Everything wasn’t peachy keen on 09/11/01, but we were getting along pretty well. My kids were in middle school. My husband had his own business on the American Stock Exchange, next door to the World Trade Center. We had a house in a small town in New Jersey that I was coo-coo over. Setting aside the drugs and alcohol, domestic abuse, overspending and emotional problems we were like Ozzie Osborne & Harriet.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001, my husband, Stu Alpert, stepped out for a smoke at the Trinity Place door of the Amex where he was a floor broker. An impossibly loud noise made him jump, “What was that? A sonic boom?” Who would think a 747 airliner piloted by Muslim terrorists had hit the World Trade Center taking out the Windows on the World restaurant where he was supposed to go to breakfast?
The rain of burning debris sent people back into the building where Exchange Officials encouraged them to stay. Well, where would they go, with oily smoke and the raining debris and all.
Stu, as a floor official, was conducting a floor-by-floor sweep of the Amex when the first tower collapsed. The windows blew out and smoke, ash and burning crap flooded inside. Amex officials told everyone to evacuate, so they took off running with wet paper towels over their faces.
My daughter and I watched this on TV, and I remember thinking, “That’s it. He’s dead. No one can live through that. I’m a widow.”
At the Battery, tug boats volunteering to take people off Manhattan. As he climbed on the tugboat, the second tower went down, and a wall of smoke moved south towards them.
In Hoboken, New Jersey, he was in shock, and all he could think was, “I have to get to my car in Journal Square (in Jersey City) so I can get home.” Nevermind that his briefcase with cellphone, money and car keys were back at the Amex.
“How do I get to Jersey City?” he asked the Red Cross guy.
“Hold on, buddy. Sit down and relax” the guy said, handing him a blanket and wet towel.
“No, give these to someone who really needs them–just tell me how to get to Jersey City” he insisted.
An overcrowded bus in Hoboken took him to Journal Square in Jersey City. Journal Square was, understandably, closed. When cops told him he couldn’t get to his car he freaked out. “Don’t tell me I can’t get to my car! I’ve just been in a bombing!”
“Calm down, pal. We’ll get you in there,” cops told him. And they did. They took him right to his car when the uncomfortable reality hit that he had no car keys.
Highways were blockaded, so I couldn’t come get him. He got a bus to Newark Penn Station and a NJ Transit commuter train to Cranford, where we took him home, covered in white ash and a little wobbly. He cried later when we were alone. “It was Armageddon.”
Five of his buddies had managed to go to breakfast at Windows on the World. He attended their memorial services. A hundred other brokers, traders, customers and 50 restaurant staffers are gone. Only one of his friend’s bodies was identified. Six men from our small town are dead, including the father of one of my daughter’s friends. The next town over lost eight. Another, lost 11.
The Amex was closed for a month, which meant no business for Stu–which meant no income for him, his partner or their employees. Also none for the hot dog guy, the shoeshine guy, the sandwich shop or the newspaper guy. The Amex reopened eventually, but inevitably his business, like many others, died a slow lingering death.
Stu was never really the same after that.
“Bodies of 16 Bravest Found”
New York Daily News, 10/02/01, Michele McPhee and Corky Siemaszko
“A few blocks away from the wreckage, the American Stock Exchange’s 2,400 traders and clerks returned to their trading floor at 86 Trinity Place for the first time since the attacks.
Mixed Feelings Among Workers
Workers had to present identification at the police checkpoint at Trinity Place and Rector St. and pass through metal detectors at the building. Some had their bags inspected. Others were patted down by security guards.
“I’m scared to be here,” said 19-year-old Daniel Chipaio, a trader’s assistant from Bensonhurst. “If it was easy for [the terrorists] to do it the first time, why couldn’t they do it again?”
Elizabeth Fogerty of Manhattan, an Amex public relations worker, covered her face with her rabbit-fur shawl to avoid the pungent stench of burned metal and ash lingering in the air. “It can’t be good for you,” she said.
But as Gov. Pataki presided over the ringing of the opening bell, many employees said they were just happy to be back at work.
“A bell ringing is a good symbol that everything is beginning again,” said John Riccardi, 37, of Manalapan, N.J., who works in research. “I’m sure some people are nervous, but it’s nice to be back.”