Laurelmountainboro's Weblog

November 3, 2007

LMB RESIDENT’S SEPT. 11, 2001 STORY: Part 2 of 2

Filed under: STORIES/FEATURE — laurelmountainboro @ 3:27 am
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LMB resident John was working in one of the twin towers in New York City the morning of September 11, 2001. His story will be posted in the LMBoroLMPark Newsletter in four parts. To read Parts 1 or 2, click on STORIES/FEATURE, LMB RESIDENT SHARES HIS SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 EXPERIENCE Part 1 of 4, or Part 2 of 4.
To view photo illustrations taken by John, click on:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/lmborolmpark
http://www.flickr.com/photos/beaneryonlineliterarymagazineHe then blanked out on the scene, losing all memory from the time of the image until he exited the South Tower, a time lasting for about two minutes. He doesn’t recall if people were panicked. “I don’t remember people being around me during that two minute period while still in building.”

He explained that people were directed to go up the escalator to Building Five, where he would exit. It was on the northeast corner of complex and lead onto Church Street.
Once on Church Street “I remember the policewoman and being told keep going, don’t look back. As I went up a block to Broadway, I remember seeing one guy in particular, a guy in suit, laying in street with his arms stretched out and a briefcase nearby. Blood was coming out of his head. He must have been standing there looking up at the North Tower (and hit by debris).” John thinks one of the plane engines was found about a block up the street.

John turned off Church Street onto a short street that would take him to Broadway.

“The first time I stopped to look back at it, looking up I saw the impact of the big hole where the plane hit the North Building,” he said. “There was black smoke going up building. I don’t recall seeing people jumping, but I remember standing there and thinking ‘How on earth are they going to begin dealing with that?’ I was wondering if the buildings were going to stay up. It was huge. The TV images give you the idea but being there was bad.

“It also occurred to me that this is more likely war, and rightly so.”

John’s car was on the other side of the complex, but it didn’t matter. He’d already heard tunnels were shut down and determined “I wouldn’t get out of Manhattan.” He started walking uptown where he knew people and would find a place if he needed a place to crash.

“It was a beautiful day. I walked up the east side under the Brookline Bridge and kept going north.”

John was probably on 42nd Street when the North Tower fell. He tried to stay away from Grand Central Station. The streets were packed with people trying to get home—he’d never saw it before like that at midtown.

“I stopped in a bar/restaurant on N. 70th St. to make some phone calls. I’d walked a good five miles in impractical shoes.”

He was somewhere in the east village when the South Tower fell.

“I didn’t see either of the buildings fall,” he said. “I was a good mile away. What I heard, the only thing I heard, was a lot of people screaming—perhaps people who could see—plus lots of noise, sirens. If I’d thought it would happen I would have listened, being a sound man.”

He had wondered about the plane hitting the building on this beautiful clear day. For someone to do this accidentally, it could be a pilot having a heart attack and losing control. “I thought maybe a private jet, I think everyone was hoping it was an accident, but the suspicions were pretty high that it was terrorism,” he said. “I don’t think anyone was expecting a second plane though. It was quite a surprise.”

He saw the tragedy for the first time on the news when he walked into a Spanish store to purchase a drink.

“Morgan Stanley lost only 12 of its 3500 employees,” John said. The only fatality he knew, only from visiting Morgan Stanley, was the security guard on 44th floor, who had apparently stayed behind. “I have his name written down so I won’t forget it.”

He thought of other attacks. A lot of the people in the Towers would have been experienced the North Tower was hit in 1993.

John believes that if he’d been on the 44th floor when the plane hit the South Tower he still would have made it out successfully.

He managed to call his girl friend a little after 10 a.m.. She asked how he got out, and she contacted his family. “For an hour she and my family thought I might not have made it out of the South Tower,” he said.

After that he succeeded in calling to a video rental house in Bethlehem, PA., and learned they had a crew working a shoot at the New York Hilton on W. 53rd St. “I walked there.”

One of things he found fascinating while walking up the street was that all the businesses had their doors open so people could watch their televisions. People had their cars pulled to curb, with their doors open and their radios on, so people could listen. “The whole city of New York was something,” John said. “You hear the jets going over, but at that point it was something else. I remember hearing about other planes, and at one point I remember hearing something was coming up the Potomac, and the Pentagon.

“I was getting little bits of information and wondering when it was going to stop, and what the great finale would be—a great flash of light?”

