From, Harlem Son
I awoke early on the morning of September 11, 2001. The night
before, I gathered all the paperwork I needed for the case. I also checked
my train schedule in the hope of catching an earlier train into the city.
Through my bathroom window, I could see that it was going to be a
beautiful day. Ramiek was the first person up, and he was lying across
the bottom of my bed, watching me get ready for work. I think he
just liked watching me go through my ritual of standing in front of
my closet, deciding what to wear.
Although it was September, the weather was still warm enough
to wear a lightweight suit. I chose a dark gray three-button. I
turned and asked him if he liked it, and he nodded in agreement.
It was about 6:30 a.m., and I had plenty of time to get ready. I
asked Ramiek if he wanted any breakfast, and we both went in to
the kitchen to prepare a bowl of cereal. It was now 6:55, and I was
getting in the shower. Ramiek, thinking ahead of me, turned on
the radio. Due to the issues going on at WBAI, there was a new
morning host on the morning drive time show, Wake-Up Call. His
name was Paul DeRienzo. I heard him on the air before, but I really
missed hearing Bernard White and Janice K. Bryant, the co-host
who was a native of Chicago.
After my shower, I selected a pair of socks and shoes. I turned to
look at the clock, and it was 7:15. I planned to catch the 7:48 train.
It was just a ten-minute walk to the train station, so I knew I had
plenty of time. I got out a shirt and put a crisp, white pocket square
in my jacket breast pocket. I knew which tie I wanted to wear, and I
fingered through my tie collection, looking for the burgundy-striped
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tie I liked to wear with the suit. I owned about five hundred ties, and
I was having a hard time finding it. Ramiek looked up at me and said,
“Papa, why don’t you wear the yellow one?”
I told him that I wanted to wear something more traditional
because I was going to work on a case. I went from tie to tie, but I still
couldn’t find the one I was looking for. It was now 7:35, and I knew
I would never catch the 7:48 train. The next train was 7:59, which
would get me into Pennsylvania Station at about 8:40, and the subway
ride to the World Trade Center was a short fifteen-minute ride on the
downtown E train. I still couldn’t find the tie. I must tell you that I
had been dressing just like this for over sixteen years, and I had never
spent this much time looking for anything when I got dressed in the
morning. I was deadset on finding that tie.
“Papa, you are going to miss your train,” Ramiek said to me with
a concerned look on his face. This child got up every morning—even
on the weekends—watched me get ready for work, and now, he was
getting concerned. “Papa, just wear the blue tie.” I ignored him while I
was still looking. It was now 7:59, and the next train is at 8:15, which
would get me to the city just before 9:00 a.m.
Also at 7:59, American Airlines Flight 11 would depart from
Boston’s Logan International Airport headed to Los Angeles with
ninety-two people aboard. It was 8:02, and I begrudgingly selected a
gold tie and headed out the door. I stepped on the train at 8:14.
Also, at that very time, a Boeing 767 with sixty-five people aboard
was moving away from a United Airlines terminal at Logan going
to LAX. I was listening to my radio on the train and reading the
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newspaper. At 8:20, I was reading a story in the paper about Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s concern about waste at the Pentagon.
At Washington’s Dulles International Airport sixty-four people
boarded an American Airlines Flight 11 bound for LAX. In the sports
pages, the headlines talked about Barry Bonds hitting three home runs,
giving him sixty-three for the season. This totally eclipsed Roger Maris
for the home run title.
It was now 8:46, and on the radio Paul DeRienzo reported that
a small plane had just hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower. I
knew this building. It was 1 WTC, the building where we had our
conference a few weeks before. My first thought was how do you fight a
fire that high up? The radio host had no real details on the plane crash,
and since I was going down to that area, I switched the radio station
to CBS radio, All News 88. The reports were coming in fast. I was not
at an area where I could see the buildings, but when we pulled into
Jamaica station, people were entering the train talking about it. We
went into an underground tunnel and when we entered Pennsylvania
Station, I ran upstairs so that I could get reception on my radio. When
I got out on Seventh Avenue; it was about 9:03 a.m.
I heard the special report music. Then the newsperson said that
another plane hit the South Tower, which was 2 WTC. I rushed down
to Sixth Avenue. At that vantage point, I could see the top of the towers.
