ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum


Online Edition - September 2002

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Journal of a Visitor to Tragedy

The following journal recounts the experiences of Darlyne Reiter who was vacationing in New York with her husband, Steve Romines, and a tour group from the West Coast on September 11, 2001. News for a Change felt that her chronicle captured the American spirit—then and now.

Monday, September 10

We arrived in Manhattan full of excitement. All 81 people in our New York/New England theatre tour group with Tacoma (Washington) Musical Playhouse were looking forward to Broadway shows, great dinners, sightseeing, and making new friends for the next nine days. Not in my wildest dreams would I have predicted the experience it became.

Tuesday, September 11

As I entered the lobby of our hotel Tuesday morning to meet the others for a harbor cruise and New York City sightseeing, the first words I heard were “Did you hear that a plane hit the World Trade Center?” My immediate thought was nowhere near what had really happened. Thinking that perhaps a small plane went haywire and bounced off one of the huge towers, I wondered if I’d be able to see anything when we went out in the harbor. Within minutes we heard the other tower had been hit. How can that be? Two planes. Both towers. It didn’t take long for the dreaded word “terrorism” to surface. Our laughs turned to anxiety. We were only a couple miles from those towers.

We boarded our bus and drove to the pier—only to be told the harbor was secured. The port authorities were asking everyone to clear the streets for emergency vehicle use. The city may not be safe; nobody knew what to expect next.

Was I dreaming? We were in America. The thick, black smoke to our right definitely told us there was a huge fire close by. As we attempted to do as asked, we were swallowed by a surge of people literally running north out of Manhattan. Subways and trains were shut down. Vehicles inched along, only to be deserted at the closed bridges and tunnels out of the city. Our attempt at normalcy took us to Central Park. We wandered through this beautiful setting—asking for updates from Joe, who had a radio plugged to his ear—and heard that a plane had hit the Pentagon; another plane had crashed someplace in Pennsylvania. Terrorist attacks on American soil. Can it be?

As we continued through the park, we called our families to let them know we were safe; they knew we were scheduled to view the city from the top of the World Trade Center. We listened to a man playing a tune on his saxophone. We watched a model in a fur coat being filmed in front of the fountain; we wondered why the hot dog and pretzel vendors were closing and hurrying away.

We stopped at a church in Harlem and prayed. All these things we were hearing: Osama bin Laden. Afghanistan. Islam. Capitalistic America. Hijackers. The restaurant where we had planned to have dinner was closed. Broadway had gone dark. The show would not go on. Already we saw people in long lines offering to give blood. Clean white sheets on gurneys, stationed outside the hospitals, waved at us as we drove by.

The streets were quiet when we returned to Manhattan—nearly alone. The normal sea of yellow cabs had ebbed completely. The menacing smoke ahead replaced the twin towers that had collapsed. We walked that night in a deserted Times Square. Surreal. Eerie. Words don’t exist to explain what I felt. We mingled with the homeless, other visitors, and reporters in front of the Fox network—starring at the large screens—to hear what our president had to say. The graying sky mingled with the black smoke.

Wednesday, September 12

We solemnly walked to NBC studios for our scheduled morning tour, knowing it would not happen. Instead, we watched security guards removing receptacles from around Rockefeller Center—anything that could hold a bomb. Our matinee was cancelled. Our evening show was cancelled. Many of us separated to go our own ways; crowds were not encouraged.

Steve and I walked south toward the Empire State Building. It was cordoned off for blocks surrounding it. We walked north past closed stores, closed museums, closed libraries, and people staring in disbelief. My throat was scratchy; my head pounded. My sinuses rebelled against the particles and smoke in the air. Yet, I knew I had it better than those who were working with the search and rescue dogs and those who would never see their loved ones again. We sat on steps outside Central Park and watched CBS reporters interviewing vacationers and filming the military convoy parading down 5th Avenue on their way to assist with locating bodies in the rubble in lower Manhattan.

Thursday, September 13

We left New York City—rather than going to the top of the World Trade Center as planned; we left happy to be alive. Although we had long anticipated attending “The Producers,” it was a minor disappointment in light of what others had lost. I left with a huge respect for New York’s emergency medical services system. We headed for New Hope, PA, convinced the name was symbolic.

We played in Princeton. We cried with the people pleading on television for any news of family and friends who were in the Trade Center. We laughed with our new friends at dinner. We applauded talented performers in New England. We took photographs of our American flag waving at us from bridges, buildings, and little kids’ hands. In Niantic, CT, we attended a Gershwin show called “They All Laughed.” It was hilarious and we all laughed. When it ended, we all (performers and audience) sang “God Bless America”—with not a dry eye in the house. That evening was representative of the ever-changing feelings throughout our tour.

Tales of ghosts in our hotel in Salem, MA, gave us something else to ponder. We stared at the home of Osama bin Laden’s respected brother from our boat on the Boston Harbor. We were thrilled that it took us more than two hours to check in at JFK airport—it meant security was tight. We returned to Tacoma—thankful and happy to be home.

Thursday, September 20

Today I went to the library to read the local papers that were printed while I was gone. Although I brought home a New York Times, I needed to see how my home reacted to this atrocity. I learned that while many here were gathered at “The Puyallup” to pray, Steve and I joined a crowd for the same reason at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Although individually we have been affected in different ways by this act of terrorism, we react in similar ways. America prevails. The show will go on.

DARLYNE REITER works for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in its communications/marketing department. Her responsibilities involve design of educational materials and Web site management. She has an interdisciplinary degree in arts, media, and culture and she hopes to write a novel some day. She told NFC, “I am inspired by the British author, Mary Wesley, who wrote her first novel at the age of 70.”

 

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September 2002 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
Looking Back a Year Later—How Americans Have Dealt With the Changes

Journal of a Visitor to Tragedy

Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going?

Tribute to America:
How Our Lives Have Changed Since September 11


 
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