He arrived to the Hilton about 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. and he went out to eat with the crew.
They had a room, so John thought he could stay there, assuming they couldn’t get out that night.

“But one guy managed to get his car, and we could drive over the George Washington Bridge. We left New York City at midnight in his van. I arrived home in Allentown at 2 a.m.”
Just trying to process the experience was difficult for John. It is still ongoing.

Although John was in the South Tower when it was hit by the airplane, he “walked away without even a flake of dust on my black shirt. And you know there was more death there than there was at Pearl Harbor.”

He said the first few days after September 11 he was supercharged, like an adrenalin rush. He awoke at 7 a.m. the next morning, and each day for at least a month the event was “right in face from arising to bedtime, and you had to look through it to do your daily work.”

“I know for at least another month my jaw would ache from clenching teeth at night,” John said. “That slowly went away. I also had a sensitivity to percussive sounds. I remember I was driving to Johnstown on that first day, thinking folks would like to see me, and I got a message from a friend of mine who had witnessed the Merrill Lynch bombing. He said you just feel kind of bad about getting out. It’s that survivors guilt.”

Being a survivor hard, according to John. “All the theories—like the theory that the Trade Center was an inside job— all these theories make me mad.”

He said a he almost feels funny talking about it, but talking was “my defense mechanism.”

“The first few months I probably told the story to all who would listen,” he said. “Yet what happened to me was comparatively nothing.”

He said that you think you know how you will react to something if it happens, how you will deal with it, how it will affect you, but somehow it comes out differently, and you don’t know how to deal with it.

In the last two years he hasn’t told his story very often.

“When I do talk about it, and I pretty much have it memorized —I told the story about two weeks ago—but after I do talk about it I’m really tired. It’s not a good tired. It’s a drain. I’m still trying to convince myself its real.”

He wonders how his experience could be real in light of the fact that his black shirt didn’t have a speck of dust on it.

“My initial reaction to this thing, and for the next few years, was that I am not going to let these people change the way I do my thing.”

Three weeks later he accepted a twelve-day job in Seattle, “a long job for me. I wasn’t too keen about being away for twelve days, but I was doing it for spite. I flew in a 767.”

He said he slept on that flight, and “I generally don’t sleep on flights.”

While he was in Seattle he managed to contact the parking garage in New York and learned he could pick up his car. When he arrived home from Seattle he took a bus to New York City, carrying a portable battery charger and a magnetic American flag to put on his car door. A cab took him as close to the garage as it could. John paused to take some photographs before heading to the garage.

(to view them, click on www.flickr.com/photos/lmborolmpark and http://www.flickr.com/photos/beaneryonlineliterarymagazine )

Forty days after the event, October 19, John finally picked up his vehicle, a blue Cherokee. It had been parked there 40 some days, and he “didn’t care,” he said, commenting that he was “glad they didn’t charge me for the 40 days” and that he had another vehicle.

John had to go towards the parking garage from the south side to get to the entrance. When he arrived a bunch of guys were sitting at a table.

“I had to be escorted to the car, and show identification to make sure I was getting the right car,” John said. The car battery was dead and the charger he’d taken wasn’t quite powerful enough to turn the engine over.

While waiting to have someone jump the battery the guys warned him not to use the air conditioner, fan or do anything else to circulate the air, lest the car was contaminated with asbestos. He advised John to call his insurance company when he arrived home.

He finally got the battery jumped and drove out onto street, after sticking his magnetic flag on his Cherokee.

“There was no way I was going to drive out of there without a flag on my car,” he stated.

There was dust all over the car, on the dashboard, everywhere. When he arrived home he called his insurance company. They said he had to prove it was asbestos.

“They were not helpful,” John said. “I didn’t care. I was alive. What’s the difference?”

He took it to a place that could do an asbestos test, and they did air and dust samples. The dust was composed of all synthetics, with no asbestos.

Six years later his car occasionally has an odor that smells like the odor of metal being cut. This is especially true if the car sits for a few days or there is damp weather.

Twenty-five years previously he and his brother, in a discussion of where they would like to live, agreed that their favorite was the western slope of Laurel Hill (Laurel Mountain).

Two years ago John moved to Laurel Mountain Borough in Pennsylvania, near his Johnstown home. “When I decided to move to Ligonier, and said it, I was in Beijing,” John said. “It was before 911 I was getting saturated with work, even though I had a great business with travel and money.”

I want to thank John for sharing his story on the Laurel Mountain Borough Newsletter —Carolyn

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