September 5, 2011

Where Were You on 9/11?

By Paul Bieber

There have only been three news-significant points in my life. You know, it’s when you remember exactly what you were doing when you heard the news. For me, it was the assasination of John F. Kennedy, the moment Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon, and when the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

There is no joke at the end of this blog or moral to this story. It is just what happened to me and my best friend, Chuck Kaplanek, who owned our company, Floral Glass.

We were in Houston, Texas, on Monday, September 10, visiting a major fabricator, looking at a software system they had installed. We were flying to Newark, N.J., Tuesday morning, visiting our plant in E. Rutherford, N.J., where we would meet Chuck’s son, Corey, who also worked in the business, and would drive us back to our homes on Long Island that evening.

Our hosts in Houston were extremely cordial. Our original plan was to stay in Houston that evening, have dinner with the salesman, and then leave Tuesday morning. Since we weren’t completely sold on the system, we finished early, went to the airport, and got a flight to Atlanta with a connection to Newark, landing around 1:15 in the morning. We took a cab to the hotel near our plant in East Rutherford. Chuck and I both commented that the driver was crazy. He was from the Middle East, and spoke little English, but what he did speak was his anger with everything American. We don’t know what caused his outbursts, but the half-hour drive scared both of us. This petty fact means nothing if not for the events the next morning.

We had set up for Cory to pick us up at 10 a.m., allowing us to catch some sleep.

At 9 a.m. the phone rang. It was Cory on the line, telling me to turn on the TV and look out the window if I was on the New York City side of the hotel. I was. I looked out just as the fireball on the second tower erupted. I still didn’t know what was going on, but knew that it was something horrible.

I got dressed quickly and met Chuck in the lobby. We both knew what was happening by then and were both upset. The plant is only a half-mile from the hotel and we got there around 9:50. Ten minutes later, someone from the plant screamed out, “look at the city!” By the time we turned we saw a huge dust cloud and plenty of smoke coming from the towers. We didn’t know it was now singular.

The plant shut down and we all watched a small TV in the lunch room. I wandered outside to see the city just as the second tower fell. I saw the big antenna slide down out of sight. I knew thousands of people had just died. I couldn’t speak.

We called the plant together. All of us held hands, owners and glass cutters alike, and many said a prayer.

Chuck and I got home about 10 that night, thanks to Cory driving north about two hours to find a bridge over the Hudson River that was open. Watching the news all day was frightening. Chuck and I should have been in the air that morning at 8 a.m. I still think of that.

Over the next couple of days the stories came in. There was a student in Elaine’s class who lost an uncle, a firefighter. We knew other families that had lost members. We knew many of the first responders who went into the area for the rescue and recovery.

I will never forget that day. I will never forget we should have been in the air that morning. I will never forget 9/11.