When I got to Sixth Avenue, I could see the smoke coming from the
buildings. I started walking south on Sixth Avenue and the newsperson
said that this was a terrorist attack. At 9:21 it was announced that all
New York airports were closed. A few minutes later, the city shut down
all bridges and tunnels. This was some scary shit. I kept asking myself.
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“Will there be more attacks, and how will I get home?” Everyone who
knew me was aware that I worked at the World Trade Center, and all
the pay phones were not working.
I cross over Twenty-third Street, walking south on Sixth Avenue.
Cars were flying up and down the streets not waiting for stop lights.
You could hear all the car radios on the same station. It sounded like
virtual stereo. I could also see the thick smoke billowing from the
top of both buildings. I tried again to call home, but I couldn’t get
through. I was standing in front of the new store just opened by my
old company. Phil Kaplan, one of the district managers, came out to
the street. I asked him if their phones were working, and he said no.
It was 9:43, and the news was reporting that another plane just hit
the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C. I wondered if the whole
world was under attack. I was really scared because if we knew who
was doing this, were we attacking back?
I got down to Fourteenth Street, and all I could hear were police
cars and fire trucks just flying down every street. People were walking
around with frightened looks on their faces. I had never seen anything
like this. It was now around 10:05, and I could clearly see the South
Tower collapsing. This was one scary sight. Everyone on the street
was looking with a frightened disbelief look on their faces. I really felt
that the world was coming to an end. As I got close to West Fourth
Street, I could see the next building fall. There was a collective sigh
from everyone on the corner and in the street. A police car was telling
everyone that no one would be allowed south of Canal Street. On the
radio, things really turned to panic when they reported that another
plane had crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I asked myself,
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“Where was that plane going?” I just knew that this was the end, and
I started to pray right on the street. A chill came over me, when I
thought about being on the top floor of the Trade Center just a few
weeks ago. “What if we had a meeting up there today? We would not
have survived, and what about the people up there now?”
I could see the blockade as I approached Canal Street. I could
even smell the smoke coming from the collapsed buildings. The
skyline really looked strange; almost like two front teeth missing.
“No one south of Canal Street” was the message coming from
a police car parked on Sixth Avenue, facing the wrong way.
I turned around and headed back uptown. The streets were mostly
deserted, which was very strange for New York on a beautiful fall
day. In my mind, I knew it would be World War Three. I knew we,
as a nation, would blow the shit out of some country. It was almost
noon, and I was on Fifth Avenue, crossing over Fortieth Street, and
the corner was deserted.
This was really strange for New York. For some reason, I walked
over to Time Square. There was hardly anyone on the street. I looked
up at the big screens and saw over and over the attacks on the buildings.
It really looked like a movie. After standing there for a few minutes, I
decided to walk over to the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge. I worked my way
over to Madison Avenue, and I ran into my friend, Ronnie Diskin. We
worked for the same company a few years ago. He was walking over
to Lexington Avenue to pick up his wife so they could walk across the
bridge to their home in Queens. Since no trains were running, I knew
that I would have to walk over the bridge and maybe catch a bus to
the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica station.
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Ronnie’s wife was standing on the corner of Fiftieth Street and
Lexington Avenue. She had a frightened look on her face, but I think
that she was relieved when she saw us walk up. The three of us began
to walk toward the bridge, and we could see the crowds building as
we crossed over to Fifty-eighth Street near Second Avenue. There were
literally thousands of people waiting to cross the bridge.
As we got halfway over, we could see the smoke coming
from where the buildings were, but nobody was looking in that
direction. It was a weird sight. There were hundreds of thousands
of people walking across the bridge almost in complete silence.
The thoughts crossed my mind that I was glad my parents were not
here to see this. What if they decide to crash a plane into the bridge?
A lot of crazy thoughts went through my mind, but praying made
me feel better. I was saying, “Please God let me get home to see my
family.” I knew they were worried about me. I also prayed that God
would forgive me for all the wrong that I had done to the women in
my life and please let Adria know that I was truly sorry for breaking
her heart. I also prayed that Vicky and Ann would forgive me for
being so selfish. Before I got on the bus, I waited for the pay phone to
be free and then I called home. Ann’s daughter answered the phone,
and she was happy to hear my voice. Ramiek got on the phone and
said, “Papa, I’m glad you didn’t find that burgundy tie. I was really
worried about you.” After a short bus ride to the train, I finally felt
safe. I walked up the stairs of the train station, and when I heard the
train announcer say, “All aboard!” I found a seat, closed my eyes, and
said, “Thank, God.”