9/11 Redux

At 8:30 the morning of 9/11, I was sitting on the porch at the Inn at Shelburne Farms having breakfast with CBS, NPR, The NY Times, BBC, WNET, WGBH and a number of other media decision makers. We were 25 in all. It was the end of a conference our company held at the Inn each year in the calm between Labor Day weekend and leaf peeping season. A distressed colleague came over to our table looking asking to speak with me. He said his wife had just called him and that a small plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in Manhattan. I decided to keep mum until I had confirmation and more detail. Jim returned 20 minutes later with more detail of the unfolding tragedy that became 9/11. The Inn in those days had four phone lines, no Internet and a radio in the kitchen so we hustled our guests into waiting vans and bussed them back to the office where each was given a private office with a phone and Internet connection. We set up multiple TV feeds in the cafeteria to monitor what was happening, even though only one network was on the air live.
When we heard air traffic was grounded, Jim raced off and rented all the biggest cars he could find, a fleet of six mixed Lincolns and Town Cars that he and another colleague ferried back to the office. At lunchtime we hustled our distressed guests into the conference room and white-boarded a map of destinations. We had all but three of our guests consigned to destinations around the country with one car to Philly and DC, others to Manhattan, Chicago, Atlanta and New Orleans.
By 2 PM, all the cars were on the road. One of our guests had a daughter-in-law working in one of the Towers. Two others had family in the neighborhood. I had a son working in the neighborhood. I remember the then CFO of Sesame Workshop in tears of gratitude because he made contact with his wife and she and his child were safe. Most left not knowing. We had two employees stranded in Manhattan with no operating public transport. We arranged to have those going to Manhattan meet them in the Bronx so our two could drive home, as there were no rentals in Manhattan. Everything went more or less as planned though our employees had to walk several miles into the Bronx to meet the New Yorkers who then had to walk into Manhattan.
The next day, we set up a list-serve so all of our guests could stay in touch. Though all highly-placed media executives, many had not known one another before that year’s conference and developed long-term friendships as did so many of us. The list-serve remained active for six months as people compared their experiences and perceptions of what had happened. Two of our guests holed up in Vermont for days until airline service was restored. One vowed to return and retire here.

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