Another year goes by

As I have in other places in the past, on this day I generally just post the email I sent to friends after I got back from Manhattan on this day 9 years ago:

We’re all fine. Yesterday was probably the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life. I had gone in on the 9:03, and as the train arrived in GCT, the conductor said, “folks, you might want to check on subway service at the information desk, some service to lower Manhattan isn’t running due to a collision between a plane and the World Trade Center.” This was about 9:40. There’s a big newsstand in the mezzanine with a “zipper” and a bunch of TVs, and I watched some reports and decided that going to work probably wasn’t a good idea. I went back out and watched the track board; the next train I could take, the 10:10, didn’t have an assigned track yet. I tried calling L and my boss on my cell phone, no good. Then all the track assignments went blank. I thought, “this is not good.” A couple seconds later, the 10:10 was listed as “departed.” I ran to the info booth and asked where a local New Haven line train was. I hurried to that track and got on the train.
While I was standing on the train the conductor said “we’ll be moving in a couple minutes.” A few minutes later it changed to “we’re not sure when we’ll be moving, sorry.” And a couple minutes later over the PA we heard “Grand Central is being evacuated. Exit all trains immediately.”

I ran for the exit fully expecting to have the building explode around me at any second. I was both calculating whether it’d be possible to survive it and thinking how weird Grand Central looked with almost nobody in it.

I got out to 42nd. What a surreal, weird scene – people walking around, everyone frantically trying to use their non-working cell phones. From talking to cops and some Metro-North people I managed to learn that Manhattan was basically locked down – no entry or exit possible for an indefinite period of time. Keep in mind, at this point we also had no idea whether or not the terrorists were done for the day. Also we’d just been evacuated from Grand Central. This was when I began to get scared. I started walking towards Bryant Park, trying to figure out a way off. I stopped a cabbie and offered him $100 (which I didn’t have with me actually, I was desperate) to take me to Westchester. He refused. I considered stealing a bicycle and riding home. I finally decided that if worse came to worse I’d just walk. I was feeling somewhat panicky.

I got to Bryant Park, which was full of people hanging around. I considered going to Times Square, where I figured I could see what was happening on the Jumbotron, but then it occurred to me that it might also be a target, so I stayed put. I walked over to a woman with a portable TV who was listening to news reports. She heard that there were 4 more unaccounted for planes in the sky, that it was bin Laden, that this was because of America’s support of Israel, today was the anniversary of the Camp David accords. She started crying. I was terrified. Another woman sitting next to her said she felt numb. The woman with the TV said it was like something out of a movie. I heard several people say that yesterday. It was right. We heard planes overhead. Adrenaline rush. They were f-16’s flying over the city as protection. I kept trying to call Leslie. No go. The woman left.

I figured I had nothing better to do, so I walked back to Grand Central. They were letting Metro-North employees back in, which seemed like a good sign. Then a couple cop-types cleared everybody from the entrance at the corner of 42nd and Lex to the side entrance on Lex. There were a bunch of cops and MTA people standing there, so I walked up and asked if there was anything going on. They said to “hold tight, we’re doing what we can, we want to get home too, just sit tight a minute.” That seemed like a reasonable request, so I stood off to the side from them a bit. A few minutes later one of them said “Proceed in an orderly fashion to 89 E 42nd street, they’re re-opening the station.” New Yorkers were amazing yesterday. People were obviously scared, panicked, but they were also calm, kind, and cooperative. It was maybe the only comforting thing about yesterday. We proceeded into GCT. The track board was still empty, they were just running a train for each line making all stops. I found my train, the same one I’d been evacuated from, and got on. People were making nervous jokes, just exhausted. My seat mate had one of the Kyocera combination Palm/phones, and we chatted about that a bit. He couldn’t make any calls either.

Finally the train started to pull out of the station, and as it did my cell rang. It was L, who said my father’d been calling her about me. I told her I was safe, cried a little, and got off so she could call my dad.

I was still sort of scared at this point, wondering if there was a bomb in the tunnel. I felt a little better when we hit daylight, and a lot better when we crossed the bridge into the Bronx. As we crossed the bridge you could easily see the huge black plumes rising over the spot where the towers used to be.

I got off at New Rochelle, walked in a daze to my car and drove home. Got home, L was out picking up D from school. I stood around a bit, turned on the TV and saw the footage of the plane crashing into the WTC for the first time. L and D got home a few minutes later.