Remembering 9/11

September 11,2011

On September 11, 2001, I was on the elliptical trainer at my gym in Teaneck, New Jersey, when my friend Michael noticed that the TVs mounted on the wall were showing smoke pouring out of the upper level of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. All conversation quickly turned to speculation about what we then thought was an accident caused by the pilot of a small plane. We proceeded with our workouts, but I was apprehensive. I had a conference call scheduled for 10:30 that morning about focus groups I was supposed to attend in Westchester County later in the day regarding a project I was working on. Among those who planned to be on the call were several folks at OppenhemierFunds, headquartered on the 34th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

I had flown home from Kalamazoo, Michigan, the day before after the completion of another terrific reunion of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, arriving at Newark Airport in late afternoon. Now I hurried back to my apartment, wondering if the call would be canceled. By the time I got home, the South Tower also had been hit and it was clear that these strikes were deliberate. My worries about the conference call were quickly replaced by concern for the wellbeing of my business associates at Oppenheimer.

Although I’d been to dinner at two restaurants at the top of the World Trade Center several times, it wasn’t till late August, 2001, that I’d ever visited any of the offices below. It was an awe-inspiring experience, starting with the unprecedented security check which involved presenting a photo I.D., having personal information typed into the onsite database, posing for a temporary World Trade Center I.D. card (see above), and waiting for confirmation from the offices I planned to visit. The process involved several security stations and took 10 to 15 minutes, which was quite unusual at a time when visitors entered most buildings in New York after merely signing a log book with their name and time of arrival. I felt like I was seeking access to a secret place, the Oz of American Business. When I finally took the ear-popping elevator to my associates’ offices, my impressions were confirmed. The deep-pile carpet and custom-made furniture was a far cry from the industrial floor coverings and metal cubicles that characterized the publishing offices in which I had worked.

I made two trips to the World Trade Center that August, and was just starting to get my bearings. Now I watched in horror as Oz crumbled. Through a series of frantic phone calls I learned that everyone at OppenheimerFunds exited the South Tower soon after the first plane hit the North Tower, escaping with hardly any physical injuries. It was an amazing piece of good news on an extraordinarily awful day. Our conference call was cancelled, obviously, and we postponed the focus groups for more than a month. The project went forward, quite successfully, but none of us was ever the same.