An Un-Ordinary Day - Sept. 11, 2001
by Anthony Buccino
Along the Hudson River In Jersey City, N.J.
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My office is directly across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center, about one mile due west. It's likely that when you were watching the fires burn on that awful day, if the camera angle had buildings under construction in the foreground (this side of the river) that camera was on our roof, one floor above us.
The newsroom monitor from that camera showed the ships and sailboats in New York Harbor.
That day, I was sitting at my desk when people began rushing to the opposite end of our floor, about one hundred yards east of where I sat, and looking at the building on fire.
We all thought it was a terrible accident. I hesitated, but then decided to record it and went downstairs to buy a throw-away camera. While I was in line at the CVS, someone came in and said a second plane had crashed. I picked up two more cameras.
When I got upstairs, the newsroom was buzzing, and everybody was looking out the window, then sitting back down to go to work.
When the first building fell, we were told to get out. It was shouted across the newsroom, above the din of TVs blaring and workers saying What's Going On? to each other.
My colleague Sharon opened the door and set the alarm buzzing. I was right behind her, keeping an even spacing. We rushed down eight flights of stairs not sure if we were just cutting class or it was the end of the world.
Once we got outside, we had no where to go. We crossed the driveway and stood around in the parking lot. Some people who drove in were getting in their cars and peeling out.
Otherwise, all the traffic had stopped. It was like a Twilight Zone episode. Everybody was standing around like a picnic without any food. We tried to remain calm, but who knew what to do?
The few people who drove in were heading home. After the parking lot cleared up, the only cars you saw were cop cars. They were racing up and down the avenue but it was hard to tell what they were actually doing.
I was standing in our building's driveway watching the second tower burn when it fell.
I ended up wandering around Jersey City from about 10-ish until I caught a bus out at sometime after 2 in the afternoon.
Before I got on the bus to get home, the only aircraft we saw in the sky were our fighter jets.
Meanwhile, I saw them, the rescue workers from every which way they could get into the city, setting up the triage next to my building, where the ferry docks and the folks were coming over across the water from the WTC in any boat they could get aboard.
When things go wrong, like I'm laid off twice in the same year, or stuff like that, I try to look on the positive side. It's not always easy and it's not always quick. But things have a way of working out to someone's plan.
It's just that we don't usually know what the plan is. It all comes down to You Are Where You Are and That's Why. Case closed.
Sure, it was tough getting laid off twice in the same year... but it led me to apply for a job (and get it) that had I been working, I would never have tried for.
That job was here in Harborside across the river from Ground Zero. And having started in Sept. 99, I had time to get accustomed to the area. And spent nearly two years observing the view. And without knowing it or planning it, I recorded a time that will not be again.
Amid colleagues and strangers, I stood in our Harborside driveway watching the second tower burning when it came down.
My company didn't lose any of our employees, even though our Wall St. Journal offices are (were) directly across the street. (A month ago, I worked there for two days.) But we did have staffers who saw the people jumping from the building.
We stood at the eighth floor window watching the fire. We were speculating that it was an accident. I went down to the first floor to get a disposable camera (I bought 3). By the time I got through the line of people buying cigarettes and disposable cameras, and paid for mine, people were talking about the second plane.
I went out to Van Gundy Park - it's a pier that juts out into the Hudson
River and had as undisturbed view of the WTC. I shot a few pictures over
the crowd. Cops were saying to leave the area. People were just staring
across the river. The pier park was closed off.
I was sitting trying to do some work when a colleague, Paul (of Jersey
City) - started yelling Oh My God, Oh My God. That was when the first
building folded up. About a minute or so later, someone said get out. So
we shot down the fire exit to the street level.
I headed back to the rear of Harborside and was talking with a colleague named Ed (of Jersey City). We were watching the second tower burn when it dropped before our eyes. I took a picture or two.
Then I headed back to the Avalon pier. Then I headed to Pavonia station to see if the PATH was running. It wasn't. Neither was Starbucks open, nor any of the stores open either.
People sat along the dock there and stared across the river. If it wasn't for the horror, you'd think it was lunch time.
I headed back to Harborside when a woman asked me where the Avalon shelter is. I guess that they had opened up their gym/meeting room facilities and pointed her in that direction. I followed behind to see if I was right. I was.
The building people at Avalon Cove (the low buildings) opened up their facilities to the shell-shocked, and the soot-faced stragglers from across the river. I had been wandering around about two or more hours. They had Hawaiian Punch, iced tea, coffee and cookies. And a place to sit. And bathrooms.
I rested a while (I later found I was sunburned). Then headed down
toward Liberty State Park. At Harborside I saw them setting up triage
where the ferry comes in.
I headed back and walked along the street (I don't know which one, but
it ran parallel to the river - not the Goldman - Sachs building street,
then next one up) Finally there was an officer who said NJ Transit was
running buses to Newark Penn Station, or Hoboken. I hopped on one, it
took over an hour to get there. I hopped on the subway to the 74
Paterson bus and home. I got home about 3 p.m.
At home I got to Centre Deli. I ordered a bologna sandwich. Ronnie, the owner says, ''Somebody's got to pay, Ant. Somebody's got to pay for this.''
He wasn't talking about the sandwich.
This company has provided individual and group sessions with a therapist. I found them useful. We see it everyday. Even now it still smolders. We smell it in the air, the smell of death. Everything we do in our disrupted, realigned commute reminds us of the tragedy.
I dream of it when I sleep. I wake up hoping it was all a dream. But it wasn't. Even though nothing matters, we try to get back into our work routine. The certainty of the work routine brings back some surety. But we (I know I) can be short and testy.
I'm wondering when, or if, this knot in my chest will ever go away.
Unlike others, when I saw the fighter jets flying overhead last Tuesday, I felt comforted. Others thought they were attacking, about to finish the job.
Standing around outside after we were evacuated, I wasn't scared. But later someone pointed out that if the hijacked planes approached from east or west rather than north and south, they could have missed and we would have been the toast.
For instance, I can't look out our 8th floor window at the seagulls and wonder if someday I'll be standing here watching these dopey birds when the plane comes in.
So, there's still a lot going through my mind.
These notes were written shortly after the event at the urging of Al Sullivan a fellow New Jersey writer.
NJ Voices: A small part of a large story
New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards. The Pushcart Prize-nominated writer has been called ' “New Jersey’s ‘Garrison Keillor” or something to that effect.’
Copyright © 1995-2016 By Anthony Buccino.
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