I don’t have a thrilling or exciting memory of 9/11. It fact the banality of the what happened to me is almost striking giving the significance of what happened.
I was working for the French bank Société Générale in London at the time. On that day I was out of the office in Knightsbridge at a hotel on a management training course. I remember thinking how useless the course was as I had asked questions of the trainer like ‘how do I improve teamwork when my team is based in 9 different countries on time-zones from Tokyo to New York?’ and the trainer was only qualified to train people who were working directly with their staff. None of the other managers on the training course had to manage anyone in another country, so I just sat there – bored – on a day away from the office.
By the afternoon, a few people were getting text messages to say that something was happening in New York. This was before anyone could access the Internet on phones. It was before wi-fi was available everywhere. We were locked in a training room with only a vague idea that something big was happening outside.
When someone got a text message saying one of the towers was down, our trainer said that we should carry on the course for the full afternoon because our companies had all invested a lot of money and would not want to waste it.
We carried on for a bit longer, but everyone wanted to leave early to find out what was going on. I really had no idea until I got home later in the afternoon and switched on the TV to watch the images of the attacks repeating on a loop.
Our trainer was being conscientious, but he had preferred we sit there talking about how to hire and fire people rather than witnessing one of the major events of the new century.
I had a team working for me in the WTC complex. Not in towers 1 or 2, but across the square from there. I was frantically calling them to find if they were all OK, but the phone lines in New York were overloaded and many cellular radio towers had been destroyed along with the twin towers – so cell phone coverage was very patchy.
I did eventually get through to the guy who ran our technology systems in New York. I had a bizarre conversation as I walked my dog in my local park in lovely evening sunshine and talked to him in New York about how he ran from the office to his home and wife… only a couple of miles, but in complete chaos.
We had very good disaster plans in place. My responsibility was the banks connection to the stock exchange. The next morning we had our systems up and running in another office. We were ready to trade, but the stock exchange had been closed.
It was a day when everything felt paralysed – even for those of us not in the USA. I had never imagined a mainland attack within the USA and the events that were created by that one day are still shaping our history now. It was hard to imagine such iconic buildings were there one morning and 90 minutes later were gone – I had been to the top of those towers several times and enjoyed a beer up there in a space that no longer existed.
For me though, it was a day of strange memories. Meaningless to most, but worth remembering here for my own sake. One day I might not remember the sheer terror in the voices I was talking to in New York that day and the paradox of me throwing a ball for the dog as I talked.