That’s where I was on 9/11/2001. I don’t talk about it much. It was a strange sort of day the kind that most don’t ever experience. At the same time, it was a surreal event that I often feel far removed from instead of an upfront, in living color, participant.
I was still on the research side of Wall St. We had just finished our morning call. In research, you’re in really early and out really late, same for M&A but they don’t deal with the traders like research. I was always into the office by no later than 6am not leaving before 9ish. In fact, they made it easy to stay even if you were just sitting around doing nothing because you could order a car if you stayed past 9.
Anyway, if you’ve never been, there’s a walking/biking/blading path that follows the river, the Greenway. I was talking to Ashim who sat across from me. We were trying to figure out when he could go roller blading. This is something we would do to get out of the office for a bit in that late afternoon when the other normal people would be going home to their families. It was like the seventh inning stretch. Clear the mind before the final push.
He had a call at 6 and so we were wondering if we should go early or wait till 7. I remember all of this because as he was looking at his calendar our building rattled like Godzilla had grabbed hold and begun shaking. We looked at each other like WTH.
One of the analysts – who always hated being right next to the WTC because he kept referencing the first, much less successful but at the time still noteworthy, bombing attempt – flew by in a blur. We always good natured-ly poked fun of his paranoia because his desk faced the WTC. He was on the phone and had his assistant in hand pulling her along stunned face. We continued on to his desk where the others in our office were gaping up into the sky.
The reason why became evident quickly. What does one imagine when there is an almost perfect round hole, like from a cartoon, in a building? Way up high. And singed papers are floating down to the street and soon other things not so poetic are crashing to the cement in their last human attempt to survive.
And as our eyes drifted around trying to take in the horror, the other plane came into view. In movie slow motion, it flew effortlessly into the other building. We all backed away as our feeble brains tried to put 2 & 2 together. To make sense of the fact that the first hole must have been a plane as well. To make sense of the things flying out of the windows from way up there. Were we next?
It was awful.
Then voices over the intercom telling us to come to this side of the building. No, go to the other side of the building. Back and forth a couple times before I grabbed my assistant and said we’re out of here. It was the first real time my fight or flight sensibilities was tested
Turns out I’m a fighter.
I walked so many blocks to my Village apartment because there was no getting down to the subways, thank god. I had on a pair of cheaper Banana Republic rubber high heeled sandals that flopped and twisted my ankles in good times let alone this exodus. I threw them away when we walk in the door.
As the door closed and the TV went on showing us how the rest of the world was reacting to what we just lived through in person, and we became aware of the scope of the devastation, we all knew things had changed. From then on, as the country hobbled along trying to figure out how to deal with that day, we all made good, bad, dumb decisions.
No one knew what to do or what was happening. All of the political armchair quarterbacks that like to question the manner in which any of it was handled need to STFU. We made good decisions. We made dumb decisions.
It was a bad day. A judgement day. It also became a time where we were better people and leaders were trying as humans not political parties to guide. That’s all gone now. On both sides. We can agree. We can tally mistakes all we want and violence is never an answer but the honest wish at the time for each other to be ok was real.
The fact is we all have 20/20 hindsight. Instead of judgment let’s raise the bar, aspire to learn without finger pointing.
Knowing the real question is: how do we get better from here?