I took this picture of the World Trade Center Towers from a ferry boat taking us to see the Statue Of Liberty in the Harbor.
Joey and I lived in New Jersey, a mere twelve miles from Manhattan.We had a view of the beautiful New York City skyline from the hill where we lived, and we worked one block from the Hudson River, directly across from the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers.
Every day, we saw the towers as we drove down Grove Street in Jersey City, on our approach to our place of employment.We often took our lunches together on the pier overlooking the River, never growing tired of the gorgeous view of the Skyline.
On cloudy days, the top third (sometimes the top half!) of the towers would be obscured, and I would always joke to Joey that ‘someone stole the top half of my buildings today!’We would comment on a regular basis how we had an up-close-and-personal view of the Twin Towers every day of our lives, both from our home and from work, and how some people live their entire lives, dreaming of one day seeing the view we were privileged to see every day.We never grew tired of that amazing sight.
As the towers were being built back in the 1970s, Joey, his brother and their friends would often take the PATH trains (the subway system that connected Jersey City NJ with Manhattan under the Hudson River) and walk through the towers themselves before they were completed.
Each floor was approximately an acre in size, and before the interior walls went up, Joey said they would run through the highest completed floor, throwing footballs, or just playing games, as teenagers did.They would sometimes just sit and stare out of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the panoramic views, as each floor was raised higher and higher into the sky.
The towers were such a part of our daily lives; yet we never took them for granted.We would take the PATH over to the City often, and the ‘tubes’ (tunnels) would bring us from New Jersey, out into an enormous subterranean mall, featuring stores and shops sporting nearly everything you ever needed, as well as everything you ever wanted…If you were living in the World Trade Center towers, you could literally obtain everything required to survive for the rest of your life, and never need to step outdoors for anything...
I cannot begin to explain how enormous the towers were, not just in height… but also in every way imaginable. Regardless of the time of day, there were thousands of people in the towers, and yet it never seemed crowded, even during the main commuter traffic hours. It was literally a self-contained city!
On Monday, September 10, 2001, Joey took the PATH train over to the World Trade Centers after work to drop a check off to Charles Schwab, an investment firm that handled our portfolio of stocks and other investments.We were taking the next two weeks off from work, as my Mother was flying up that evening from Florida for a visit, and we had a lot planned.Joey never thought in his wildest dreams, that short visit to Charles Schwab would be the last time he would ever step foot into the Towers again.
I was home that Monday, packing our things in preparation of spending the next two weeks at our Beach Condo on the Jersey Shore.In Joisey, we say, “We’re goin’ down the shore” when we’re planning to spend time near the beach. (I don’t think we’ll ever lose our New Yawk/New Joisey accents!)
We had plans to spend our vacation time with my Mom; visiting the Metropolitan Area and showing her how things had changed since she, my Dad and three younger sisters moved from New Jersey to Florida, sixteen years earlier. Joey and I were also hosting a ‘reunion’ of my Mom’s sisters and brothers and their spouses ‘down the shore’ on the coming weekend. It was going to be a great two weeks of fun and sight-seeing!
My Dad wasn’t much of a traveler, so he opted to stay home in Florida.He called us at 6:00 pm on Monday night, telling us my Mother’s flight was canceled that evening, and the Airline was putting everyone from that flight into a local hotel for the night.
Once Mom was settled into her Tampa, Florida hotel room, she called Joey and I.Apparently there was a minor fire in one of the airport terminals in Newark Airport, which didn’t cause much damage, but Mom’s flight was canceled due to smoke and the Emergency Personnel on the scene.(We heard something vague about the fire on the radio news, but we didn’t think it sounded like a big deal.)
In any case, Mom told me she had a funny feeling about not being able to fly up to visit us that night, and said something like “…maybe this trip wasn’t meant to be.Something doesn’t feel right about flying up there tomorrow. Maybe I should just go home tonight and come up there again some other time.”
