Doug Wood still has them today. He calls them his 9/11 shoes.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he flew to New York for a business meeting and took a cab to lower Manhattan.
“While we were coming in, the cab driver had his radio on,” Wood said. “They broke in with a newscast that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.”
An accident, the newscaster speculated. Perhaps a small plane. As the cab crossed a bridge, Wood saw smoke pouring from one Trade Center tower.
Near the fire, a speck moved through the sky. At first, he thought it was a helicopter crew observing the damage. But the speck kept going.
“We saw it fly right into the second tower, and a big fireball erupt,” he said.
Janis Wood was back in Washington, D.C. She and her husband had said goodbye to each other in Northern Virginia that morning, and now Janis was watching the burning towers on TV. She worked in an office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
“It just hit me all of a sudden, ‘My God, Doug is flying in there today,'” Janis said. “You drop your husband off at work and ... my God, that could be his plane.”
Standing near her office, she heard her phone ring. After four rings, the call would flip over to voice mail.
“I ran like crazy to get to my phone, and sure enough, it was Doug,” she said. “He was on the bridge. The cab driver had given him his phone. He was he was OK, he had seen it, and he would get home however he could.”
For Doug, getting home proved to be a challenge.
By the time the cab crossed the bridge, lower Manhattan was in chaos. He had been scheduled to check into a hotel across the street from the World Trade Center – a lost cause, he realizes now – and he never got that close anyway. The cab had to stop at Canal and Broadway.
There, he got out and started walking – not away from Ground Zero, but toward it. He was still focused on reaching his client's office.
“And this is the image I will never forget,” he said. “I had one of those rolling suitcases, and I'm walking down Broadway and there are hundreds of people streaming up Broadway. And not one person stopped asked, ‘What the hell are you doing? Go the other way!'”
He eventually found his client's office – the building practically deserted by that time. So he started walking the other way, wearing loafers and no socks, covering five miles by his own estimate.
He found another hotel, a Marriott, and ended up spending several hours in the lobby, waiting to see if a room would be available.
Oddly enough, he was so close to the action that he was cut off from the news. There were no TVs in the lobby. He passed several hours like that, quietly reading a book, until he was called to the desk and told at that the New York Hilton had a room.
Walking was the last thing he wanted to do, but he trudged further until finding the Hilton. It wasn't until then, much later in the afternoon, that he turned on the TV and discovered the scope of the disaster.
“My mind sort of went numb,” he said. “I really wasn't focusing on the big picture until later on, at the end of the day, probably when I was walking up Broadway and realized that yes, this is no accident. But I still had no real idea of what it was.”
Back in Washington, Janis was not in the vicinity of the Pentagon, but the day was still harrowing because she didn't know what to expect. Anyone who worked in a government building had to go home.
“If you ever tried to evacuate Washington, D.C., it was impossible,” she said. “Those of us who had to drive knew better. There was no way. I toughed it out until the end of the day.”
She went home on the Washington Metro, not knowing if the nightmarish day had ended, or if more attacks were on the way.
“Going home on the Metro that night? Very worrisome, because you also wondered, were they going to do something to public transportation? It was awful.”
Doug and Janis Wood
Occupation: He was a consultant. She worked for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Location on 9/11: He was in New York. She was in Washington, D.C.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun