Twenty-Six Cars


September 12, 2009

Many others have shared their stories about the terrorist attacks that happened on 9-11-2001 and its aftermath; to which I will only add the brief, and in the larger picture, somewhat insignificant, following:

For myself, as I am sure it was for many, the attacks didn't seem real. No, I am not some sort of 9-11 conspiracy nut or anything like that. What I mean is that I think the human mind has a hard time digesting such an unbelievable event that we need some sort of trigger to cause us to believe that "yes, it is real."

I was in mid-town Manhattan on 9-11-2001 and managed to get home to the suburbs that evening. But, everything was very surreal. Walking down the middle of empty avenues in Midtown as there were no cars, buses, or taxis running (even the subway was shut down); the emptiness of Times Square (where did all the tourists go? What on earth were they thinking - to be so far from home, and in an unfamiliar city, when something like this happens has got to be very scary); the large, waiting, yet silent, crowds in and around Penn Station; the voice of our train conductor (I was on one of the first NJ Transit trains out of Penn Station that afternoon) as he announced that the train was running as a local, making all station stops, he said: "We can expect this train to be at full capacity, so, please make as much room as possible for everyone to get on," then his voice strained and cracked as he continued "we all know what happened today; so just thank God that you are alive." His announcement and the strain in his voice as he was clearly fighting back tears is something that I will never forget. Even so, it all still seemed very surreal; as if I was an actor in a terrible B-movie.

Everything changed the next morning when I drove to the commuter parking lot to catch my usual 5:00 AM train into the city. It is a train-commuter parking lot "paved" with gravel and, therefore, has no marked spots. Commuters usually just park near the front and the lot fills out from there. It holds about 200-300 or so cars. Being there so early I was usually the first or second car in the lot.

On the morning of September 12, 2009, however, I was not the first car in the lot. There were no cars parked near the front, so I was the first to arrive that morning; but, there were several scattered throughout the parking lot. They clearly had been there overnight. I felt an impulse to count them - 26 cars. There were 26 cars scattered throughout the parking lot! This was the trigger that my mind needed to say that "this is real!" Twenty-six of my fellow commuters did not make it home the night before. Folks whom I may have sat next to on the train, maybe I nodded hello to a familiar face, or maybe we exchanged pleasantries or, more likely, griped about NJ Transit always being late! But, that night at least 26 of those folks did not make it home to their loved ones. This made it real.

Over the next few months I was always scanning the commuter crowd in the morning or, especially, in the afternoon looking for familiar faces. They were not people who I knew personally; but they were familiar faces that I had seen on a regular basis. While most were probably okay, there are many faces that I was never to see again. Maybe they are okay and just their job was gone or moved. But, there are many that I will never know about.


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