Heroes, Past And Present

I remember the day. I lived on 50th Street and 10th Avenue, and was on my daily four block walking commute to my Morgan Stanley office building on 47th Street & Broadway. I was a Mac admin for Morgan Stanley’s Investment Banking Division (IBD) Creative Services department, a group of 80 or so Mac users.

The Morgan Stanley building had huge windows, almost floor to ceiling, with an unobstructed view of the World Trade Center. When I got to the office, all of my colleagues were glued to the window, watching smoke come out of one of the World Trade Center towers. The first plane had just hit. You could see the flames and the huge clouds of smoke.

Since I was jamming to my iPod during my walk, I had no idea anything happened. I just went to my desk and got ready for work. A few minutes later, I heard a muffled boom, and many of my colleagues started screaming and panicking. By that point we knew the first plane was no accident. Our department head yelled for us to all go down to the lobby, in case anything was going to happen to our building. I packed up my Apple G3 Powerbook and headed to the elevator.

When we got to the lobby, Morgan Stanley security steered us towards the freight elevators, so we can head to a lower level, safer than being in the street or the lobby. When we got there, the televisions were turned on and switched to the Bloomberg channel. We saw a number of helicopters circling the towers. CNN was speculating it was an attack, with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani doing a good job of calming people down, saying it is too soon to know.

Googled recent image of the building I worked in: https://bit.ly/3E7xCnS

Most of us veterans had an idea of what was going down. But none of us wanted to openly speculate. We all knew we were on official lock down, with water, but no food. Our director was somehow able to get pizza delivered to us, to this day I don’t know if it came from a local pizzeria or our company’s cafeteria. We spent half the day watching CNN, hoping things would settle down, so everyone could get home.

We didn’t expect the Mayor to shut down the subway and bridges, but in hindsight it kind of made sense. But that left many of my colleagues – who lived far away – stranded. Some of my colleagues knew I lived a couple blocks away. I was able to accommodate a few of them, offering a hopefully safe place to rest and wait for the opportunity to get home.

Morgan Stanley eventually gave us all the OK to go home. When my colleagues and I got to my apartment, I turned on CNN and we were all glued to the screen. Luckily I had a bunch of camping gear, including a few air mattresses and sleeping bags. Thanks to a neighbor, we were able to cobble together enough surface area for all of us to rest on. Trust me, none of us were able to close our eyes.

I had a 5 minute walk to and from work. I had a tiny studio apartment with a panoramic view of the Hudson River, 28 stories in the air. Full transparency, we were poor and we lived in Section 8 housing. When my father retired, he and my mother built a house in Puerto Rico and moved there. I had the option to parlay the three bedroom apartment into a studio, and within a month I moved into it.

The studio was usually very quiet, but on that day all you could here were sirens and screams. It was quiet enough to rest, while we waited for the city to reopen the subways and bridges. Our eyes were glued to CNN, a staple at the time. As it started to get dark, Mayor Giuliani announced subways and bridges would reopen so folks could get home.

A few of my colleagues thanked me and headed out on their long walk. One lived in Hoboken, NJ, some lived in Brooklyn, or Queens. A few lived in upper Manhattan. Every one of them reached out to let me know they got home safely. I was told some stores were charging $10 for a bottle of water. Disgusting. I heard most of the stores that did that got shut down once the Police circled back to handle all the complaints. The next morning the remaining few headed out to make their way home.

Where we sheltered in place

We were told to stay home until we were given the OK to come to work. Two weeks later I was back at the office. My first task was to help relocate seven of our staff who worked at the towers to our 47th street office. We had a number of desks available, so I thought things would go smoothly. What I didn’t expect was the PTSD. They went through a horrible ordeal, and were still nervous and crying. Our Director sent them home for a few more weeks to recover.

A couple weeks later, 300 of us got pink slips. Apparently Morgan Stanley thought it was the perfect time to outsource many of our IT positions. We were given very generous severance packages. Including a couple months pay, vouchers for our choice of training (one months worth), and excellent placement assistance. Living in midtown Manhattan, I decided to open an LLC and become a Mac consultant. I did that for five years before getting a call from Polo Ralph Lauren about a full time position.

Over the years I started to really appreciate our heroes. Firemen. Police. EMS. Doctors. Nurses. And many more. Since 9/11, I’ve always gone to ceremonies honoring our lost heroes. My respect and appreciation for our fallen heroes runs deep. Recently I’ve begun to realize there are new heroes that deserve the same level of respect. Folks who volunteer their time and effort to help others. It takes a special person to do this. Here are two that I work with.

David Sharp is our Project PMO. Hopefully won’t mind that I lifted this blurb from his LinkedIN profile. 🙂

After hours, I am a Life Member, Volunteer Firefighter/EMR with the Ivyland Fire Company in Bucks County, PA. I serve as Chief. I have held positions of Deputy Chief, Captain, Lieutenant Communications Officer, and President of the Firemen’s Relief Association.

Roie Gat is a fellow Mac Engineer, who volunteers his time as a Search And Rescue Drone and HAM radio operator. His LinkedIN profile.

The world has changed a lot since 9/11, but one thing hasn’t changed. Heroes exist, past and present. They deserve respect and support. Thanks for your time.