This is the first time in years that I will post something on this date. Please sit back with a coffee and I’ll tell you a story, and it will be the last time I’ll tell it.
The pictures are a few that I had without people in the foreground. Those folks are memories that are mine only. I had a new camera, it was the 90s, and this fancy-arsed bit of gear could take photos in three different sizes (from 3×5 up to panorama) by flipping a switch on the bottom of the camera. Film was in a sealed container, you put it in the camera, pressed a button, everything auto-loaded. The negatives were still in the container when you got your prints back, you had a 3×5 print with thumbnails of the photos on that roll. Pretty nifty technology for the times, considering digital photography was still some ways off, and cell phones at the time, made phone calls and that was all they did.
It’s why I avoid the 24 hour constant drumbeat of the various things today, that will flood the media and online sites.
I used to work in Tower 1, and had actually been there the week prior to 9/11 because of a last minute change in scheduling, otherwise I would have been making my way that morning from the World Trade Centre Marriott, out for a coffee and cigarettes with the usual crew, and then heading upstairs to get busy. It was one of two companies that I worked for at that time.
I enjoyed the corner of the floor that we had. If I leaned back in my chair at the right angle, I could look out the window, through the gap between two other buildings, and watch the ships in the river.
That fountain, I recall it being placed in a park after the attacks, as a place for people to meet up and check in. It’s where we would gather for lunch or breaks, or if working late enough, dinner, and enjoy the sights and sounds and the multitude of languages that sounded like a chorus in the area. And always the space for all of us smokers (we were many more in that era!) to gather and laugh and could spare a light and a cig for someone who came out without theirs.
Or the guy behind the counter at a local deli, at the old offices in Murray Hill, saying to my friend Tasnim, “c’mon sweetheart, I ain’t here for my good looks, pick up the pace!” That typical New York ‘tude. Little did he know that she could give as good as she got, and they became fast buddies and would razz each other mercilessly when we popped in for a bagel and a coffee. The move to the WTC was such a big thing for everyone, bright sparkly new office space, all new furniture and equipment. You know the drill.
This morning, 9/11/01, nice sunny day, clear skies, and I am into the office in the financial district in Toronto extra early, had a technician from one of my vendors in, and we were hard at work in the computer room from early in the morning.
I had popped out to get something out of my desk, saw my phone was ringing, and it was Mom’s office number. I answered, and she said, “is there a radio near you?” No, nothing like that, open concept. “How about a television?” Lunch room beside the computer room, it should be on by now. “Good, go put CNN on quick as you can, and call me right back!!”
I walked into the lunch room just as the second plane hit, live on the news.
Immediately, my thought was, what the hell are they running some SciFi movie at this time of the morning for??
Then they replayed the first plane strike and the fireball, then the second, then the first again.
If anyone wonders, when they share pictures of the planes exploding into the towers … that’s triggering as hell.
I went back to my desk and was just reaching for the phone when my vendor’s tech came out and said, they were just paged, everybody to evacuate downtown and return to their offices north of the city. Sent him on his way and called Mom back. “When are you leaving? I’ll meet you at the train.” They haven’t said shit about anyone leaving yet … far as I know, we’re still working all day. “Fuck!! Okay, the second they let you go, call me and I’ll meet you at the train!” Mom’s offices had moved from near the airport out to the very west end of Mississauga in those years.
Some people said bollocks, and weren’t going to wait for management to get their finger outta their asses, packed up and split. Just to be sure, we had a quick meeting for the key people in I.T. to go over having to do a rapid shutdown of the computer room. Called up to the call centre and asked them to re-record the panic button announcement. As I would discover in the next hour, they all split without doing it, and put up the standard holiday announcement. UGH!!! By this point, there are a handful of I.T. folks still in the offices, as we start the orderly shutdown of all the gear.
At one point, we figured, we may be quite a while, may as well split into shifts and go downstairs and grab some lunch. They had just renovated the food courts and had these fancy-arsed new flat screen televisions and we could see what the hell was going on while we wolfed down some food. We were startled by people running at top speed while screaming at full volume, through the PATH system towards transit stations. Really? Likely too much panic and misinformation on the media causing it.
By this point, back upstairs, spot the developers manager, ask him to stand by me and listen, I’m going to record an emergency closed announcement for the phone systems, main number and call centre, soon as I finish, I’ll pass you the receiver, say what I just said, only in French (my high school French was rusty and sounded horrendous). Another crisis handled. Whew! Working in I.T. on Bay Street for a few decades, you get used to speaking in a dull monotone while dealing with shit happening all around you.
Then an e-mail hits every computer in every office worldwide. A storefront office of ours near the WTC has sent a message to GROUP: ALL.
