I commute in from the NJ shore on a daily basis - usually by train.
The night before I had stayed at my fiance’s and as a result was forced to take the bus in that day (due to the closest train being 45 min away). I wasn’t really happy about waking up an extra hour early and having to commute two hours in instead of my usual one hour.
I put my walkman on and went to sleep as soon as I sat down. I woke up about an hour and a half later to find that we were in a traffic backup on the way into the Lincoln Tunnel. I looked at my watch and realized that I was going to be late for work. I started to get annoyed w/ the whole public transportation process. I turned my radio to a different station and at that point we were approaching the Lincoln Tunnel. As we got closer to the tunnel, someone called in the radio station saying that the WTC had been hit.
The guys at the radio were dubious to say the least and started razzing the guy. Someone must have come into their control booth and they started yelling for someone to turn on a tv b/c they wanted to see it. As they were viewing the tv, they were commenting on how the plane just whipped around and hit it. People on the bus were quiet, some sleeping. I wanted to say something but felt that I couldn’t. It was at that moment in time we rounded the corner and the bus was on the loop that led into the Lincoln Tunnel. (For those of you who haven’t traveled this way, there is an almost u-turn like loop that goes to the tunnel. You have a beautiful panoramic view of the NYC skyline w/ the water - it is quite gorgeous and is often the highlight of my day).
As we approached the skyline, I saw the tower burning. People on the bus started yelling and crying. At that moment, the second plane hit. I still had the radio on and was listening to them as I watched. It was like a soundtrack of a movie and felt incredibly surreal.
We sped through the tunnel and somehow got to Port Authority. As I got into the Port Authority bus terminal, they were announcing that they were shutting it down. I hurried out into Times Square. I remember cell phones just going off, one after the other. There was constant ringing. Fire engines were racing down the street w/ sirens wailing. People who didn’t know were going about their usual business. It was strange to see people actually find out. They would answer their phone and their faces would just transform into terror, sadness, panic and then they would break out into a run or frantically try to hail a cab.
I arrived at work a few minutes later to see everyone milling around. Some were crying - our other office was located in that area and we couldn’t get in touch with them since phone lines were off and on. Some co-workers had spouses and family members that worked in the WTC buildings and they were desperately trying to get in touch with them.
My boss asked me what I was doing there and why didn’t I just go home? I told her I couldn’t, that I was stuck. Luckily our computers were up so I was able to e-mail family members and had at one point got through on the phone to my fiance to let him know I was ok.
I stayed at the office for about two hours and then found out that Penn Station was running trains again. A colleague and I went there in hopes of catching one. As we arrived, people were in large groups at the newsstands watching the tvs. It was then that the towers collapsed.
People started yelling and crying. Ten minutes after we arrived we were evacuated - they were shutting down train service til further notice. We went back on the street and there were just hundreds of people milling around on the streets & sidewalks. NYPD buses were racing downtown and there were no other vehicles really running anymore.
As we stopped to get a drink at a shop, someone came up to us and asked us where she could buy a guitar. We looked at her like she was out of her tree and then gave her directions to Sam Ash (?). Classic - only in NY, y’know?
We got back to the office and stayed there for about three more hours or so. People from our downtown office had walked up. They were covered in rubble and white dust and looked shell shocked. They told the story on how their building shook and the chaos of what was going on outside.
One of the guys, a real macho type, fell apart and tried to fight back tears as he told of what he saw. They left shortly thereafter to get home further uptown. Many people offered a place for me to bunk for the night since I didn’t know how I was ever going to get home. About 4 they decided to close our building down. I left to go to Penn Station on the rumor that there were trains running again - promising that I would call someone if I needed a place to stay. I just wanted to get home where I felt safe.
I walked down the street and there was no one there. No cars, no people. Just the sound of fighter jets flying overhead. It was really scary. Times Square was completely empty. I walked alone for 25 min or so to Penn Station and must have seen about 10 people. It was the weirdest, most bizarre thing. I felt as though this giant vacuum had come out and sucked up all the people and cars.
In Penn Station, however, it was packed. People were milling around, waiting impatiently. I found out that there was one train running to the place I usually took the train from. I waited an hour and ran to get on. The train was packed. People were on top of each other sitting, standing in the aisles, standing between compartments. It was hot and claustrophobic. They kept trying to close the doors but people kept sticking their arms in - in hopes of being pulled on. There was just no room.
We left the station and everyone was very quiet. We passed where the WTC had gone down and everyone looked out the window at it. Someone started to cry. I just remember hearing the sniffs and sobs as we passed. It was heartbreaking. I got home and my fiance was waiting for me at the train station. When I saw him, I hugged him and just started to cry.
The following Monday I took the train back in. It was strangely quiet. The train route I take stops in Newark so that people can transfer to get a PATH train to Manhattan (stops at WTC). Usually there are about 30+ people in my car alone jostling to get out when we stop - there have been times I have taken that route as well when I had a.m. meetings in the area. This time there was no one. It was really eerie.
When I got into NY, I remember the smell. It was strong and smelled like something rubber burning. It was uncomfortable to breathe in. I saw signs of people all over the place w/ telephone numbers attached if anyone should see them. It was heartbreaking. To this day, I have not been to Ground Zero - I don’t think I could handle it yet.