Jason’s note: I know there’s a lot going in markets right now. But today, I want to reflect on a tragic time in our nation’s history… Where I was on that day… And how it affected the people closest to me.
These thoughts come to me constantly, especially around this time each year. And it’s important to me that I share them with you.
By Jason Bodner, editor, Palm Beach Insider
9/11. 19 years ago today.
I’d started working at Cantor Fitzgerald just five weeks earlier. And I spent a month in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
I would show up to work at 7:15 a.m. and take the three elevator rides to my office on the 104th floor. Hundreds worked there, each of them yelling animatedly over the phones and speaker systems when I got in each day at the crack of dawn. Talking to clients, trading before the U.S. stock market opened.
It was the sound of countless traders connected from around the world. A vibrant hub that billions of dollars flowed through, every single day. To someone on the outside, it might’ve sounded like chaos. But to me, it was harmony.
Each day I’d make a point to go around to each person on the team as they got in. Tell them, “Good morning!” and ask if they needed anything. I was the new man on the totem pole, and I wanted to leave a good impression. Always first in, always last out.
For the next month I’d spend nearly every waking moment with these guys. Old guys, younger guys… even kids like me (I was 26 at the time).
My job was to learn our new OMS (Order Management System) and then roll it out in London, starting in August. Part of that meant moving to London, so I did so in early August.
European summers are slow. People often take the entire month of August off. So, it was a fun and relaxed way to begin my Wall Street career.
I got to take my time implementing the new system in London. And I’d still keep in touch with the guys in New York over the speakers. In a way, it was like I never left.
Finally, my things arrived by boat in late August. I signed a lease on a flat in Fulham, London. My wife-to-be and I were to move in on the 11th of September.
That would be my first day off work since I first started. I was stressed to be missing work because I thought, “all eyes are on the new guy and his work ethic.” But there was no way around it.
At the end of the day, my wife wanted to call her mom in New York City. She took out the mobile phone she borrowed from her sister who lived down the road and turned it on.
I remember it clearly. She turned it on and tried to call her mom who lived in New York City.
The line wouldn’t connect.
She kept trying, and finally an operator came online.
My wife said, “I’m trying to get through to New York City. I’ve been trying for a half-hour and the line won’t even ring.” The operator replied, “I’m not surprised with all the bombs going off in New York today.”
My wife turned as white as a sheet. We ran from our new flat to her sister’s down the road.
The streets were empty. Each home I walked alongside had the TV on in their living room. I saw smoke pouring out of a building, but it was hard to understand what I was seeing.
We made it to my wife’s sister’s place to find her husband (my new boss) and my other boss watching the television.
The screen clearly showed the North Tower of the World Trade Center – the building I was standing in a scant few weeks earlier. Flames billowed out of a gigantic hole just five floors beneath where I sat each day.
People were clinging to the side of the building. They were falling… It was horrible.
“Why doesn’t a helicopter start evacuating people?” I asked.
“The heat from the flames and smoke make it impossible.” I learned.
Suddenly, the building fell into a crumble of ash and dust. Just like that.
My friends. My colleagues. Fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. There was simply no way it could be real. But it was. And there was no way they could have survived.
My boss said he heard people coming over the speaker when he was in the office, begging for a way out of the New York towers.
No one understood what was happening. Why it was happening… We were all in shock.
How could it be?
That day marked an indelible shift of our country… and the entire world.
As it became clear over the next few days that it was a terrorist attack on U.S. soil – larger than just the Twin Towers, including the Pentagon – life became surreal.
I immediately volunteered to return to New York and help rebuild Cantor Fitzgerald. I had a U.S. passport, and to me, justifying the travel was easy despite the fear everyone felt.
When I boarded my flight back home to NYC on September 18th, the plane was empty. I was one of maybe 10 passengers on a transatlantic flight from London to NYC.
I was anxious the entire flight. Then when we came into New York, flying over the skyline, I saw the smoldering ashes of where the towers used to be.
When I went to the site, just a week after the attacks, I could still smell the smoke and the burning metal.
I just couldn’t believe it. I worked there just weeks earlier.
I then joined a team of about 40 people in New York, rebuilding our firm. And that’s how I spent the next four months of my life. I was offered a permanent position back in New York in that time, but I decided I had to return to my wife in London. We stayed there for four years until we both returned to New York in 2005.
To this day, I have nightmares of hearing floors pancake on top of one another in the building. But unlike the 658 souls our firm lost that day, I get to wake up each time and escape the horror. Those dreams serve as an important reminder of how lucky I am to be alive. How lucky I am to do what I do… sharing my opinions on the markets, helping you learn and invest.
And that’s why I’m writing to you today. Because it’s important to remember that the American spirit – and human spirit – always perseveres over evil. The last 19 years of our history, how we’ve persevered as a country and moved forward, are proof of that.
Yet, when I got up this morning to check the aggregate news headlines, I didn’t spot one dedicated to remembering the lives lost on that day.
It was an awful day in history. But it’s one we must promise ourselves to never forget.
We must promise ourselves to never forget Keith and Scott Coleman, two brothers I worked with at Cantor who passed on September 11, 2001.
Joe Maio, a desk head who I saw each and every morning, who passed on September 11, 2001.
Chris Ingrassia, Rob Talhami, and Mike Davidson who showed me the ropes, all passed on September 11, 2001.
Eight more people at my trading desk that I saw every day… passed in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
And countless more. Too many more.
I know this is a deviation from what you’re used to reading in these pages. We’ll be back to the markets on Monday.
But if you are reading this right now, I want to thank you for being a dedicated subscriber.
Stay thankful and never forget,
Editor, Palm Beach Insider