The following post has been kindly contributed by Mike Loschiavo, a talented and insightful writer who will be covering more recent topics for Windows into History, with a particular focus on early film, television and sci-fi. However, his first article is written from personal experience…
When I was a child, my parents told me I started watching Star Trek at the age of 3. I was a Trekkie from a young age. I was also a techie, no doubt as a result of my experiences with Kirk and Spock. The Star Trek Technical Manual fell into my hands at a young age and I became interested in computers and technology, grabbing tech manuals from all over thinking I was somehow an engineer now. On occasion, I was complimented by medical professionals saying they appreciated that they didn’t have to “talk down” to me. But these were early times for me.
By high school, Trek grew to other Science Fiction but one day my best friend and I realized it was less about the tech and more about the people. By early college, my interest in this grew into the study of philosophy. Philosophy has become so accessible nowadays allowing everyone to get involved whether a fan of Dr. Seuss, Dr. Who, Dr. Watson or even Dr. Doom.* What occurred to me then was that my love of Trek and all the good science fiction was not contingent upon either science or fiction, but good characters. Characters allow us to see ourselves through whatever lens we choose without damning our own selves too much! They are mirrors for us to learn more about ourselves, about life.
How does this apply to History? Good question! History was that annoying subject that I loathed having to take as a student. Why did we have to learn about things that were in the past? The truth that those youthfully ignorant years concealed from me has become clear now: history is as much about the human experience as seen through the eyes of our growing technology as it is about understanding where we came from.
Roger has invited me to write something historical. If I am asked back, I will write more in the vein of this site, but I was hoping to share a historical event to tie in with Father’s Day, which is rapidly approaching.
On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, I went to work like any other day to the Merrill Lynch office at 2 World Financial Center, NYC. I bought myself a chocolate chocolate-chip muffin and a Snapple and went to my desk to request some time off. I had been dating a woman then who had a number of ailments that needed close attention and was wondering if I could request a leave of absence. Before I finished with the e-mail, I was asked to go to the 38th floor to help a VP with an issue. I had not even started my breakfast yet!
While sitting in his office, I called my then-girlfriend to continue our debate, when the loudspeaker came on (a hitherto unknown device within our building). There was some sort of accident in the “other tower” and we should remain calm and at our desks. I disentangled myself from both the call and the email issue as quickly as I could to gather more information when the VPs admin came in, manically wringing her hands and saying something to the effect that “a plane crashed into the building”. I immediately thought this was some smaller, personal plane, a Cesna perhaps? Still, in shock and confusion, I went to the window to understand what she was talking about.
Upon seeing the horror unfold, I calmly walked to a desk phone, as this was just at the advent of cell phone usage, I had no such device and relied upon a desk phone to make calls. Work provided a pager, but that was little good in communicating outward, merely receiving incoming messages. I called my dad knowing he was an early riser and would probably be watching the news drinking his morning coffee. “Hi dad, just so you know in case you see it on the news, there was some accident in one of the twin towers. Don’t worry, I’m in the other tower!”
Let me take a moment to clarify something. Our complex was a series of several buildings, the two most notable being the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. There were 2 other buildings which still stand today that were part of that massive complex. One has a domed top, the other pyramid shaped. At this point, I forget which was mine, the dome or the pyramid, but it little mattered… I told my dad “the other tower”. For the record, my tower ended up closing for some time due to significant structural damage.
I hung up and walked back to the window. While looking up, someone screamed to my left. I turned to witness the next travesty of my morning. A plane, seemingly at eye level, and certainly no small Cesna came barreling into the building directly across from us. An enormous explosion blasted out, our windows and entire building shook. Without reporting to my compatriots on the 24th floor, I went straight for the elevator. As I hit the button, I recognized my folly and turned instead for the stairs. To my amazement, few had gotten there yet, so I proceeded to run down a few steps then jump the rest trying to get to the bottom as fast as I could. But each of the 38 floors had 2 banks of steps. I made it down about ½ way when I could do that no longer as people began crowding the stairs.
My once beloved technology did nothing for my sense of safety. My pager went off – a friend in Princeton who had the news on saw the second plane hit and heard the then-popular AOL Instant Messenger door slamming sound effect to see my name go offline when the second plane hit. His text: “Please tell me you’re ok”. Not only could I not tell him, I couldn’t tell my family. Worse still: I didn’t know if I’d ever tell them.
Time is weird. Somehow I was down and leaving the building where a police officer tried to mill us to one area. I often wonder about those people who listened. I did not. I, instead, started walking to the ferry terminal to get to Staten Island, my then-home.