I laughed it off, and told her she was being silly. I said and she should just get onto the plane in the morning, and Joey and I would see her when her flight landed in Newark on September 11th at 9:20 AM.
I explained we would drive directly ‘down the shore’ and have soft shell crabs at our favorite restaurant overlooking the beach of the Atlantic Ocean for dinner.We would then walk the boardwalk, play some games of chance or maybe even attempt a dip in the ocean in the coming days. We were experiencing an “Indian Summer” that week, and the temperatures surely would have permitted swimming in the Atlantic that late in the season.
On September 11, 2001, Joey and I loaded our suitcase and overnight bag into our Highlander and drove to the New Jersey Turnpike.When you drive onto the entrance ramp from Secaucus, New Jersey, you are immediately greeted with a crystal clear view of lower Manhattan, and that famous, impressive New York skyline. The twin towers appear to stand about a foot tall on the horizon, if that gives you some idea as to how close we actually were to the City.From that close, you could see the towers in great detail; including the outline of every window, and the details of the huge antenna perched atop the North Tower.
Almost immediately, a white puff of smoke suddenly appeared near the top of the North Tower and hung in the air for a moment.We didn’t realize we had just witnessed the result of the first airplane crashing into the building.
Joey joked to me, “Look! They must have just turned on their heating system for the first time this season!” with a laugh. I replied, “Do you think some idiot got lost somehow and flew his plane into the tower?”
Joey replied, “No way. That would be all over the news already.Besides, it’s white smoke.That means it’s not burning.It’s probably just a cloud or something.”
But within a few seconds, we realized our ‘joking’ wasn’t funny.Suddenly, that harmless ‘white cloud’ began to turn an ugly gray color, and it began to spread across the sky!The tower was obviously on fire!
“Holy shit!Turn on the radio!”Joey said to me, almost shouting as he drove along the Turnpike.
I switched on WINS – 1010 on the AM dial; the local news channel that operated 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and 365 days per year.WINS was already blaring the ugly news:“…appears a small commuter plane may have gone off course and crashed into Tower #1, the North Tower of the World Trade Center.Emergency Personnel are en route to the scene…”
I picked up my cell phone and called my Dad, who was home in Florida.
“Daddy?Turn on the TV right now!It looks like some idiot in a small plane may have flown into the World Trade Center Tower by mistake.Turn it on!”
Dad fumbled with the remote, turned the television on, and flipped through all the channels.The news had not yet broken onto the Television Networks.He asked me if it could have been a commercial airliner, and I remember telling him that was unthinkable. It HAD to be a small private plane with an inexperienced pilot at the controls.
Dad, a retired Police Lieutenant, sounded as if he already knew something sinister was in the works.He told me he would keep watching CNN, and if he saw or heard anything about it he would call us back.
Meanwhile, Mom’s plane was probably already in our area, circling for its turn to land at Newark International Airport.
We could no longer see the towers from our location further south on the Turnpike, and we were fast approaching the Airport.(It was only a 15-minute drive.)
Joey’s job required him to work on occasion at Newark Airport, so he possessed an ID badge, which permitted us to park our Highlander in the Employee Parking Lot near Terminal C, where Continental Airlines operated.
As soon as we arrived inside, pandemonium reigned. There were some people running, some were crying, some were cussing at Airport Employees, and some were screaming; and some sat silently, staring at the television monitors in the many coffee shops, restaurants and café’s throughout the terminal.
We knew people would be upset to hear a small plane flew into one of the Towers, but we didn’t realize that between the time we parked our vehicle, until the time we entered the Airport Terminal, a second plane had slammed into the other tower!
My heart was racing, and I remember saying to Joey, “Oh my God! The first plane was not a mistake! It was done on purpose!We were being attacked!We were attacked on our own soil!”I felt outrage, violation, fear and panic simultaneously. How DARE they! …
My cell phone rang and it was Dad, asking if Mom’s plane had landed yet.We were standing in front of the ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES board, and it was blank.BLANK.Nothing was on the boards.I was terrified. I didn’t put voice to the thought the second plane could have been my Mother’s flight.But Dad said it for me… I told him not to panic, and if I heard anything else, I’d call him right back.
