment on the Upper East Side.
We walked uptown, but they wouldn’t let us actually walk on the FDR Drive because it was supposed to be left open for emergency vehicles. But we never saw any emergency vehicles. They never came. As we got further uptown, people began to peel off as they got closer to their apartments.
I didn’t actually see the twin towers fall. We were walking north along the FDR, with the East River on our right and the city on our left. We were near the South Sea Seaport. Suddenly, people started running toward us, away from the center of Manhattan, they were sprinting. There was a huge cloud of smoke and ash billowing up behind them. The first tower had fallen. If you looked back a few blocks, it was like a dense fog. You couldn’t see anything.
Now this is kind of strange and I can’t explain it. I never commuted to work wearing my Keds or sneakers like a lot of people do, and then change at work. For some reason, on that day, Sept. 11, I decided to carry my high-heeled shoes and commute to work in my Keds. Don’t ask me why. I’d never done it before. So when I was walking all the way home up the East Side, I was wearing my Keds. A lot of women were walking barefoot. I can tell you, now I keep an extra pair of Keds in my office drawer at work.
When I finally got a few blocks from my apartment building, I decided I’d better stock up. I didn’t know what was going to happen, if we were under attack or would have to evacuate the city or what. No one knew at that point. I stopped at a local minimart and took out as much cash as I could. I thought maybe I’d have to pay someone to get me out of the city. Then I got some bottled water and groceries. I didn’t know how long I’d be hunkered down. As I went to pay, I noticed one of these big floor freezers full of ice cream. “Comfort food,” I thought. I told the clerk at checkout, “Please add the ice cream.” It was the first time I think I had smiled all morning.
As for my dad, it wasn’t until I got home that I found out that he was safe. He’d walked up the West Side Highway. Thank God nobody I loved was killed that day.
(The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park finally opened on January 29, 2002.) Jim Calio