Wall Street Crash

14 Apr

It was four years ago to the day when an editor two cubicles down said, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

All of us figured it was small private plane that somehow lost control. None of us thought it was terrorism. Then, maybe a half hour passed and the second plane hit and we all knew.

I didn’t live through Pearl Harbor, but I’ve seen enough movies to know how the news affected people. All of us left our computers to huddle around the conference room TV. Our office was in midtown Manhattan, a few blocks from the Empire State Building.

Some people became unglued instantly. One guy who hadn’t smoked in five years took it up again that morning. A young woman in the art department – someone who was always hip and cool – fought down hysterics, trembling.

Throughout the day, I’d hear jets approaching low overhead and I’d wonder if it was another passenger plane headed our way. Then I’d be relieved when I’d realize it was fighter jets scrambling past.

When the Tower crumbled around noon the panic increased and the office began to empty. I wasn’t going anywhere soon – I’d already heard that the tunnels and bridges to Jersey were closed.

I took the elevator down to the street. The sidewalk was filled with silent people trudging uptown. Not one of them spoke. All I could hear was the flap of their shoes on the sidewalk. Vehicles driving uptown were covered in gray soot.

As the afternoon wore on, Meg, a managing editor at the magazine, began to lose it. I didn’t know her well, but as the day crept on I learned she lived in Jersey and her husband had already left for home without her and she had no way to get home. When I heard that a bridge to North Jersey, the Tappan Zee had opened, I offered to drive her home, even though it would take me  five hours out of my way. Meg was relieved and thanked me. As we were getting ready to go, we heard an update that the Lincoln Tunnel was open and buses to Jersey were once again running. Meg decided to take the bus and I lit out for the Tappan Zee, stuck in traffic moving at a crawl, finally getting home at 2:00 a.m. in the morning.

Although we worked no more than a dozen feet away, in the days to come Meg never thanked me for offering to drive her home. I didn’t work in her division and I had nothing to gain by helping her. But when the world was crumbling, I wasn’t going to leave someone alone.

Over the next couple of days, Ann’s panic grew exponentially. She was convinced we should move away to a little town in the heartland, far from any possible targets.

I told her, “Sure. And I’ll dig ditches for a living.”

(2005)

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