I was a consultant, and in September 2001, I was assigned to a project in the Daley Center. One of my fellow consultants, Chuck, used to come very early and leave early. On September 11, when I walked in and sat at my desk, he turned to me and pointed to his screen: look, a plane crashed into a building!
From the picture, it was impossible to figure out the size of the airplane and the size of the building, and also, there was zero smoke. So I reacted like weird … I wonder why… and turned my computer on. At 9-15 AM, Cindy, a City employee who was our main point of contact, rushed into the room we sat. Her face was grey. She said: we want you guys to be out of the building immediately! We looked at her: what about our billable hours?! She said: we want you out! We do not know what it going to happen!
We all were commuting, and we looked at our watches and shrugged: we just missed the last morning train back; there will be no trains for another hour and a half. Nevertheless, we walked back to the station. The whole city was moving in the same direction, but we were still far from grasping the magnitude of events. Only when we came to the station, we realize how problematic our departure was going to be.
People were standing on all platforms. One of the newsrooms in the station had a giant screen on the wall; they were broadcasting one of the news programs. There, around 10-30 AM Chicago time, we saw the second tower collapsed. Everybody gasped; many started crying.
The trains started to arrive at the platforms. Later, one of the conductors told me that they all headed home after the last morning train pulled up to the city, but their management called them back, and they showed up again. There was no schedule. A train would pull in; people would get on board, and when the train was full, it would head out, and the next train would pull into the station.
Inside the train, people were standing, but nobody tried to squeeze in; there was no panic. I walked into the full train and leaned on the wall. The train started moving shortly after that. It stopped at each station, but most passengers were going to the suburbs. At one of the stations, a person asked from the platform: what’s going on? Aren’t there any trains to Chicago? You do not want to go to Chicago now! – somebody shouted.
The was one man with a prosthetic leg; I saw him in Palatine most of the mornings. He was telling something and pointing at me; I could not figure out what it was. I thought he was asking me to move and let him through to look for a seat, but he waved me off: no, I was just telling him to move! I told him I couldn’t see a pretty woman! I still think about this dialog as the best compliment I ever received :).
Somebody in our car had a transistor radio, and we listened to the news and learned about another plain – the one who didn’t reach the Pentagon. Nobody knew how many plains could still be in the air, and what could be other targets. We worked on the 27 floor of the Daley Center; that’s why we were ordered to go home.
I managed to call Boris. It was not easy back then; I had to key in a long sequence on my cell phone to connect to a discounted service.
In the evening, our director called all consultants and told us to stay home. He told us we would be paid for that day. The kids had school. I stayed at home, lying on the couch in front of the TV and crying. I could not bring myself to doing anything productive. I was staring at the debris, listening to the commentators, and lying there paralyzed with greave. For many days after, the most distinct feeling was this absence of joy in life. You tried so hard to be cheerful, go shopping, get ready for Halloween – and you could not. That part of your existence was missing.