This post replaces my normal Monday column. Full Disclosure: This post has absolutely nothing to do with real estate.
As I contemplated what to write this week my thoughts kept returning to 2001. For many September 11th is certainly a day to pause and reflect but it isn’t necessarily personal – it is for me. At the time I lived on Long Island, about forty-five minutes from ground zero.
All but the very young can recall where they were when they heard the news. I was a financial planner at the time and I was in my suburban office starting my day. That morning I got a call from my partner who told me something was happening. The news was sketchy at best but it was obviously something big. I walked down the street to a coffee shop that had a TV and found that people had come from up and down the block to see what was going on. We know what happened next; the towers fell as a nation watched in horror.
My partner showed up a short time later with a concern that intensified throughout the day. His wife worked at the Federal Court Building in downtown Manhattan – right next-door to the World Trade Center. He had been franticly trying to reach her but all communication was cut off – he didn’t know if she was dead or alive. Thankfully that turned out well, she had been stranded at Penn Station where the trains had ceased to run.
Over the years I had been in both of the twin towers on a number of occasions for business reasons. A major mutual fund company that I dealt with was located in one of the towers and I personally knew eight people that worked there. It was more than a week before I knew if they were safe – thankfully they all made it. The irony is that many of them had survived the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Unfortunately we know that more than 2,600 weren’t as lucky.
The investment banking firm of Cantor Fitzgerald and its 390 employees was virtually wiped out. Several of them lived in the small town of Brightwaters and never returned home that day. I had recently moved from Brightwaters – they had been my neighbors. Other communities in the area suffered similar losses and it seemed everyone knew of someone who had died in the attack. While this tragedy touched all Americans, it hit much closer to home for those of us who lived in the area.
It was a surreal time in New York; the area had essentially shut down. At ground zero the rescue operation was in full swing and there was a real need for relief supplies. I was the vice president of my local Rotary club at the time and organized a collection of items from the members and businesses in the area. On Friday the 14th I went with a friend to deliver the supplies to the pier a short distance away from ground zero that being used as a staging area.
I had been to Manhattan hundreds of times but I had never witnessed anything like this. As our truck came over a rise as we headed for the Midtown Tunnel I had a lump in my throat. The place where the familiar towers had stood was empty; only the smoke billowed upward. As we approached the tunnel I witnessed a sight I had only seen in foreign countries – armed soldiers searching every vehicle that attempted to enter. Through the tunnel and into the city I saw a military presence like never before. This is where it really hit home; we were a nation at war.
We reached the west side where the pier was and encountered a roadblock. Only vehicles with relief supplies were being let in. After our cargo was inspected and verified we were escorted by police motorcycle to the staging area. We quickly offloaded our supplies and then spent the rest of the day helping out.
Many images from that day are forever etched in my mind, not the least of which are two F-15s flying a CAP patrol over the city. At that time no one knew where the attack had come from and if there was more on the way. That was also the day President Bush came to the city. When he arrived we were essentially locked in the staging area as security was unbelievably tight.
The most heart wrenching sight was witnessed as we left. There were people everywhere holding photographs of missing loved ones. They plastered the pictures on the walls or stood on street corners waving them as people passed by, hoping against hope and not facing the reality that their mothers, fathers, sons and daughters would never come home again.
Right now our country is as politically polarized as it has been at any point in decades. That wasn’t the case nine years ago. Republican, Democrat, black, white, or any other, this country came together and truly became one nation. The first baseball game after the attack was played at Shea Stadium ten days later – I was there. There were chants of USA, USA throughout the game and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was cheered every time his face appeared on the scoreboard video. Through that crisis he was something the city sorely needed – a leader.
Perhaps my strongest memory of that ordeal was when we left the staging area at the pier. We drove past the heartbreaking sight of the people vainly waving photographs. As we exited the most touching part was, without a doubt, the literally hundreds of people standing on the street or at their apartment windows waving signs at us that simply said “Thank You!” I looked over at my friend, who was driving, and saw the tears streaming down his face…I was right there with him.
This is a vicious, unprovoked, horrible attack on innocent men, women, and children. It’s one of the most heinous acts certainly in world history. – Rudolph Giuliani
Posted at 8:46am, 9/11/10 in Memorial