Friday, September 11, 2009

My 9/11

My day, 09/11/01

Shortly before 9:00 a.m., my roommate entered my room. She said "they blew up one of the twin towers". As I had been in the bar until 4:00 a.m. throwing darts the night before, I was not in the mood for her "stupid shit" and told her as much. "How could anyone blow up the whole building? You're overreacting". Several minutes later, she came back and told me the other tower was now ablaze. Infuriated at the interruption of my sweet slumber, I went upstairs and looked out the window, as our view of lower Manhattan was excellent. The towers were, in fact, burning.

I grabbed my phone and turned on the television. They were talking about terrorists. They were talking about possible attacks in the subways. They were talking about some seriously scary shit. About 9:20, all bridges and tunnels to Manhattan were closed.

About 9:45 a plane hit the pentagon.

I was trying hard not to freak out. Not only did I have friends working in and near the WTC, many of my co-workers at the bar worked as flight attendants for American Airlines. I had no idea where anyone was, and with the phone lines overloaded, no way to find where they were.

10:05 - the south tower collapses. A few minutes later, still another plane goes down in Pennsylvania
I'm able to get signal on my cel phone sporadically, and get through to my cousin in Atlanta, and tell her to let the family know I'm ok.

10:28 - the north tower comes down.

I kept trying desperately to reach friends. My boss and friend Gina was traveling to the Bahamas that day (on American) and I had no idea at that point where she was. I was bordering on frantic, but trying hard to keep it together. I knew, with limited phone service, staff and friends would eventually go to, or call, the bar to check in. No trains were running, though, so I was boned. The point was moot. Mayor Rudy told everyone to stay out of lower Manhattan about 30 minutes later.

I finally got ahold of Gina, and she had checked on the girls from the bar. To her knowledge, no one had been in the air. Now I just had to worry about where everyone was that morning. Partially relieved, I still felt I needed to get into the city. A few minutes before 3:00 p.m., Mayor Rudy said the trains would be back up shortly. If nothing else, I knew to take it to the bank that the trains would be up...Rudy said so.

I threw some things in a bag and hauled ass to the "L" train. I got there a few minutes after 3, and damned if there wasn't a train waiting on me. Providence. I was in the city 12 minutes later.

I came out of the subway to a surreal sight. No traffic. Just people. Dirty people. Crying people. People so obviously in shock I have no idea how they kept going. There was smoke and debris in the air...and a stench I can't describe. People were walking, running, doing whatever they could to get as far away as possible from what is now called Ground Zero. The Mayor had closed the city below Canal St, about 13 blocks away. The only way these people were getting out was on foot.

I went to the bar and found a regular sitting on the steps. He was, apparently, well into his 2nd 40 oz. "I'm sorry Matty, but I didn't know where else to go." Then he wept. I comforted him the best I could, then let him inside. We were followed shortly by my friend and coworker Ryan, who heard the same news about the trains and came running.

Throughout the day, regulars, neighbors, friends, and coworkers stopped in or called to check in and check on each other. I had been right. The bar was a second home to these people. We were family. Today, we were one.
Fortunately, the staff was accounted for and all were safe. A few regulars were not so lucky, and perished in the buildings near Broadway, though I wouldn't know it for a few days. As night approached, the horrors continued, however.
One of the guys from Ladder 3/Recon 3 (3 house of the FDNY serves the East Village and is located around the corner from the bar) was passing on his way to the house and I stopped him. He told me the attack had come at shift change. This meant 12 guys from our company had responded. None survived. A dozen friends, regulars, heroes had fallen from our block.

I wanted to break down, but I couldn't. My people needed me. The people in the bar weren't there to drink. They were there for comfort. I did my best to accommodate. I'd have to mourn my friends a little later on my own time.

The streets were deserted, except for locals, by 9:00 p.m. (no traffic was being allowed below 14th st. at this point). As the regulars began filing out, headed for their homes, Ryan and I closed up shop around 11:00 p.m. and went for a drink at another bar. We talked about what had happened with friends and tried to absorb what had happened. I thought of the boys from 3 house.
We didn't stay late. Ryan went north towards Queens, I went east towards Brooklyn. I stopped for a smoke before getting on the train. The streets were littered with debris. Assorted garbage, tons of soot and grime, random papers and debris from the towers were everywhere. That damned smell wouldn't leave for weeks. I saw a cane, the kind a blind person uses, in the street. "That's odd" I thought to myself. "How could a blind guy lose his cane on a day like this?" Ah. Question answered. A little further up the street, I saw a shoe. A little girl's shoe. One of those patent leather jobbies w/ the buckle.
That was it. I was done. It was my turn. I sat down on the sidewalk by the subway and cried. I had had enough.

I had seen pain and the worst humanity can offer. The days that followed would show me some of the best. New Yorkers were standing by each other as I had never seen them. It was "us" against "them".
Then I started seeing fire and rescue trucks from other cities and states. Then I started seeing benefits and relief efforts from other cities and states and even countries. "Us" had just gotten a whole lot bigger. People offered support, love and hope from every corner of the country and around the world. It was reaffirming.

Mike Moran gave a speech at the Concert for New York City the following month you might have seen. It went a little something like this...

...our friends, our brothers, our fathers are not gone, because they are not forgotten...

and Osama Bin Laden, you can kiss my royal Irish ass.
Mike was off the day of the attack. His father and brother, weren't. He lost them both. He never missed a day of work after the attack, and he spent every off day for months down in the pit. He never missed a beat and he never stopped being a stand up guy. He's a hero, too.

The Parting Shots:
For the record, I only thought I knew what hate was until that day. It grew several days later when they pulled the 3 rig from the rubble. This is what they found.

I still hate Bin Laden and his thugs...and I can't forget and won't ever forgive what they did to my city, and my friends. The rest of the country, and New Yorkers in particular, gave me hope for the future, though. That hope is what lets me carry on.
And one more thing I learned...never wait until it's too late to tell people you love how you feel. You never really know when you'll be out of chances.


  1. Matty- I just saw this post. Beautifully written. I will also never forget being in Finnerty's crying with my NYC family that evening. Still to this day, it is hard to put that time frame in to words, when people ask me about it I usually don't even try. Thank you for sharing, love you.