We found a Continental Airlines employee at a computer terminal, and asked if she could tell us the status of my Mother’s flight, which was now overdue. She could only whisper, “Dear God.Dear God.” as tears rolled down her face.She reluctantly peeled her eyes away from the scene unfolding outside of the windows behind us, and she typed some information into her computer.
Beyond the windows you had a view of the two once-beautiful Twin Towers spewing out red-hot flames and black smoke in the distance.It reminded me of a smoldering volcano in a Jurassic Era film.Regardless of what you saw broadcasted on your television sets, the horrible nightmare you witnessed paled in comparison to seeing it ‘live’ and through your own tear-stained eyes.
I turned back to the woman and asked if the second plane was my Mother’s flight. I needed to ask, I had to know, and I was terrified to hear her answer.God answered my prayers when she informed me my Mother’s flight was in the area at the time of the second crash, but it was re-routed to Philadelphia. Her plane should be landing as we spoke.
I flipped my cell phone open and I couldn’t get a dial tone.It never occurred to me the enormous antenna perched upon Tower One in the distance, supplied cell phone service to most of the immediate area, and that building was now engulfed in flames.
I headed for the long bank of pay telephones that lined the walls, and every single one of them was in use and had lines of people waiting to use them three or four persons deep.I was not alone; there wasn’t a single cell phone that worked in Newark Airport that morning. When my turn came to use the pay phone, I used my credit card to call Dad to let him know Mom was all right.
I barely got the words out, and the line went dead.I looked to my right and to my left, and at that same moment, every other person using the pay telephones were looking at the dead receivers in their hands and at the people on either side of them facing the same dilemma:All telephone connections were now dead!
I dropped the phone and I ran across the terminal to meet Joey at one of the Airport Lounges.He had found himself a place at the very crowded bar, where every patron found it necessary to have a cocktail before noon. There was an odd silence for the large number of people standing shoulder to shoulder in the lounge, and all eyes were glued to the television sets.
The Pentagon in Washington D.C. was just attacked! This had to be a nightmare!HOW could something of this magnitude HAPPEN here?It was unthinkable.
I was shaking, and in tears, and I begged Joey to leave the Airport immediately.I imagined an enormous red bulls-eye painted on the roof of the Airport, and one of the planes now overhead in a holding pattern, would suddenly turn and plow itself into the roof.I was frightened on a level I’ve never experienced in my life, and prayed I’d never experience that fear ever again.
Joey and I hurried for the parking lot.We were going to return to our home to await the phone call from my Mother in Philadelphia to make arrangements to pick her up.
We didn’t know it at the time, but by then, Newark Airport discovered one of the planes that crashed into the Towers originated from there, and the entire building was being put into ‘lock down’ mode.The Feds were on their way to the Airport, and they would be treating the Airport (and everyone in it) as part of a Terrorism Crime Scene.
Fortunately, we parked in the Employee Parking Lot, and they had just begun to pull the blockades across the entrances and exits to stop anyone from entering or exiting the Airport.The other lots were already closed and were being monitored by Port Authority Airport Police vehicles.The Employee Lot was the last place to be cordoned off to traffic, and we had actually ‘squeezed’ in-between a blockade and the man pulling it into place, and ‘escaped' without a second to spare.Fortunately, a Police Cruiser was not in the area as we drove like escaped convicts from a prison.
The enormity of the situation regarding the attacks, and our narrow ‘escape’ to get back home suddenly hit me.I couldn’t stop the tears, and I wished I could just turn the hands of time back again to un-do what had been done.How could so much horror be brought upon us in so short a period of time? It was only a few minutes of ten o’clock in the morning.What would the rest of the day hold in store for us as a Nation?Everything felt surreal; as if we were actors in a doomsday film.
