That day — part 3

Not long after, the radio announced the inevitable: The North Tower had collapsed, too. Along the way, other World Trade Center buildings were also destroyed.

We couldn’t imagine hardly anyone getting out. The opinions of the technical types were that a minimum of 10,000 had died.

I finally got through to home by cell.

I walked downstairs to turn left on 53rd Street. The City seemed, still, more or less the same. Maybe quieter.

But when I hit Madison Avenue to the east, I saw the most extraordinary thing.

First, the sky, looking south, had, I believed, already darkened significantly. But that was not what struck me.

Walking uptown, i.e., north, all the way to 53rd Street and past, was a procession of New Yorkers — men holding their suit coats over their shoulders, everyone on foot, walking north — everyone was walking north, away from the smoldering disaster that was downtown. They were just walking north; to where, it was not clear. But they were walking away from the destruction, like a midday, impromptu, white-collar parade of the dumbstruck. I went back upstairs.

Back in the office, we were all discussing our “escape from New York” strategies. I knew there were no hotel rooms; the Princeton Club was also sold out by the time I called, rare enough indeed.

One of the senior partners, who lived in New Jersey also, had already left, trying his luck at getting out by heading north, instead of west. (The idea was just to get off Manhattan Island onto the mainland.) It was urgent: His wife’s brother had been on the top floor, and was talking to his own wife about what was going on and the phone went dead.

The last thing he said was, “It’s getting really hot here.”

From home, I learned that they had gathered the family information for all the children in our religious school comprised of about a thousand families at the time and, amazingly, managed to confirm that there were no parents unaccounted for in what was clearly now a slaughter. This was some relief in terms of dealing with our children and their friends and, of course, our own neighbors and friends.

I went into the conference room. Most of the partners, and a few senior client representatives who happened to be in our office that day, were sitting around the table. We sat there and mostly stared into the silence.

The pain was unbelievable. The humiliation; the anger. My city, destroyed. The Towers I had watched rising through my childhood, ashes.

But for now, I had to figure out how I was going to get home.

Part four here.

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Attorney Ronald D. Coleman