The Great Recession and the World Trade centre attacks reshaped our country and continue to dominate the way I see the world and our place in it. While I concentrate on the former events at Bankers-Anonymous, today I commemorate the latter on the 11thAnniversary of September 11 2001.
I transcribed my diary below from that day. I’ve annotated my diary entries with additional recollections of what I saw and felt.
Tomorrow I will post my wife’s diary of the same day.
September 11, 2001
“I hope never again in my life to be so close to mass tragedy and mass terror as I was today. I watched a silent television image of a burning hole in the side of one of the World Trade centre buildings, and then, while on the phone telling Jim that I was ok, I watched a second plane slam into the side of the second World Trade centre building, which exploded at the point of impact.”
Bond markets reacted instantaneously to the first attack, but it remained unclear to all of us on the trading floor whether the first tower fire was caused by a bomb, an errant small commuter plane, or something else. A bomb seemed the most likely scenario, since the Towers had been attacked previously. The clear blue sky day didn’t favour the commuter plane theory. But we just didn’t know.
Between the time of the first tower and second tower being struck, many of us on the trading floor of the 85 Broad Street Goldman building looked up at the sky to see a mixture of smoke and paper debris flying just over the top of our roof. Although we worked a number of blocks away from the World Trade centre, we were apparently directly downwind of the first burning tower. Staring upwards out of the window, one of my Emerging Markets derivatives traders remarked absently and ironically about all the written derivatives contracts that had literally flown out the window. At the time, about 8:55am, it didn’t seem overly callous – we just didn’t know that this was an attack, and we didn’t realise yet that this wasn’t something that could be joked about.
Also, Jim is my brother.
“Jim made me swear I would leave the building, which I did do, although the Goldman building is a 5-minute walk from the Twin Towers.”
In fact, “swear” in this sentence has a double-meaning, because as we were both watching CNN on the television from our respective offices, while talking on the phone together wondering about the cause of the initial hole in the first tower, we saw the second plane hit live, and all I could hear in my ear from Jim was a series of explosive F-bombs telling me to get away from Wall Street, that we were under attack, and “blankety blank blank blank get the blank out of there!”
“I walked to the closest subway, Wall Street, then was forced to Fulton Street, and finally caught an uptown 6 Train at City Hall.”
The second tower was struck at 9:03am, and I was out the door of 85 Broad Street by about 9:08am. Wall Street and Fulton subway stops had closed by the time I reached them at 9:15am, but the City Hall subway stop remained open. So I had a 10 minute, approximately 10 block walk North to City Hall.
Three or four of us boarded the subway at City Hall, tear-streaked and shell-shocked, only to greet Brooklyn-based commuters who had no idea what was going on above ground. They had gotten in the train 20-30 minutes earlier, but had no idea that in the course of their Brooklyn to Manhattan commute, the entire world had changed. We were the first ones to tell them New York was under attack.
Originally I took the subway to 54th Street to try to find my brother Jim, who had insisted, between F-bombs, that I should head to his midtown office. I know mine was among the last trains heading north. After I got to midtown and tried to re-board the subway just 10 minutes later, it no longer ran.
By the time I arrived at his office, Jim had left to join his wife and newborn daughter at his apartment on the Upper West Side. Some of his office mates – still in his office – greeted me as if I was a ghost back from the dead. My brother had left them with the mistaken impression – based on his concern at me being down on Wall Street – that I worked in one of the Towers.
“Fortunately I was in time before they shut down the train, which saved me from walking all the way uptown, although I needed to run from 54th Street to 104th Street, where I spent the rest of the day with Kim and Jim.”
Other recollections from the afternoon with Jim: I didn’t know the towers had collapsed until I made it to 104th Street, and his doorman told me, as he’d been watching it on TV. By mid-day on the Upper West Side, every store owner on Broadway had brought down those garage-door style metal curtains covered in graffiti, in effect battening down the hatches. It was unclear to us at that point whether the citizens of New York would respond in patriotic solidarity – as mostly happened – or whether rioting and looting might take over. Store owners weren’t taking any chances. In the late afternoon of 9/11, my brother and I ventured out from his apartment onto the deserted streets, to withdraw a chunk of cash from an ATM, in the event that we were about to enter a Mad Max-style futuristic dystopia. Anything seemed possible on that day, with the Pentagon under attack and an unknown number of passenger planes still unaccounted for. In one of the few moments of levity in the day – at least in retrospect – we carried tennis rackets with us to ward off looters. We strolled down the empty Upper West Side like Bizarro-world Williams sisters, alert and on the balls of our feet, ready for the apocalypse.