The New Jersey Turnpike was oddly empty.Usually, at this hour of the morning, there is residual ‘rush hour’ traffic on the roads.We started flipping through the radio channels, listening for more news, but we just kept hearing the same stories being repeated again and again on every station.
Eventually, we came upon Howard Stern’s morning radio show, and his somber tone was very unsettling.Usually funny, obnoxious and joking, he was very professional and almost stoic, broadcasting the news as it unfolded live from his vantage point in Manhattan. Within a few moments, we heard the panicked voice of ‘Stuttering John’ Melendez, a regular on Howard’s program; shout into the radio microphone, “The tower is gone!The tower is gone!It fell down!It’s just not THERE anymore!”
I was crying, now near hysterical, and I looked to Joey, who had tears rolling down his face as well.
“The tower COLLAPSED?How could it be GONE, Joe?How could it just be GONE??”
It was eerie, and very unsettling as we drove the nearly vacant Turnpike northbound, heading for home. Our breath caught in our throats as the Skyline again came into view as we approached Exit 16W where we exited the highway.
You could not see anything in lower Manhattan at all.The entire lower part of the Island was completely encased in an enormous cocoon of black smoke.The wind was blowing from the south, which pushed the smoke back onto the Island, which was slowly spreading its way uptown like a monster.I’ll never forget that view for as long as I live.We could still see the Empire State Building, but the noxious monster cloud seemed to be gaining on it as well…
We arrived home within minutes, both of us obviously very upset.My telephone answering machine was loaded with messages from my Father, my three sisters, and my Mom’s brothers and sisters… everyone was totally freaked out from the Attacks on our Country, and then worried for the life of my Mother, who was on her way up here to visit us.
Once I returned everyone’s calls with the news my Mother was indeed alive and her plane had landed in Philadelphia, Joey and I sat on the edge of our bed and watched the news as it unfolded on CNN.
We watched footage filmed earlier that morning, the scenes are now scribed in my mind forever of people leaping to their certain deaths to escape the flames as the Towers burned. This was a nightmare beyond anything they could ever create in Hollywood.The networks kept replaying the collapse of the South tower, and the images of a commercial airliner circling around a burning Tower one and disappearing into the façade of the Tower’s twin.
But the nightmare grew tenfold just seconds later, as CNN cut to LIVE footage of the North Tower collapsing!I screamed as I put my face into Joey’s chest and the two of us were sobbing with outrage, fear and pity for the victims, their families, and for our Country.
How could this HAPPEN?We are the greatest Country in the World!HOW could this HAPPEN on our own SOIL???I was inconsolable.
I couldn’t imagine the grief the families of the people that worked in the towers; as well as the Firefighters, Policemen and other Rescue Workers must be feeling at that moment.I was nauseous, angry, mortified, sad and frightened, all at the same time.
My telephone rang, and I heard the voice of my Mother.I was so happy and relieved to hear her voice again, yet I felt a pang of guilt in my heart, knowing there were thousands of others that would not be as fortunate as we were that morning.She only heard little snippets of news about the attacks, and really didn’t know the scale of the nightmare that had occurred that morning.
She said Philadelphia Airport had also been put into ‘lockdown’ mode, and Policemen with their K-9 dogs ushered everyone out of the airport and into the streets, due to a bomb threat!She had met a woman outside of the Airport, and, as coincidences happen, the woman had a home a mere MILE from our Beach Condo on the Jersey Shore!They bonded immediately, and soon found all the cabs and limos were unavailable.They could not find a ride out of Philadelphia.
They came upon a man who offered to drive them across the river and into Atlantic City, New Jersey. They were thrilled, and paid the man the obscenely high amount of money he asked them for.
Mom phoned us from this man’s car, and said they would be in Atlantic City in a little over an hour, depending on traffic.From our home, it would take approximately three hours to drive down there to pick them both up.Since cell phone service in New Jersey was now non-existent, I instructed my Mother to wait on a park bench on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, directly across from Caesars Hotel and Casino.