The nightmare wasn’t over yet. With people occupying all the pay phones, I still couldn’t call my family. I arrived at the ferry and found a guy I worked with, Frank. He and I went and stood by the doors marked “NEXT FERRY” where we discussed what was going on and what it meant for everyone when seemingly the entirety of Manhattan screamed and was engulfed in darkness. The sheer mass of people that came running for the doors we were standing in front of was terrifying. We both ducked and protected our heads for what was sure to be a trampling. After seconds of NOT being crushed, I looked up. It was like a living serpent made of hundreds of people all moving to the opposite doors that thankfully opened while Frank and I crouched down. We stood and joined the throng.
As we walked on the ferry, thankfully unscathed, they handed out life preservers. It was “snowing” and there was a brown cloud surrounding us. We learned that this snow was debris and the cloud was the dust from the first building collapsing. We had entered the realm of any of dozens of science fiction movies about post apocalypse NYC; this couldn’t be reality! As the ferry left, the windows were opaque. When we cleared that cloud though, the whole ferry applauded and cheered. We had made it.
We arrived in Staten Island. Again all pay phones we came to were occupied. Frank and I decided to walk until we got home which would probably be about 7-10 miles, but on foot it might have just seemed that long. Upon arrival, I ran into another friend who did have a cell phone. We tried to use it, but the lines were all occupied. So on we walked, our other friend going his own way. At a certain point, Frank and I met another woman who walked with us though I don’t recall her name. The three of us walked up Victory Blvd, a huge road that ran most of the length of Staten Island. Eventually, we saw a disused garage that had a payphone in the back of it. I went and called my dad. It had been at least 2, possibly 3 hours since we last spoke.
He sounded good and surprisingly unruffled knowing that I left off that I was not in the first tower but sensed that I was ok. God bless my father! I told him where I was and that I had 2 companions in tow so we’d have to get them home as well. He said to stay there and he’d come get us. The three of us walked a few more blocks though because from the crest where Victory Blvd meets Forest Avenue, the skyline of NYC can be seen gloriously. If I had a phone, I would have the ability to show you the smoking debris that was once a stunning view. No movie has quite depicted it correctly!
As we looked back in amazement, my dad and sister pulled up and before he even stopped the car, I noticed something that makes this writing very difficult: my dad had tears in his eyes.
We got Frank and the woman home safely then returned home to call friends and family waiting for news. For the next few days, walking was painful; I walked like someone who didn’t have knees. I think this was from the jumping down so many flights of stairs. Our technology was not that outdated; this was less than 20 years ago. We had “communicators” but they weren’t as prevalent as they are today. Our “shuttlecraft” were slow and their windows could be blocked by dust! But when it came down to it, it wasn’t the technology that saved my day, it was a man. It was, and always will be, about the character of a man (or woman) that makes the difference whether now, in our past and in our future it will continue to be so. My dad came to save me not in a police box or a starship or on horseback, he came in a car, but by God, no truer hero ever existed in my book. He brought me home!**
Last Father’s Day, I gave my dad a card with a band-aid in it because he was helping us working in our basement and cut himself. We went to visit him on vacation down at the New Jersey shore. The following week, 2 weeks early, we celebrated my birthday, since Michele (my better half) was traveling on my actual birthday. We drove back to that shore house where my parents and sisters family were staying and had a delicious meal. Then we went down to the boardwalk and played with my nephew going on rides with my own two lads. We were all together.
Wednesday, three days later, my dad collapsed while sitting outside waiting to go to the planetarium with the family. He never recovered. On Saturday the 28th, he passed away. Even then, he pulled off one final miracle: he didn’t want to go on the 27th since that day was the day my nephew was born (not the same month but the number still was associated with him). I think he visited me that night though – I remember waking thinking the light from my bedroom door was blinding me. I rolled over because it was unnaturally bright. Then my phone rang with the news. I miss my dad.
I thought it better, for my first foray into history to be a personal one and perhaps not to venture too far on my first trip. Welcome to history; it’s only a second away….
*Dr. Seuss and Philosophy, Doctor Who and Philosophy, Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy and Superheroes: the best of Philosophy and pop culture.
** (And my sister too, but it’s Father’s Day ok? I have other stories for “Sibling Day”.)
Thank you to Mike for what I am sure everyone will agree is a very powerful article, written from the heart. I will of course be asking Mike to contribute more articles for Windows into History. You can keep updated about when new posts are uploaded by clicking on the ‘follow’ button on the right of the screen.
Thank you, Mike, for sharing this.
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Thanks for sharing this. So many stories that day. So many near misses to people who had voices speaking to them, telling them what to do. I often said the miracle of the day was that the death toll was as low as it was. It’s still tragic for everyone who was lost, but initially, I thought we were looking at tens of thousands of deaths.
Your Dad sounds amazing. Parents become good at hiding their fears from their children. Every now and then it seeps through, though.
And I am glad you’re still with us, too.
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What a lovely comment! I’m sure Mike will be delighted with this. I’ll make him aware of your comment.
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Thank you! He sent me the link to this on one of my posts.