Stories of Gumption is a regular column that profiles individuals who admirably demonstrate Gumption as we define it. These are the stories of real people who exhibit gumption in overcoming personal challenges, and validate the spirit of Gumption during their journey. Let’s take inspiration from those who seize 100% personal responsibility and show us how to live a life that exhibits Gump-like character traits worthy of applause!
On September 11, 2001, my cousin, Gary, was working in lower Manhattan when our world changed. Reprinted here is his first-hand account from that day … 10 years ago.
Gary’s Scary But Lucky World Trade Center Story
My office was diagonally across the street and one building away from the World Trade Center.
The first boom was about 9 AM. People in the office wondered if it was thunder. But sheets of 8-by-11-inch paper filled the air outside my 16th-floor windows like a ticker tape parade. People on the sidewalks were looking toward the World Trade Center.
I took the elevator down. A coworker got off a different elevator car, looking disgusted and upset. Guys in the elevator going down said a plane had hit the WTC. On the street, I could see the whole 80th floor of Tower 1 was ablaze. I walked about a block closer. I saw at least five people jump or fall from the smoke between the 80th and 110th floors. I could not see where they were hitting. The low buildings of the WTC were in the way. I was hoping there was a net at the bottom.
I was leaving to go back to work when Tower 2 burst into flames at about the 80th floor. I was sure it was a bomb, but later heard it was caused by a smaller plane. I tried to get back into my building, but it had been closed already. I went back to a corner that seemed safe and moved back when the police moved us back half a block. The huge crowd saw at least two more people fall to the ground.
After twenty minutes, I heard another boom and saw huge amounts of debris and smoke coming my way. I looked for only three seconds. People all turned and ran. People tripped. Stampede. A woman falls in front of me. I tripped on her. I help her up. The ash cloud hits, and more frighteningly, it blocks out ALL the light. Darker than night, can’t see my hands. I wonder how long I will be able to breathe. Breathe slowly and not even coughing.
I feel and hear debris coming down. I crawl under a car. Wait thirty seconds… Sixty seconds… Still cannot see my feet. I walk away from the WTC. I can see my hands. Get to a building. I can see a light bulb over the door. Door locked. Next door open. Twenty people went in. Smoky/dusty but breathable. Went up one floor. Clean air but locked bathroom. Twenty people wanted to wash out their mouths. A janitor tries to open it but cannot find the key. A guy says his office is on the 8th floor. We should follow him up the stairs to his floor for the bathroom.
We climbed to the 6th floor. He was out of breath. He tried the door and it opened. Only three of us went in that door. I circled the core of the building looking for a men’s room. It was a brokerage firm with clean air. Abandoned desks, all in a row. Found a fully set dining room ready for an executive breakfast. I was not in the mood to eat. There was an unmarked bathroom next to it.
I washed out my mouth and eyes. I took off my shirt and shook it out. Too much dust in my clean bathroom. I took off my pants and shoes and socks and shook them out in the deserted hall. I work on my eyes and mouth and nose some more. Announcements are coming over the building PA system that everyone should leave the building. I could deny that I could hear the announcements. I redressed and went down.
The dust was again noticeable in the stairwell, but no worse than a site with heavy demolition. In the lobby, the security staff had paper masks and pointed to Nassau Street. I walked what I thought was north, but it was east, toward the East River. I am still not sure when the second tower collapsed even with the TV on behind me now.
The rest of the story was walking for a block in mildly dusty air, then crystal clear air, but walking on about an inch of dust. For many blocks, the phones were all in use. Finally, in Chinatown there was a free phone. I successfully changed my announcement at work and tried to change the one at home to announce to any callers that I was safe. People had already called, worried about me. Probably more who could not get through. Valerie?s cell phone was busy. Overloaded circuits.
I walked to 23rd Street with vast herds of people. No subways and no buses. And no phones. I offered a dollar for two quarters, and two people either gave me the quarters or gave me a whole dollar for it. At 23rd Street, I was able to change the home announcement.
At 38th Street, I crossed trails with one of the Information Systems guys who was in Manhattan today to install my new computer. I approached him with, “Hey, Israel, did you get my computer running?” He laughed, even though his car was probably crushed where it was parked. We parted at 42nd Street, where he was going to try to get a bus home.
I walked to 59th Street. Buses sometimes passed, stuffed to the gills with people trying to go home. I walked the rest of the way home through Central Park. When I got home, I heard that Valerie had gotten my message. I tried to return calls from worried relatives, but I could not get out. Since email is a local call, it worked. I also wrote to coworkers that I could send email out to relatives for them if they called me at home.
One guy wrote back that our White Plains office was acting as a clearinghouse. The office told me that Israel had already told them I was fine and that there were (and still are?) two people from my office unaccounted for, but since they do not know who to call, they may be fine. White Plains has contacted their homes.
That’s about it.
Next Blog Title: Profiles of Gumption – My Father, the Family House, and Another New Chapter
Next Blog Date: September 12, 2011