Former New Yorker Remembers the Day Time Stopped: A Reflection of 9/11
Erin White still has the alarm clock.
Waking up in New York on September 11, 2001 was not like any other day. For the first time, the alarm clock that started her day and a commute from Long Island to Manhattan to work at JP Morgan Chase, 123 Wall Street, either did not go off or she slept through the alarm.
“I have a hard time believing I slept through it because the clock was on the windowsill next to my head,” White recalled in a recent phone call.
“I was supposed to be at a 9 a.m. meeting in my office,” she said. “Clearly I was going to be late.”
So she got the next train on the Long Island Railroad and like the other commuters, she was armed with a pager. “We were just beginning to get cell phones. Everybody had a pager.”
Sometime on the way to Jamaica Station in Queens, where White would transfer trains to go to Manhattan, “you could hear everybody’s pagers going off. Everyone was reading the news to each other. Horrifying things, and not all of them were true.
“We get to Jamaica Station and the conductor announces that everybody needs to get off the train because there are no trains into Manhattan and just one that’s returning to Long Island. By this time I’m trying to call my parents (in Babylon, New York) because I’m sure they’re seeing the attacks on the news. But there was no service,” White said.
Before long, she saw the one train that was going back to Long Island approaching the station. “It’s an old diesel train, and I can tell it’s the one I would usually take in the morning if I was going to the company office in Brooklyn (her other work site) because I recognized the conductor. But it’s not stopping! So I start running alongside the train. My conductor sees me and recognizes me, calls me by name and reaches out and pulls me onto the moving train.”
This is one of the many times White laughs during our interview, in a can-you-believe-it kind of way. “If I had been on time that day I would have been coming out of the subway station two blocks from Ground Zero when the planes hit.” She believes it’s very likely she wouldn’t have survived.
Twenty years have given her time to think about being late that day and the part that the alarm clock seemed to play. “I believe in science and everything but I also believe the universe has intelligence and I was not meant to die that day. I feel there was a deliberate intention on the part of some mystical force,” she said.
In 2001, White was working in data security. After being home in Long Island for a couple of weeks after the attacks, the company decided to parcel out data jobs to various locations and make some positions remote, including White’s. “They said go work from home. And I said ‘Do you care where?’” So after vacationing on Sanibel several times, in 2006 she decided to move to Lee County.
When the economy took a downturn, she was out of a job in 2010. She started consulting and became very interested in the environment, becoming involved with the Florida Society for Ecotourism and a Florida Master Naturalist. She now works full-time in development for the Naples Botanical Garden.
The alarm clock now lives in one of the two Rubbermaid bins that are packed and ready to go in case she has to evacuate for a hurricane. Along with batteries and food, it went with her when she evacuated her South Fort Myers neighborhood ahead of Hurricane Irma.
Today, she said, “I look around and say I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here.”
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