Just My Luck – Chapter 6 – Part 5
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
Doris was going about her morning getting ready for work when the phone rang. The caller ID read that it was her father. Suffering from COPD in a nursing home in Brunswick, Maine, Gene nearly always had his television on. So he was the first in the family to see the special news report from New York about the horrible plane crash into Tower 1.
Of course he knew I worked in the World Trade Center, but he didn’t know which tower I was in. When Doris answered the phone he didn’t even bother to say hello, he just told her to turn on her TV. Unsure why, she did as he said and saw the 107-story smokestack that was Tower 1 as the news commentators told what little they knew about the plane that had flown into the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
Doris immediately understood what she was seeing and quickly made the mental calculation that:
- the burning tower was the one with the big transmission antenna on top, and
- I worked in the tower that didn’t have a big antenna, so
- mine was not the burning tower.
She told that news to her dad and quickly ended his call in order to dial my office to tell me to get the hell out of there. My voice mail answered. She left a semblance of that message.
This was probably about the same time I’d opened my eyes after my prayer on Church Street because shortly after hanging up the phone and turning her attention back to the TV, she witnessed that unforgettable live image of American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 out of Washington, D.C. carrying 58 passengers and a crew of six, become a fireball when it blasted into Tower 2.
At first Doris thought she must be looking at a replay of footage of the plane hitting Tower 1. After the stunned television commentators took a few moments to process what had just happened, however, they dispelled that misconception. Doris then realized she was looking at two burning towers on the TV screen.
That’s when she became seriously worried. Soon, neighbors and several other friends began to gather at our house.
The huge antenna on the top of Tower 1 was but one of a forest of other, smaller, antennae, that were now useless on both Towers. Most landline telephones downtown, including the one on the wall by the bodega, were now out of service and cell phone service was gone.
Notorious as I still am for not having my cell phone with me, I’d actually put my cell phone in my suit coat that morning. So even though for once I had it with me, I needed a pay phone anyway. Just my luck. I decided to make my way uptown to Grand Central Terminal to call Doris. There were still several pay phones there in those days and after the call I could catch a train home.
The Fulton Street subway station was close by, but when I got there I found a crowd of people had already filled all the space below street level, up the stairwell, and onto the sidewalks above ground for several blocks. I wondered in amazement why so many people were willing to join a line that long. I wasn’t very familiar with the Financial District beyond this point, but I knew I could find a better alternative than this. So I wandered deeper into what for me was uncharted territory.
I passed a few small groups of people making their way towards the World Trade Center, but I was just about the only person going the other way. The area seemed nearly deserted and the deeper I ventured the emptier it became.
The early Dutch settlers of Manhattan established their homes on the lower tip of the island. Their roads and thoroughfares were meandering paths originally blazed by their cows. That’s why, unlike the orderly grid patterns of the rest of Manhattan, the uninitiated can easily get lost among the haphazard streets of the Financial District. Fortunately, I soon happened upon a subway station whose uptown station was astonishingly all but deserted. I don’t remember which subway line it was and without luck I doubt that I could find the same station today, but the map on the wall indicated that I’d found a local subway train that would get me to Times Square where the shuttle could take me to GCT.
When I boarded the train, several seats were available and passengers were calmly dozing or reading or bobbing their heads to the music from their ear-buds. This, plus the empty station platform, were an eerie contrast to the chaos above. It was as though I’d ventured into a time warp. I was uneasy when I realized that I was likely the only person in that car of the uptown train out of Brooklyn who knew what happened that morning. These folks probably left their homes before disaster struck and were now routinely riding the subway to work completely oblivious to what my father-in-law in Maine already knew. They were probably among the last in the city to know.
At Times Square Station people knew. Every pay phone had a line of several people waiting their turns. I was relieved to see that the phones in mid-town were working. The shuttle trains to Grand Central were running as usual too.
A few minutes after 10:00 a.m., when I was again under the GCT roof, I stopped short as I passed a newspaper stand near the concourse. The TVs hung from its ceiling showed replays of the second plane hitting Tower 2 followed by something I didn’t know had happened: the floor-by-floor pancake progression of the collapse of the building that I worked in.
I stood transfixed as I saw the impossible. Too shocked to react, I was numb. Anyone who hadn’t left the building was now undoubtedly gone. The enormity of that fact was too much to digest. For the second time that day I stopped in place, closed my eyes and prayed for the souls and families of those who had perished while I had made my way uptown.
Emerging from my prayer, I knew that if I wanted to function and get home, I couldn’t try to deal with what I’d just seen; I needed to focus on things at hand at that moment. But deep down I knew that the only important concern for days to come would be “who?” Who made it? Who didn’t? And who did it?
I Will Never Get Angry With You Again
I wiped my face with my free hand to re-set my mind and resume my immediate mission to call home and get home. The pay phones were more plentiful and the lines were shorter at GCT. When I finally called home the phone was answered by my mother-in-law, who had come to live with us years before. When she heard my voice she immediately called out, “Doris, it’s Jim!” Then speaking again to me she said, “Oh thank God. You’re okay right?”
“Yeah. I’m okay.”
“Here’s Doris,” she said as Doris picked up a different extension.
Through tears of relief Doris greeted me with, “I will never get angry with you again!”
That warmed me and actually made me laugh, and with the first tears of many to run down my cheeks I replied, “I’m going to hold you to that.”
(to be continued)
©2016 James Ash