September 11: Rockaway, NJ

Editor’s note: After the September 11th attacks, I sent out a request in our eNewsletter. Here’s what it said:

"I haven’t been able to get away from the news for the past week, and I’m sure most of you feel the same way. Wherever you were, whatever you were doing, you’ll probably remember the specifics for a long time. But memories deteriorate.

While I often find myself begging (almost) for more contributions, this request is of a different nature. Please take a few minutes to reflect on the past week and write down your experiences. I want to know where you were, how you reacted, what you saw, what you didn’t see.

I want to know how this has affected people. I will try to find a way to share it with everyone; or no one, if you prefer."

What I received soon thereafter surprised me. I not only received more contributions than I expected, but I found myself coming to terms with things through the reactions of those who wrote back.

I encourage you to read each and every response, for they represent a fraction of what I received. Please remember that these are uncensored responses that might offend you. Read and digest. Perhaps it will help you too.

– Michael Browne, October 2001

By Bob Veit

Rockaway, NJ

I work(ed) on the 68th floor of One World Trade Center. That’s the North Tower. The first one hit, the last to fall. Guess that’s something to be proud of in its own perverse way. Me, I’m a creature of habit. For 15 years I’ve gone for coffee at 9:30 am. Never missed my coffee never varied my time. Makes me seem pretty anal when you think about it.

Besides being anal, I hate meetings. I hate meetings almost as much as I love coffee. On September 11, I had a meeting scheduled for 9 am with a woman who likes to talk. (Really likes to talk!) I figured there was no way I’d get coffee by the time she finished so I went for coffee at 8:30 am. Never did that before, haven’t done it since.

Down the elevator, out to the street. Not only do I have coffee at 9:30 everyday, I always buy my coffee from Ali the Afghan on Church Street. (Ali came to New York to avoid the war in Afghanistan.) No reason to change that on the 11th.

I got my coffee and headed back to my office. I spot a dime. Did I mention that I always pick up coins? I do. I’m cheap and anal. I heard a noise and looked up. An American Airlines 767 was in trouble. Wow, it was going to be close to my building. "Holy Shit!" It hit my building.

I was working in public affairs for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that day. My comment was recorded by a tourist’s camcorder. "Holy Shit!" has been repeated worldwide many times since September 11. It was not the first official statement by a Port Authority employee but it was the most accurate.
I ran. I told others to run. Survivors run, victims stare. I did not spill my coffee.
I reached a pay phone, drank my coffee, and called my mother collect so she could tell everyone I was all right. My wife’s phone number was in my office. I was not going back to my office to get it.

My mother answered the phone. She would not accept the charges. Thanks mom.
I called again and this time I got through.
What could I do? I took the train home. After I walked from the station to my wife’s office. (My car keys were in my office that had ceased to exist by then) She drove me to my car and lent me her spare set of keys. Me, I made one stop. I stopped at my local bike shop and made sure they did not cancel the order I had for new tires.

I eventually got my new tires. I hope Ali still has his coffee stand somewhere in New York City.


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