Tuesday, July 10, 2007

September 11, 2001, Part 2, The Sheraton Prison

It was a nice prison. As you walk in the check-in counter is to your right. On your left there is a big lobby that doubles as a late afternoon cocktail lounge. Towards the back is the Cafe. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. The room is two stories high with lots of windows and skylights. None faced East.

I went up to my room on the second floor. The interior wall fronted on the two story lobby area, facing South.

Being that I’m efficient under stress, I tried to call the office of the architect that I was deposing. Long story short. Cell phone service for Manhattan and that part of New Jersey went through an antenna on top of one of the towers. No service. I tried to call through the hotel phone. No long distance. Don’t know why; but, no calls beyond the local area would go through.

I watched CNN for a while in the room while I was pacing. It wasn’t a big room. It wasn’t big enough for my thoughts.

I walked down to the lobby and sat in the cocktail lounge. They had a couple of big screen TV’s. Not the flat screens we have now. The big ass, deep sets that were the height of technology then.

I watched some more CNN. There were four of five guys in suits sitting around the room. No one was talking to anyone else. No one was really quite watching the TV’s, but everyone was listening.

I went back to the room and tried to call my office. No dice.

I wandered the hallway. I couldn’t sit still. As you left the room and took a right, at the end of the hall there was a floor to ceiling window. It faced East, to Lower Manhattan. You couldn’t see the skyline, just plumes of smoke. I’d look at it and go back in the room. Go back to the window and back to the room.

I walked outside thinking that maybe I could see more. Just a fuller version of the plumes of smoke. I could see more on the TV screen, but I didn’t want to watch it.

The hotel was eerily normal. I went back down to the lobby now the cocktail lounge and ordered a beer. The bartender was a Jersey/Bronx kind of guy. Brusquely friendly.

Back to the room. Tried the cell phone and it worked. The first message was from Charlie, a friend with whom I now practice law. “Dave, don’t get on the plane! Call me.” A bit late but welcomed. Next message was from Charlie. “Why aren’t you answering? Watch the TV.” Charlie knew I was going to New York, but didn’t know what time. He was calling as I was leaving the airport.

I had a couple of other messages in the same vein. I dialed my office and the office manager answered. “Where are you?” She knew that I was going to New York that day but didn’t know what the schedule was. I explained the logistics and what was happening. Our managing partner had decided to send the staff home that morning. Some of the lawyers were still there with the manager.

We talked a bit and she gave me my messages. One was from “Susie” your bartender at the” unnamed establishment.” “Are you OK?” I wasn’t too thrilled that the firm’s office manager knew that I knew a bartender well enough that I would get a call asking about my well being.

About this time, the battery on the cell phone was close to dying and I hadn’t brought the charger. Since I was on a “day trip” I’d not brought my laptop. The hotel phone still was not working.

I went downstairs and arranged a trip to go get the most expensive charger in the world. Cabs at this point weren’t running. The hotel had a private service limo. To go to Radio Shack and get a charger, without the cost of the charger, was $40. Radio Shack was about two miles away. I didn’t tip the driver as well as I had tipped the cabbie earlier in the day.

By this point in the day, I was a bit less numb and started thinking about what I needed to do. It was obvious that the deposition wasn’t happening. (I reached the lawyer on the other side and the architect some time that week and everyone agreed that we would revisit scheduling at a later date.)

I was supposed to be in Louisville on Friday morning for a hearing in U.S. District Court. I tried to call the opposing lawyer, but the phones, land and cell were out again.

The TV was saying that the airlines were shut down until further notice. Had I been smarter I would have addressed the transportation issue a bit sooner. Since I had local phone service, I could try to get a reservation on Amtrak. They were perfectly willing to give me one. On Monday, September 17. I made the reservation. I then called every car rental company within greater NYC/Newark. There were no cars available. I didn’t call Greyhound.

Delta, my ride North, put me on the list for the first flight South, whenever that might turnout to be.

I’d done what I could for business and rides for the day. I ate a totally forgotten meal in the Cafe and fell asleep with the TV showing the same tape I’d seen all day on CNN.

Part 3, Other Orphans, coming soon to a computer near you.


ThomasLB said...

One personal story from someone I know has a greater impact than a hundred anonymous news stories. I'm glad you're posting this.

fermicat said...

This is a good narrative so far, dave. Thanks for these posts. I was stranded far from home after 9/11 because of the airports being closed, but I was in Santa Barbara. It was supposed to be a two-day business trip. It was weird being away from home during such a crisis, but my location felt comfortingly safe. I can't imagine being stranded in NYC during that time period.

Posolxstvo said...

A client (not my account) had set their site launch date for 9/11/2001. As events unfolded before us that morning, we got a call asking us why the site wasn't launched yet. (!?)

We launched them. But they are not a client of ours any longer.

Thanks for the story, Dave. If you are interested, another interesting read on the events of that day. And in case you are wondering, yes I do know the person who wrote the story.

Dave said...

Hey Girl and Guys,

Thanks for the comments. Thomas and Fermi, I recommend Pos's referral to you. His friend had a more difficult experience than I did.

Part of my next post, or the one after that, I haven't decided will relate the experience of my Sheraton friend from Texas on the morning of.

dr sardonicus said...

This is a great story so far. Thanks for writing it.

On 9/11, I came home from work and had just gone off to sleep when my wife woke me up with "You've gotta see this!" I groggily stumbled into the living room in time to see the footage of the tower collapsing. When I woke up that afternoon, I thought I had had a dream about the World Trade Center exploding. I went back in the living room to find that it had been no dream.

Posolxstvo said...

Dave -- Are we ever going to see part three?

Dave said...

I think of it occasionally. My current "plan" is to do it and part four around the anniversary.

Anonymous said...

hey, nice blog!