contaminated mail

9/11/01…Run North…

I’d just returned from a week long trip to Provincetown, MA. One of the things I remember vividly was the weather. It was one of those rare September days on the east coast where there isn’t a cloud in the sky, the sun is shining, and there’s a comfortable breeze in the air. I also remember being thankful that the weather was so nice. I wasn’t functioning well that morning. The day before I’d driven eight hours from Cape Cod and it was my first day back to work.

At the time, I owned two businesses. One was an art gallery in New Hope, and the other was a trendy little tanning salon in Lambertville, New Jersey, which is right across the river from New Hope. Running two hands-on businesses at the same time and managing a writing career wasn’t easy. On the morning of September 11th, I was in the Lambertville salon greeting my clients and getting ready to send out a manuscript to Alyson Publications. Alyson was in LA back then and I was worried about getting the manuscript out on time because it was being submitted in hard copy, sent through snail mail.

Then a client came into the reception area and told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I didn’t think much about it. I figured it was a small plane. And then another client came in fifteen minutes later and told me that a second plane had hit the other tower. She didn’t know the details, and I was still working on my manuscript and I didn’t think much about that either.

After that, It didn’t take long for the panic to set in. The phone started ringing and news about the first tower collapsing spread fast. I didn’t have a television in the salon so I couldn’t see what was happening. So I turned on the radio, found WOR, and listened to the absolute panic in the radio announcer’s voice.

My first thought was for family and friends in Manhattan. At the time, my brother and his partner were on East 31st Street and I hadn’t spoken to them in a few weeks. I had no idea where they were or what had happened. But when I called their number, I found that all lines going into Manhattan were dead. The entire city was in lock-down and no one could get in or out.

I started calling on my cell phone. Eight years ago cell phones didn’t have the best signals and even on the best days they weren’t reliable. And while I was calling, I heard about the planes going down in Washington and Pennsylvania. I thought about closing the salon and going home, but I had people coming in who were terrified and I think being there gave them comfort. So I remained where I was.

By some act of pure luck, I finally got through to my brother’s partner in Manhattan. He told me that my brother had left early that morning for a business trip to the mid-west. His plane had taken off only minutes before the first plane had hit the first tower. But my brother’s plane was safe and he’d just landed in Chicago. His partner was talking to me from his office in mid-town, and he was safe, too.

When I hung up with him, I called a friend. I knew this friend worked downtown and I wanted to know if he was okay. It took a while, but I finally got his cell phone. What happened next was terrifying. He didn’t even get a chance to speak. The second tower went down, he dropped the phone on the sidewalk, and all I heard was the sound of screams and someone shouting, “run north.”

Later that day I learned that my friend was fine. But as things started to settle down I started to hear more about other people in my community who had been effected. There are a lot of people who commute to Manhattan from New Hope and surrounding villages in Bucks County. Some lost their lives in the towers, some lost their lives in the planes, and one of the pilots flying a plane that went into one of the towers lived only a few miles from my home.

It was an awful day. But I was thankful that my friends and family were safe and sound. A lot of people I know in Manhattan spent the next few weeks going to funerals. We had many memorials here in Bucks County.
The photo above is a letter I saved from that time. All my mail was delivered to my Lambertville office back then. And all mail that came to Lambertville had to go through the Princetwon, NJ office, which isn’t far away. And that’s where they had some of the serious anthrax scares. The letter in the photo was delayed. I didn’t receive it until six months after it was sent because it had to go through testing to make sure it hadn’t been exposed to anthrax. For a long time, we opened our mail wearing plastic gloves.