Lost in a Lost World
September 15, 2001
We didn't know where Don Kelly was. I e-mailed Paul O'Keefe in a panic. The three of us had
worked together in the Bloomfield office of the Worrall Community Newspapers, had parted
with the company in different directions. We had kept in touch. Of the three of us, Kelly had
abandoned newspaper work to write for a business periodical -- which meant he had to work in
lower Manhattan and made his way across the Hudson River by various means.
From time to time, I ran into Kelly down by Peir A in Hoboken. For while I was dropping my
wife off for her PATH ride into Manhattan and would go to write near the pier. Kelly, traveling
into Hoboken by train, would pause, take a breather by the water, where he would encounter me.
When my wife ceased working in Manhattan, I arrived at the pier later, because I had to ride to
Journal Square first, then weave my way through Jersey City street to get down off the Palisades
into Hoboken. My encounters with Kelly grew rarer, although I knew he continued to make his
trek into New York.
I was in Secaucus when the planes struck the World Trade Center. It took me a day to make it
back to Hoboken, and even then, I had no way of knowing if Kelly was all right, since the PATH
train was closed, and the few people making the trip across by ferry were headed uptown.
But I knew Kelly and O'Keefe kept in close touch, so I e-mailed O'Keefe and received the
disturbing memo back: "He isn't answering his phone!"
I could sense O'Keefe's panic from the message, but this was short-lived since it was soon
followed by a second message saying: "He called! He's all right!"
The following day, he called me to assure me the message was true, and that I should not worry
-- although he reported being shaken by the experience.
I did not know it, but Kelly sometimes took the ferry instead of the PATH, something that was
true that day, so that he got to see the first plane hit the first of the towers while his boat still
chugged towards Manhattan.
"I heard the explosion, it sounded like fireworks," he recalled. "Then I looked up and saw a fire
inside the building. It was spreading."
It was one of those puzzling moments that a person later ponders over, and while telling me
about the affair on the telephone, he sounded mystified by his own behavior.
"I kept going to work once we landed," he said.
He could not travel straight to the East Side because the police and fire departments had blocked
off the roads between the ferry and his place of employment six blocks away, so he walked
around the whole complex. Then stopped to stare at the smoldering buildings.
"Everybody was staring at it, me, too," he said. "That's when the second plane hit the other
tower. I heard it rather than saw it, but I turned around to see fire pouring out of the second
tower. Someone yelled `its going to tip,' and everyone ran. It was pure terror."
Around him, people were already speculating about the fate the fate of the people in the upper
floors of those buildings.
"They kept saying there was no way to get down from the 110th story," he said.
He ran uptown away from the first, and made his way to his office. People there were stunned
and scared, and told him to get the hell out of the office.
"So I left," he said, sounding again a little bemused by his own report. "Then I did something
strange. I decided to get something to eat. I was in the deli when someone on the television said
the second tower was coming down. So everyone ran outside. A gigantic cloud was falling
towards us. We started running. In my head I pictured dominos -- buildings falling one after
another. I ran through the cloud. I was covered with dust. I didn't stop running until I got to the
edge of Chinatown, and that's when I saw the first tower come down."
Covered with dust and scared as hell, he made his way uptown, people on the street staring at
him as he walked to the ferry terminal at 40th Street and 12th Avenue. But there were other
people there who looked just like him. So many people that he had to wait two hours to get
across the river to Hoboken again. Then he found people waiting to receive him.
"They were worried about anthrax and sprayed us down to decontaminate us. I stood in that
shower forever. I was a little worried about the asbestos. Then, we all piled on a train for the
ride back home to Montclair."
Many of his concerns evaporated once back in the safety of that suburban hamlet, and watching
reports on TV he realized, it could have been worse. He might not have made his way out at all.