Watching my friend John’s Daily Vlog from yesterday got me thinking about this.
It was a Tuesday morning, just like any other before it. It’s not a day I talk about very much. It’s a day that I really gained an understanding of my own mortality, and how quickly and easily it could slip away, had circumstances been the tiniest bit different.
Back in 2001, I was working for a network equipment manufacturer, covering ISPs and Telcos. Sometimes, I did meetings direct with these carriers, trying to convince them to buy, other times, I’d do a ride-along to go with them to visit their customers, since after all, when their customers would buy, it meant my customer had to buy from me.
I had a meeting on my calendar already for Tuesday, September 11, 2001, but it was right near home in NJ. Late in the previous week, I got a call from one of my customers, who wanted me to come along to a meeting at a new account he was trying to crack. The meeting was to be at the customer’s offices, on the 90-something-th floor of 1WTC (that’s the “North Tower” for those who don’t know). His plan was for us to meet up around 9 up in the cafeteria off the 44th floor Sky Lobby, chat for a bit, then do a 10 am meeting, which would culminate in a ride back down to the ground, and then back up in the express elevator to 106, where we’d take the customer to Windows on the World for lunch. As much as I loved getting up to that place, I was already booked, so I turned down the meeting, and we’d agreed to reschedule.
Since my meeting was near home, and not until later in the morning, I took the opportunity to sleep in a bit, and take my time getting ready. Around 8:45 am, my phone rang. It was a guy I’d done some work with in the past, who knew I was a regular in the NYC area. He told me that he’d just seen the news, and asked if I’d seen anything. Not knowing what he was talking about, I flipped on the news, and of course, we were all confused, wondering what was going on. We hung up, and I kept on watching the news. As the details began to unfold, it slowly dawned on me that had I accepted that meeting, I’d either be in line at the 1WTC visitor desk, or 44 floors up in the building that American’s Flight 11 had just flown into. Had the meeting been an hour earlier, I’d have been right around where it impacted. Just as I’d come to this realization, United Flight 175 flew into 2WTC as I was watching the news live.
Instantly, we all flipped from confused and sad about an accident to the stark realization of what was going on. This was not an accident. Moments later, my phone started blowing up. Friends and family were calling me to see if I was alright. I was completely freaked out. I changed my VM message to say I was at home, not in the city and was fine. I shut my phone off for the better part of a day, and just stayed glued to the news. Then we all walked around in kind of a fog for days, maybe weeks.
Several of my co-workers were in the city that day, and happily, they all are fine. One guy was sitting in traffic on the Pulaski Skyway, headed for the Holland Tunnel, and saw the whole thing happen start to finish. A few were in the office we had on Broad Street. One was on the PATH train that turned around and left the WTC. It turned out that it was the last PATH out of town that day. The folks in the office described the sound of the buildings coming down as the loudest noises they’d ever heard, followed moments later by a cloud of dust, 25 stories tall rolling down Broad Street.
Eventually, services got restored, and people were allowed back into the city. I volunteered with the Red Cross one day, handing out water to people who were digging. I’m convinced I saw part of someone’s arm or leg. Pretty damn unsettling stuff. Years later, the PATH started to run downtown to the WTC site again. It still freaks me out a bit to come back through those tubes into the bottom of what used to be a thriving concourse with shops and people everywhere, and is now, 13 years later, still a huge construction site.
Occasionally, I ponder how different my life could have been had I taken that meeting. I may have never met my wife, gotten married, become a father, any number of things. Each day is a gift. We would all do well to remember that, myself included.