Just My Luck – Chapter 6 – Part 2
Up as usual at 5:30 a.m., I showered, shaved, brushed my teeth, dressed, and turned on the TV for the morning news. I woke Doris at 6:30 a.m. Since I was to stay at the University Club the rest of the week, she was driving me to the train station so I wouldn’t have to leave my car in the parking garage there for four days. It had already been stolen once from the railroad station lot, why risk a re-run?
Doris and I were first-year empty nesters now. Less than two weeks earlier we ensconced our son, Tom, into his freshman dorm on the campus of the University of New Hampshire. His older sister, Lauren, was away at Boston College starting her final year. Since I’d be in New York for the next four days Doris and her mother, who was living with us, were looking forward to some ladies’-alone time.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a glorious weather day along the Eastern seaboard. The sun was bright, humidity was absent, air was fresh, and autumn was about to begin. While standing on the train platform, grasping the handle of my “wheely bag” luggage and waiting for the Metronorth train to Manhattan, I thought, what am I doing here, this is a great day for golf.
The train rolled into the South Norwalk station on time. I boarded, found a seat, stowed my bag overhead and opened the book I was reading. As usual I fell asleep before we were half way to Grand Central Terminal and awoke as the train stopped at the end of the line. I was in the groove of my routine.
Chasing A Whim
Walking down the platform to the famous main concourse of Grand Central Terminal a whim intruded on my routine. Maybe the weather stimulated my optimism, I don’t know, but somehow the thought entered my mind that this would be a good day to buy a lottery ticket.
I’d bought lottery tickets before, but not regularly. I knew better than to ignore my whim though; years earlier I won over $7,000 on a similar whim. Just My Luck.
Lottery tickets were not sold at newspaper stands or other shops in GCT, so when I reached the concourse, rather than heading for the Times Square shuttle train as usual, I made my way in the opposite direction to the Graybar Building next door. The store in the lobby there sold what I wanted.
When I got there, I found a line of people that stretched out of the store and eight to ten deep into the lobby. The jackpot prize must have been unusually large. Eyeballing the situation, I concluded that, whim or no whim, it wasn’t worth the extra time to wait on that line. I had a busy day ahead and I’d already wasted time getting here.
When I first started commuting a seasoned veteran told me, “ Never run for a train. There’s always another one, but there’ll never be another you.” Sage advice. So I doubled back at my normal pace to Grand Central, into and across the concourse to the turnstiles at the entrance to shuttle subway area.
In retrospect, I think two or three shuttle trains between GCT and Times Square had probably come and gone while I’d taken my aborted lottery excursion. When I arrived at the Times Square station, I took my familiar route to the downtown side of the platform of the #1 line . Very few people were waiting on that side when I arrived – a good indication that I’d probably just missed a downtown train. No problem, the next one would be along in a few minutes.
Normally, at this point I’d meet up with one of Aon’s lawyers, Ellen, whose office was two doors from mine, and her friend Jerry (not his real name), a lawyer at Cantor Fitzgerald atop Tower 1. Their commuter train from the Hudson Valley line and mine on the
New Haven line arrived at GCT at nearly the same time every day, so we often arrived on that subway platform at the same time. The morning of 9/11 I rode the subway downtown alone amongst a crowd of strangers.
Several days later that I realized the fateful significance of my lottery diversion.
The subway ride to the WTC was uneventful and I de-trained (it’s a commuter term) at the end of my commute probably five or so minutes later than if I’d not gone on my failed quest for a lottery ticket. That five or so minutes turned out to be the difference between life and death for me.
In the lobby of Tower 2, I passed through the security turnstile to the elevators and waited for one to arrive.
If you’d ever been to the WTC, you likely know that the elevator system serving 105 office floors and two observation decks was a bit unusual. Each of the towers had two “Sky Lobbies” situated to parse the building into three relatively equal segments. The two sky lobbies in each tower could be seen as were visible lines of demarkation on the exteriors of the buildings.
The first 43 floors of Tower 2 were all directly served by a group of elevators from the ground floor. Different banks of elevators in this group served different ranges of those floors.
Anyone with a destination above the 43th floor had to take two elevator rides to get there.
The ground floor had two groups of “express” elevators; one went directly to the 44th floor Sky Lobby. From there different banks of elevators served the middle segment, floors 45 to 77, of the tower. The other group of ground floor express elevators traveled non-stop to the Sky Lobby on the 78th floor where elevators were available to floors up to the top of the building.
Since my office was on the 102nd floor, I had an express ride from the ground floor lobby (took about a minute – more than one floor per second) to the 78th floor Sky Lobby, from which a second elevator would take me to 102.
As I stood waiting in the ground floor lobby for my express ride up, I looked through the windows at the sunshine on Liberty Street and chuckled at the loss of another great golf opportunity.
At 8:46:30 a.m. I was aboard an express elevator somewhere between the ground floor and the 78th floor of Tower 2. Unbeknownst to me, it was at that moment American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into floors 93 to 99 of Tower 1. I remember no sound, motion or any other indication in our elevator that a Boeing 767 out of Boston, carrying 81 passengers and 11 crew, had just crashed into the tower next door.
When I exited the elevator I walked across the Sky Lobby as usual to the alcove where the elevators that served 102 could be accessed. I pressed the button to summon an elevator and waited for its arrival.
Then someone in the Sky Lobby screamed.
(to be continued)
©2016 James Ash