“The most horrific thing I witnessed was a falling body from near the top of the World Trade centre to the ground. I shudder when I think of the abject terror those falling people must have felt from 100 floors up.”
During my 10-minute walk North to the City Hall subway stop, I also remember the thousands of people on the street, in the blocks nearby the burning towers, just staring upwards in horror. The vertical steel stripes near the top of the towers glowed red. Smoke rose upward, while debris and the occasional human shape fell downward. Thousands of us, slack-jawed, tears streaming, hands clutching our mouth or our heart, leaning on the arm of the next person just to remain upright. I walked past thousands of us, watching this from the ground.
“I am very scared for Darren Schroeder, Michael Skarbinski, Guillaume Fonkenell and the few others at Pharo who worked on the 85th Floor of Building One.”
At the time I wrote their names, I was sure I was writing their epitaph in my diary. Pharo Management was a relatively new Emerging Markets hedge fund at the time, and I had visited their office on the 85th Floor of Tower One about two weeks earlier, and I had the image of the view from their office in my head at the time I wrote this diary entry. The next day after 9/11, I read on Bloomberg that not only had they survived, but that Pharo had an off-site backup contingency system for all their trade data and Fonkenell, the founder, had managed to get the word to his customers via Bloomberg about their survival.
“I pray to any God who is up there that they did not suffer.”
As an institutional bond salesman, I sat on the trading floor facing my bond traders, about 5 feet away, each of us separated by a row of computer monitors. Wall Street Bond traders all traded bonds with other Wall Street firms via inter-dealer brokers with the at-the-time obscure names of Cantor Fitzgerald, Tullett & Tokyo, and Prebon. For a small commission per trade, the inter-dealer brokers offered a measure of anonymity and liquidity between, say, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. My traders and the inter-dealer brokers didn’t use traditional phones between them, but rather a ‘hoot,’ an intercom system which allowed them to be in constant audio contact. Mostly these inter-dealer brokers worked in offices on the top floors of the World Trade centre Towers.
In the minutes between the first and second tower being struck, the traders in my group communicated to us one of the most awful scenes of suffering imaginable, from their counterparts at Cantor Fitzgerald and Tullett & Tokyo. The Cantor and Tullett guys from the first tower were trapped above where the first plane hit, and they realised there was fire blocking their elevator and stair exits. They reported to my traders that some of them were heading up to the roof, rather than down, in the vain hopes that they might be rescued from there. We received their pleas for help and for advice over the hoot on the trading floor, in real time. We now know none of these bond brokers survived.
“My closest friends and family seem to be safe right now, and I have no word on specific tragedies with people I know. I hope the guys at Pharo survived the horror.”
I spoke on the phone to Pharo’s Michael Skarbinski about 3 days after 9/11. He told me the first plane struck 2 floors above their office, smoke filled their entire floor, but they survived the impact. They started to head downstairs almost immediately. He reported it took them most of an hour to walk the whole way down, but they all made it out of the tower a few minutes before his tower collapsed.
“I have felt sick and weak all day and sad that Barbara has been at the hospital all day. All I want to do is hug her and appreciate our luck, up until now. I am sick with fears as well that this will spell the end of certain liberties and a carefree life that we have until now enjoyed.”
That afternoon’s post-apocalyptic walk with my brother on the Upper West Side had reminded me that if you just scratch the surface of a civilisation, there’s a bestial nature waiting to come out. I really felt writing this diary on the night of 9/11 that we might be on the verge of something new and awful in human experience.
“Baby Caroline may grow up in a different world.”
Caroline is my niece, born just 2 weeks before 9/11.
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