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[These are my recollections as best I can recall. You can imagine that between the chaos and the years, some details may be slightly incorrect…but only slightly.]
Eight years ago today, I was sitting in my office in Chicago when I saw news of an airplane hitting one of the World Trade Center buildings. My company’s New York office was just a few blocks away (at Rector and Trinity), with my partners, employees, and friends preparing for another trading day.
I called my business partner, Steve B, in his office and was on the phone with him when the second plane hit. More precisely, I was on the phone with him as he said to me that he was watching the second plane hit. He was, not surprisingly, somewhat frazzled, with most of the the office windows having cracked or shattered, and a massive dust cloud accumulating just outside. He ran to get under a desk as it seemed the ceiling could collapse at any time, while shouting at others in the room to do the same.
Over the course of the day, I kept in touch as best I could, but it wasn’t easy. Steve and his roughly 50 employees waited in the building for hours until the fire department arrived to guide them out through foot-deep dust and rubble, through injured people, through total panic and devastation. Every time I spoke to Steve, he was showing no concern for himself, with all his energy and attention going toward making sure our employees were OK – as OK as could be – amidst the chaos and destruction.
Most of our employees (more Steve’s than mine since he worked with them every day) found their way to the Staten Island ferry and worked their way home from there, either to New Jersey, Brooklyn, or elsewhere, often taking 8 or 10 or 14 hours to make a trip that’s usually under an hour. Cell phone towers were overloaded as people who worked near the towers and their families were trying to reach each other.
A couple of our traders had the misfortune to see people jumping from 100 stories up in a burning tower to escape the flames, despite certain death from the fall. Others saw body parts on the ground. It was one of the few bad situations where you can’t even say you wish you were there to try to help because you know that help was absolutely impossible.
My colleagues were quite shaken up for some time afterward. Of course, the New York office was closed, the entire area sealed off, so we ended up managing the New York and Philadelphia traders from the Chicago office for a couple of days. On the one hand, our traders were in a state of shock. On the other hand, you can imagine how insane the market was and we had to deal not just with trying to earn a living but with trying not to lose an enormous amount of money and our company. I have to say I have no recollection of whether we made money or not during those days. It wasn’t about that as much as it was about survival, more emotional than intellectual or financial. But I had to stay focused on the financial, primarily, and let Steve, Jimmy, and the other New York-based people help each other through the mental aspects of the murderous disaster.
In a way, I’m still not sure the true degree of the devastation has set in because I had to put up such a thick wall against it at the time just to get through the next several days. But, in truth, I only saw about it on TV and heard about it (admittedly from eye witnesses) over the phone. So no matter what, I realize that obviously I had it easy. I will, thankfully, never know the true depth of fear, anger, horror, and shock that my colleagues and friends suffered – not just that day, but for a long time afterwards in the inevitable mental reliving of the events.
I can almost feel old wounds reopening just writing these words.
While it’s my nature to want to write a political tangent to this, I’m not going to.
Instead, I ask you to take a moment to remember those who, on this day 8 years ago, were killed by terrorist murderers, and to thank and honor those who died in heroic efforts to save others. And I ask you to take a moment to remember and thank their families, whose suffering continues and is reawakened each and every September 11.