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THE FORTUNATE - A LITTLE BIT LATE BUT ALIVE

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George Burger, a 43-year-old actuary, went to work Friday.

This may not sound like much, but the fact that his commute began in Fair Lawn, N.J., at 8:08 a.m. in the first car of Train 1254 and actually ended in Manhattan made him one of the luckiest of the lucky among the hundreds of passengers aboard the two trains that smashed into each other in Jersey City.Burger became a member of a sudden fraternity of fortunate commuters Friday, shaken up but self-possessed enough to inspect one another for injuries, proffer cigarettes and share the greatest gift of all: use of a cellular phone.

Minutes after clambering out of their train cars - or while waiting edgily in their seats for instructions from rescue workers who had told them to stay put - many survivors were already phoning ahead to deliver bad-news/good-news reports that they would be late to work, late home, but were blessedly unhurt.

It was the most terrifying commute ever, but for many, it could have been even worse.

"I'm a trouper," Burger said of his decision to continue on to his insurance office at the World Trade Center, where, in 1993, he made it through the terror bombing.

Many of his unhurt fellow passengers turned into troupers as well, becoming solicitous of one another as soon as the shock of the crash had passed.

"The cell phones and cigarettes were good giveaways," said Laurie Winters, who had been on her way in to her job as assistant to the vice president of Loral Corp., a defense contractor, when the trains collided. "That was going on all over."