About 5 minutes after waking up this morning at my apartment in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, my cell phone rings. A friend I work with. Jon.
"You watching the news?"
"Terrorists just flew two planes into the World Trade Center."
I hit nytimes.com. Connection failure. cnn.com. msnbc.com. Same thing. The net's up but the news organizations' servers are slammed.
A quick shower and dressing later, I'm heading west to the Hudson River. I'm thinking I can go to my gym, which has a big screen TV and (formerly) a view of the WTC.
I can see tense looks on people's faces as I walk down the street. I want to talk to people... tell them what's happening, ask them what they know. You don't really do that in NYC, though, so I just pick up my pace and cross 10th Avenue.
All the traffic is being rerouted off the West Side Highway down 18th St. A dozen cars are parked on the sidewalk there. As I hit the corner of 18th St. and the highway, I can see them. Huge clouds of black, black smoke coming off the twin towers. My stomach is in knots.
I cross the highway, onto the recently-paved promenade that now runs the entire length of the west side. The promenade is usually mildly busy this time of day -- joggers, bikes, skaters. I skate down the west side frequently, right down past the WTC. There are a few of the athletes this morning, but they're overwhelmed by a march of men and women in white-collar work outfits heading north. Each of them wears a look of shock.
I realize they're walking from the WTC. From the distance, I figure they must have been walking for 20-30 minutes already. I alternately feel like crying, yelling and like vomiting.
There are a few people heading south. A man on a bicycle negotiates the crowds, a professional-looking camera with telephoto lens hanging from his shoulder.
I'm not going to the gym. The whole pier is shuttered with security guards posted at the entrances.
The possibility of heading downtown crosses my mind. For what? I feel helpless, a feeling that will return frequently over the course of the day.
Instead I walk a few blocks south and cross back over to the Oxygen office at 10th Ave. & 15th. Oxygen is a tv network, and the 150 screens or so are all tuned to the news. CNN, CBS, MSNBC all going on the TVs, flat plasma screens, projection TVs.
It's even strange knowing how to greet people. I don't end up with much time to think about it after all. I watch the footage of the second plane colliding with the tower. It's amazing how small the widebody jet looks next to the massive building. It's even graceful swooping into it.
My heart hits my throat at the reports of people jumping from high floors of the WTC.
The news comes through that one plane was a American Airlines flight from Boston. There but by the grace of god go I...
I watch the first tower collapse on tv. Gone.
Everyone who's at work comes together on the 8th floor. The senior management is bringing in food, making arrangements for New Jersey-ites and Long Islanders to stay with employees that live in the area in case we can't get off of Manhattan. They're bringing in lunch for everyone. You're requested to sign out at reception if you're leaving. Are they overreacting? Who knows...
My cell phone vibrates. I have a voicemail, but I can't access it.
Getting outbound land lines is spotty, too. I manage to reach my dad. Still in Charlotte, North Carolina. Thank goodness. His flight to New York was canceled last night. Fortunately, he didn't make it out of Charlotte before they closed the airport. I leave a message for my mom that I'm ok. Talk to my stepmom from her cellphone. How did she get service?
Voicemail from folks on my team. They might be coming in, might not. Someone leaves a message like this but doesn't say who they are. I have no idea.
Instant messages from friends. I'm ok. You ok? Emails carry the same messages. AIM is much more reliable than the phones right now.
The second tower is down. Collapsed. They're gone. I'm fighting back tears. This is so wrong.
I haven't eaten breakfast. Bad idea. I get on the elevator going down. The doors open and a friend gets on, Yaron. He says something to me. I have no idea what. The doors start to close. Whoa, what am I doing? This is the ground floor, my destination. Snap out of it, Luke.
Bananas, fruit salad and a green salad from Chelsea Market. It seems bizarre to me that the employees of the shops and restaurants here are still doing their jobs. Glad they are, though.
I'm back in the office. I make short work of a banana and feel a lot better.
The New York Times and CNN have both gone to text-only homepages and they now seem to be handling requests well enough to serve up news. TV and radio are much better infrastructure for this kind of event, though. Broadcast.
I'm in the elevator again, heading to my sister Daniele's school on 17th St. to get her. Judy, Dad and Ed all asked me to get her, and keep her close, and I will. Glad I can do something productive.
It's a busy scene there at her high school. I sign in at security and get a clearance sticker. They direct me to room 110. I approach a school staff member. "I'm looking for Daniele Melia." Her eyes light up. "That's my girl. I had Daniele in second grade. She's wonderful." She begins to make a few phone calls, figuring out where Dani is.
There are teenagers around the office on the phone, trying to reach parents. Crying. Using the fax machines to call out. Some of these kids parents are probably dead at this point, I realize.
I sign a form indicating that I'm taking Dani out of school and we go to find her in the lunch room. Kids are hunched over cafeteria tables and half-slices of pizza. The teacher and I split up to find her and we end up at her table around the same time. Dani stands up, her hair in braids, and starts crying. I push my own tears back, figuring that the older brother shouldn't start crying, especially in front of a bunch of high school girls.
She's happy to see me and we head back to oxygen after giving my phone numbers to a friend who may not be able to get home. Dani tells me of a friend who was coming to school late through the WTC-Chambers subway stop around 9:30. Nobody's heard from her and everyone's worried.
Back at oxygen, we eat some food, watch the latest developments on TV. The Pentagon's been attacked in a similar fashion. A plane is down in Pennsylvania. No one's working. Some folks are starting to leave.
Judy, Daniele's mom, arrives at Oxygen. Our receptionist is amazing, Judy notes. She's right, Erica was awesome today. The only time I saw her shaken was talking to her mom. I leave Judy and Dani in front of a projection tv screen and head back to my desk.
One of the company's senior management wants to add a link to the homepage touting a discussion board about this disaster. I hack the html and deploy it while Dani and Judy watch the news.
Around 2 PM, we leave oxygen and head back to my apartment. Judy curls up on the couch and takes a nap. I surf news and commentary a bit and then fall asleep myself as I listen to the radio and the sirens.
9/12/01: 3 AM.
Chelsea is calm. Sirens frequently pierce the night, but otherwise the streets are empty. No cabs. No trucks.
Nearby, there are rescue workers digging through the night.
This was a tragedy for New York, and for DC, but also for the world.
Let's stick together.
All my love,