By Monica Bay
September 20, 2001
AS THIS issue of Law Technology News arrives on your desk, I expected to be high in the mountains of Mondsee, immersed not in tech, but in music. I was looking forward to performing Haydn's Theresien-messe at the Salzburg Cathedral. I was not going to attend LegalTech New York.
On Sept. 11, I woke up early, about 6 a.m., to the sound of helicopters. I live next door to Gracie Mansion (the mayor's residence), so that's not uncommon. But it was loud, persistent -- so much so that I stepped out to my tiny garden to look to the skies. Nothing ominous. I turned on the T.V., to find only the usual report about traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
I headed to work. Then, at about 8:50 a.m., I got a phone call from Shane DeLeers, LTN's managing editor, from the Staten Island ferry. His voice was shaking. "I saw it," he exclaimed. "I can't get in. They have terminated ferry service."
"Saw what?" I said, not knowing that our whole world had just changed.
Two hours later, I was a street reporter. We quickly mobilized our AmLaw team. I suggested to organizers that we pair up (for safety and sanity). I didn't know David Horrigan; he works on the eighth floor as a contributing editor of The National Law Journal and editor of American Lawyer Media's ABC News Trial Bulletin. I'm on seven. One floor can make a difference. We just kinda looked at each other, and decided to head out together.
Father George Rutler, returning from the WTC
David and I quickly developed a game plan: We'd head toward the WTC complex, and look for lawyers and other legal professionals along the way. I had my Olympus C-2020 Z and 80 MB worth of space on four SmartMedia storage cards. Without conscious effort, we became a unit. We had an almost uncanny instinct about who to approach on the street. (but not that hard, lawyers do have their uniforms. :)
David did most of the interviewing, I just shot photo after photo. With quiet compassion, David interviewed four students from New York Law School: Nanette Aridas, Kelly Lerner, Yadhira Gonzalez and Joshua Sanders.
Kelly had been in the World Trade Center, buying a new suit for a recruiting interview. Her boyfriend Joshua shakily recounted his panicked race to find her.
Sanders described the most horrific images of the incident: people so desperate that they jumped. Aridas tried to keep her composure as she worried about her husband's fate.
Attorney Alan Chorne, in offices at 150 Broadway, was convinced he was doomed. "I'm going to die. Please make it quick," he thought.
Horrigan at a candlelight vigil
We were so grateful that these wonderful people were willing to stop and talk with us when they had so much more pressing concerns on their minds. We were the most moved by the understated dignity of Father George Rutler, a police chaplain who also works with local bar associations.
Rutler, with colleague Father Mychal Judge, had been at the World Trade Center offering last rites to victims, and blessing the firefighters as they entered buildings. Rutler walked from the site; Judge was the first official fatality to be documented by the city of New York.
We kept walking. Once we maneuvered our way inside to what will now forever be known as "Ground Zero," it was almost as if the dozen or so of us (60 Minutes; NBC; a handful of photojournalists and reporters) and the cops and firefighters had become one big team. Nobody hassled us; we all just did our jobs. We had one mask that a survivor had given us. When it became hard to breathe, I walked over to a group of firefighters. I thought they might kick me out, instead they quickly handed me a mask with no questions asked.
Neither David nor I realized how close we were to the World Trade Center. (You couldn't see it through the smoke.) Later, back in the office, someone gave us a map. We plotted our position, and computed that we were about one block away.
It was all so bizarre. It was the most beautiful weather since I moved here in 1998. Warm, balmy. But at Ground Zero, the terrain was like Mt. St. Helens. I was haunted by a documentary I had seen the prior week; Wall Street looked like Yakima, Wash.
Everybody was walking around like extras in a really bad Michael Bay or James Cameron movie. As an emergency vehicle would pass, the soot kicked up. A team of firefighters came through the dust looking just like Arnold in The Terminator.
A soundtrack kept swimming in my head: Barber's Adagio in G (used in Platoon); It's a Beautiful World (used in Good Morning Vietnam). I half expected Tom Clancy to show up and tell us to go away, that we were interfering with his movie set. I keep visualizing images of Dr. Strangelove, riding the torpedo.
What made it even more unreal was how calm everything was. There was absolutely no blood or body parts -- just soot and a sea of documents, all legal or financial.
It reminded me of another financial district -- San Francisco's Montgomery Street --where every New Year's Eve, secretaries toss out the prior year's calendars from high-rises in celebration of the new year.
I will never forget the day. My soul aches for the victims. I have showered repeatedly yet I still taste soot on my skin. My dress will probably never lose the smell.
I'm a card-carrying, knee-jerk Berkeley liberal who has always hated overt displays of patriotism. On Sept. 12, I bought a flag. It flies in my office window.
My first reaction was to affirm my vacation plans. "The assholes aren't going to keep me off airplanes," I told a friend defiantly. But a few days later, I reconsidered. Not because I am afraid of flying. No terrorist will keep me off my beloved United Airlines.
It was because I simply could not bear to leave New York City. I could not stand the thought of not being with the legal technology community for LegalTech New York.
And while I am not singing this week in Austria, I will raise my voice to help heal New York on Sept. 25. The Grace Church Choral Society has quite a strong legal contingent, including our conductor, John Maclay, an associate at Covington & Burling. We were asked to perform the lush Faure Requiem as part of a special non-denominational service. I will be there. I don't want to be anywhere else.
This awful sadness has reached all of us, whether or not we knew anyone whose name will appear soon in one of the sad, sad, lists. But September 11 also galvanized us into a fearsome community of love. I cannot wait 'til so many of you arrive here for NYLT.
You all were so incredibly gracious and thoughtful. My e-mail was so flooded with inquiries and concern, from London to Minneapolis, to San Francisco, that I had to create an "out-of-office" bot just to handle the volume and tell everybody we were O.K. at AmLaw. Three times I had to call up tech support and tell them to increase my mail memory.
Until Sept. 11, I felt like a resident alien in New York City -- adopted, but not a true citizen of the boroughs. Welcomed, but still somewhat a visitor. I was fundamentally still a Californian. No longer.
New York City is my home.