It was beautiful, the type we only get in the Mid-Atlantic states during the transition months: sunny, low humidity and temperature in the 70s. Only one thing to do on a day like this, go outside.
I decided to walk around the buildings to get to my office from the gym, euphemistically called “stress lab”. I did this even if it was slower than walking inside the building. Surprisingly, there were very few people lounging around in the plaza north of the buildings. I had the flowers, trees, birds and squirrels all to myself.
As I entered my building, the East Tower of Waterside Mall, I noticed about 20 people congregated around a TV that was mounted high on the wall. It was difficult to get by, as the security desk and now the crowd left very little room to get around.
Several people gasped and one shouted, “That is the other tower, it’s live, not a replay of the other.” A few people appear to be crying. That prompted me to join the group and ask questions.
I learned that two different planes had crashed into two of the towers of the World Trade Center. I personally did not remember such towers, even though most likely I had seen plenty of reports about them before. You know, in one ear out the other.
My ignorance was temporary, soon I found out that the towers were the highest skyscrapers in New York and among the highest in the world. As its name advertised, it was the financial center of the financial center city in the world.
After watching for a few more minutes I squeezed around the crowd and got to the elevator. My office was on the 11th floor.
People on my floor were not acting any differently than usual. I went to my office, dropped my exercise bag and decided to go to my Division Director’s office, on the other side of the building on the same floor to tell him what I had found out.
He was standing in front of the window that faced South. I knocked on the door and after being asked to come in, I told him, “Bill, have you heard that two planes just hit the World Trade Center?”.
“No, but now the smoke coming out of the other side of the Pentagon makes sense.” It had been only a few minutes before when the third plane had hit a target, the symbol of US military might, the Pentagon. He walked over and turned on his television set.
In fact as I observed, black smoke was rising almost straight up from the West side of the Pentagon, located across the Potomac river and a little to the right. The clear day and our perspective made it look really close.
He then received a phone call that I took as a good time to exit.
People were talking about the attack. Just then the fire alarm went off, and we were told to evacuate the building. I grabbed my attaché case and headed for the stairs.
By the time we had gathered a safe distance from the building, most people had evacuated and were talking about the incident. There were rumors that several Federal Buildings had been attacked or were targeted. Apparently, the White House already had been evacuated.
After a few minutes I had decided what to do. I called the two other people in my car pool that had come to work and told them that I was going home. It was the first time that I had used my brand-new cell phone for actual emergency communication. Of course, Jim C did not like the idea, “I can’t leave, we have not been released yet”.
“Sorry buddy, I am leaving, good luck getting home on the subway.”
“Well…., OK, I will meet you in the garage.” I was already walking there.
I then called my wife. As expected I got her voice mail. Cell service had started to get overwhelmed.
“Honey, I am OK. I am leaving right now, I am not sticking in or around a 12-floor building. See you soon.” She did get the message and it did the job. Made her realize that I had a strong sense of survival and common sense. My building was one of the tallest in Washington, DC, a block from the Potomac river that gave a terrorist plane plenty of room for maneuvering and mayhem.
We got home in record time. We beat the traffic, but not by much.