The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Keith W. Hagel of Castine is a (mostly) retired newspaper editor. He worked at the BDN in 2012-13 and the Sun Journal from 2004 to 2008.
The morning sky on Sept. 11, 2001, near New York City was spectacularly clear and beautiful, so different from the normal clouds and smog that even jaded, sleepy commuters, like me on the train from suburban Connecticut to New York City, took notice.
We were near the Connecticut-New York state line when the news broke. I remember one man saying, “Someone has declared war on the United States.” Another, on a cell phone, started yelling at his mother to turn off “The Price is Right” and watch the news.”
The train made an unscheduled stop, and a frantic young man boarded. His girlfriend worked in one of the World Trade Center buildings that had been hit, and he could not reach her. I hope I never again have to see such anguish on a person’s face.
I thought about a woman I had chatted with on the subway the day before. I think she had said she was on her way to start a new job at the World Trade Center. As she said goodbye getting off, I felt I’d probably never see her again. Now, I wondered if anyone else would, either.
As we neared the 125th Street station, we could see the Twin Towers afire across the river. An hour later, I would have been in the bowels of one of the other World Trade Center buildings, connecting to my editing job at Dow Jones Newswires in Jersey City.
The 125th Street station was as far as train riders were going on Sept. 11. If the World Trade Center had been targeted, Grand Central Station, in midtown Manhattan, certainly also might be.
To my surprise, I eventually got a dial tone on a pay phone and called my newsroom office. No answer; the 16-floor building had been evacuated. Not that I could have gotten there. All subway and bus service in Manhattan had been shut down.
My supervisor did, eventually, make it in. He had been walking to work from near the World Trade Center when he saw the first plane hit. Any sane and/or terrified person would have run like hell in the opposite direction. He did, but a good newsperson to his core, he first called in the story.
I took a turned-around train back to Connecticut. Little talk, no tickets collected. As I got off an hour later, grim-faced police were on the platform, probably watching for injured or traumatized people needing medical help. The next day, we would learn of the cars that sat empty in railroad parking lots, their drivers never to return.
I drove my clunker car to my wife’s house. We recently had separated but, as parents, remained connected. Her first words to me were, “I never thought I’d be so glad to see that piece of (junk) here again.”
The phone rang, and I answered. It was my daughter in college in Michigan. She had been hurt by her parents’ split and was quite angry with me, with some justification.
A brief pause, then she said, “What are you doing here?”
I told her she should have listened to the message I had left her from the train, using a cellphone I had borrowed from a stranger.
There was silence, then some noises.
She was sobbing. She had thought I was dead.