Is there anyone still alive? We have a class of grade 1 kids and their teacher locked in the store with us. What do we do? Is there anyone there? Help!
Even now, that memory sends chills throughout me. Cellphones are down, voice lines are jammed, data circuits are sketchy… much of NYC ran through the WTC site. Because our systems had redundancies built upon redundancies, we had multiple back-ups. Reply sent from the UK head office, “Stay in place, NYPD or NYFD will come and get you and the children … we will get a message to them. Stay safe. London out.”
Computer room brought down, ready to leave. The two of us remaining walk through the building lobby heading for Bay and King Streets. We get outside, and there is NOT A SOUND. The streets are empty. The only thing we see are police cars parked on an angle in the intersections, and officers with long guns in hand. That’s when things got weird, because you just don’t ever see that in Canada, at least, at that time.
Union Station was a zoo. We both are on the same line going west, and they post our train on the board. Probably wise that we waited, it took some time to get crews in to get the trains rolling again. Call Mom and let her know I’m due to leave downtown.
Meet at the station, we head home, and between answering my pagers, making phone calls, and dialling in through the lock and key modems to wake up the phone system, you just sit stunned and watch things unfold on the television.
And the media played those scenes over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Finally crash around 3 am, when the phones and pagers go quiet. Up at 5, back on the road downtown, have already started a remote power up and boot process, should be just about finished when I get to the office, fire up the UNIX systems, and we’re good to go … oh, and remember to talk to the call centre manager about the epic clusterfuck from the day before.
We were due to launch a new teleconferencing and video system that week. Call from US law enforcement, can we use your servers? Absolutely, I’ll call the vendor, they’re yours for as long as you need. Calls from our east coast offices, we have plane people, can we get approval for expenses for necessities. Yup! All the big brass (aka mahogany row) were overseas for meetings, so, we did a lot on our own initiative from Toronto (because it’s easier to ask for forgiveness after).
Three weeks after the attack, a few of our folks had not returned to work, there was no word on their missing family member who had worked in the upper 20 floors of Tower 2. And then, the new owners, with 9/11 as their excuse, laid off 85% of the staff in Toronto and New York.
Talk about a corporate rogering … and we never even got kissed first.
Snapped up by a headhunter a few months later, on the promise, sworn oath, that I would not have to travel. No, only once a year at most.
I was on a frigging plane every week. Until SARS hit. Then they canned any staff under quarantine who could not travel. Grandma was declining rapidly and was on death’s doorstep. Paramedics scooped and ran with her multiple times until the hospital finally admitted her, and we were quarantined in case of SARS-related illnesses. So much for that job, but at least no more flying for me.
Two French brothers were making a documentary and were in the midst of all of it. Watched it twice when it aired. That was enough. That desk in the lobby, I recall laughing with the security guard there. Or the morning, walking over from the WTC Marriott, seeing and hearing fire alarms, firefighters gathered around that desk, while we were escorted outside – fire in the food court underground had filled the lobby and the first few floors with smoke. The church where they took Father Judge after the first collapse. Have sat in there in quiet thought. Twice was enough, no more, because THE WORST part was the “whummmp!!” sound of the bodies impacting outside the building, those who had been forced to jump from 80+ stories up to avoid being burned to death. At the time of writing this, I still get triggered by slammed doors, drawers, etc., because those sounds recall that impact noise, and I feel ready to jump out of my skin.
I recall meeting the wife and daughter of a gentleman lost in the towers that day, all from Toronto, and his wife’s words have stuck with me to this day. As soon as we start to get past this nightmare, the annual grief orgy comes up again, and we are stuck reliving every single horror of that day, while people obsess over every detail. They also tune out, because their loved one was in Windows On The World that morning, the restaurant on the top floor, and every time they see the image of the fireballs emerging from the towers, they relive that entire day in an instant.
I get it. She had a good cry, and we chatted, had a few laughs, and went our separate ways, and her words have stayed with me ever since.
So, that’s why I typically don’t write about this, this is an exception, and I will never hash it out at length again. I have my memories from there with me always, and we remember those lost on that day, and in the intervening years from the most horrendous illnesses from working on “the pile”.
I haven’t set foot down there since 2001. I received a message from a treasured friend this morning, “The Girl Tribe will take you back when you’re ready.”
Those who are silent today, are reliving memories, and still dealing with stuff. Give them space, they’ll be back to themselves tomorrow. Trust me on that. One long-time friend relives the moment as the second tower collapse was happening, running away from the growing dark cloud, feeling like her lungs would burst. They prefer not to have to relive it constantly either.
With love, sunbeams, kitten dreams. In memory of those no longer present.