Day after day, the cars were still there, and some remained for a couple weeks.
The Metro North Railroad runs from Union Station in New Haven, Conn., to Grand Central Station in Manhattan, N.Y. It is the busiest commuter railroad in the world and is the railroad of many John Cheever stories about the whole generation of New Yorkers who made it: Connecticut was their home.
I remember riding that railroad daily. It was the Shoreline East, always on its way to New Haven. Many took it all the way to Grand Central Station.
While riding the train on the days following Sept. 11, 2001, I noticed a strange thing: There were a lot of cars that remained after the last train and they were still there in the morning. They were parked for many days in the station lots. Day after day, the cars were still there, and some remained for a couple weeks. In towns called Guilford, Branford and Milford, the cars were there for three or four days or longer. These were the cars of the victims of 9/11. It was then the tragedy hit me: the last moment these people were in their hometowns, going to work like everybody else. They never returned to drive home.
There were a lot of crazy stories immediately following the plane crashes into the Twin Towers: the guy who rode the building down and survived and the train taking thousands of dead people to a burial site. All were false, but nothing as poignant as those empty cars will ever capture the feeling of the moment.
My father told me where he was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I know where I was on Sept. 11, 2001, and those empty cars said it all.