I remember reiterating, “DO NOT LEAVE THAT BENCH UNTIL WE FIND YOU. WE WON’T BE ABLE TO CALL YOU ON THE CELL PHONE, SO BE SURE TO JUST WAIT THERE ON A BENCH AND DON’T MOVE!”By the Grace of God, my Mother survived, but I would not rest or relax until I could hug her again.I kept crying, thinking how thousands and thousands of people would not have that privilege tonight. Their loved ones would not be coming home to them.
The Turnpike was still a ghost town as we made the three-hour trip to Atlantic City in a little more than two hours time.The State Police didn’t flinch as the few vehicles that used the Turnpike that afternoon drove at speeds exceeding the posted limits.
My reunion with Mom in Atlantic City is one I will never forget as long as I live. To be able to hug her again; to inhale her familiar scent, to hear her voice and to look into the eyes of my Mother made me break into the helpless tears of a little girl. My Mommy was ok. Everything else was falling apart in the world, but my Mommy was all right!I was blessed, and I knew it.
Of course, Mom and her traveling companion heard the horrendous news of the day on their trip from Philadelphia on the radio, but they just couldn’t imagine what that could possibly LOOK like in reality. I kept wiping tears from my eyes as we drove northbound again, this time only an hour, and soon we arrived at our Beach Condo ‘down the shore’.
After delivering Mom’s new friend to her home a little over a mile north of us, we finally settled into our Condominium. The Atlantic Ocean appeared a beautiful, deep blue color. The sky was beginning to darken as the sun was setting behind us, illuminating the white foam of the waves with silver ruffles. The sand on the beach looked like wind blown satin. Surely this whole nightmarish day never happened.How could such horror have taken place when you can plainly see such a peaceful and breathtaking view from our living room windows?It was unthinkable. Unthinkable and impossible.
But reality reared its ugly head as we turned on the television.Mom watched the events of the day unfold before her for the first time through her tears.Within a few moments, the telephone rang, and Dad was relieved to hear the three of us had arrived ‘down the shore’ and we were safe.My sisters all gathered at Dad’s side that day to comfort and reassure him everything would be all right.
It was growing dark outside as Mom spoke on the phone with my family in Florida.She was reassuring my Father (who was in tears himself by now) that she was very shaken up, but she was fine, and we were all extremely lucky things had worked out as they had for us.
As Mom ended her conversation and hung up the phone, she asked to go home to my Father the next day. Of course, all airplanes were grounded throughout the Country for several days, so we agreed to drive her back home to Florida the following morning.
At approximately 9:00 AM on Wednesday, September 12, 2001, we loaded up our Highlander again with our bags, filled the gas tank and attached a small American Flag to our radio antenna.Using a bar of soap, I wrote the words, “GOD BLESS AMERICA!!” across the rear window, and we set off for the 20-hour drive from New Jersey to Florida.Nearly every vehicle we passed along I-95 beeped at us, and gave us the ‘thumbs up’ sign, agreeing with our small statement of our Love for our Country.
Once we arrived at my Parent’s home in Florida, Joey and I did some deep thinking and reflecting upon our lives and our lifestyle.We decided we wanted some time to ‘smell the roses’ as they say.Life is too short; and we wanted what little time God gave us to share together on this Earth to be slower-paced, less stressful and happier.
Before it was time for us to return to work again in New Jersey, we had signed contracts to build a home in Florida.It would take a year or two to complete the construction from start to finish, but we had made up our minds, and we had set our plans into motion.
Our experiences on September 11, 2001 are extremely mild in comparison to the nightmarish scenarios other people experienced on that fateful day. It was a truly sad time for America, and for thousands of families throughout the Country.
But we were among the lucky ones.
GOD BLESS AMERICA!!
Me and my Mom taking the Ferry with Joey from Jersey City to the former site of the World Trade Centers in 2002.
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