Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - 9/11 Plus 15

This photo is historic.   It was a live shot during the 10PM News on New York's WPIX Channel 11.   Taken at 10:44PM on Monday, September 10, 2001.

Wow, this seems like just yesterday.   Vivid memories always will seem like they just happened.  This is a Sunday Memory Drawer entry that I will repeat for as long as this blog exists.   Sadly.

Fittingly, I am in my hometown of New York today.  Fifteen years ago, I was not.  Part of me is glad that I was 3,000 miles away.  But, there is a portion of my soul that wanted to share that experience here with all the support and solace I could muster.

Prior to 2001, the last time this nation was truly united behind one cause came during World War II, most likely the days and months immediately following Pearl Harbor.  On 9/11, we came together again as a single unit.  It didn't last long and, sadly, the patriotism was short-lived.  Look how hopelessly divided we are today thanks to all the goof balls in charge since.  Yet, still, for a fleeting moment in 2001, we were one nation.  Under God.  Indivisible.  

The images of that day don't return like cherished tapestries.  Instead, they are brief and blinding flashes of light as if someone clicked on a digital camera that was a little too close to your eyes.

For reasons only someone who grew up in New York could totally comprehend, I regret not being there in the metropolitan area on that day.  It was a lonely and helpless feeling for me 3000 miles away and three hours earlier.  Most of my life had been in New York and this was a reminder that I had moved away from some very good friends.

For me, that day started very ordinarily. I was dressing to the local TV news. Since I like to work NY hours even in Los Angeles, I was up early enough to see the second plane hit. I watched this unfold before me in my bedroom, but, still, I did not disrupt my routine. Finish dressing. Go to the kitchen for a little breakfast and my eighteen vitamin supplements. Back to my bedroom and bathroom for teeth brushing, hair drying, and the final comb. Despite the drama, I never broke step.

I still left the house at the same daily appointed time. I still got into my SUV and left the garage. I was two blocks away at a traffic light on Wilshire Boulevard. Howard Stern was on my "free" radio as usual, but he was still live as opposed to the usual West Coast tape delay. He was watching his studio television. And, suddenly, the first tower collapsed. Howard's voice cracked as he described it and he sounded like he never has before. I was finally frightened.

I made an immediate and abrupt U-turn on Wilshire and headed home.

I knocked on my writing partner/roommate's bedroom and woke him up. I had never done that before. But this was unprecedented. 

We popped on the television and watched. Moments later, the second tower fell. There was still a fire at the Pentagon. He thought about his family living close enough to urban chaos.  I got an urgent e-mail from a cousin that I had not heard from in about a year. She was praying that I would answer, given that she was aware of my bi-coastal existence. Scary, scary stuff in a country where democracy allegedly reigned supreme.

I decided to continue my drive to the work place.   Go figure.

It was the calmest LA freeway day ever. While there was the usual bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, no one seemed to be in their customary hurry mode. Eerily quiet. And borderline pleasant.  I am sure that, inside every car, the radio was tuned to all news.

The work place was a confusing mess.   After helping to guide folks on a decision of whether or not to stay, the place was closed.  At that juncture, we didn't know what else fate had planned for America.  And where.   Like Mary Richards at WJM, I was one of the folks who turned off the lights at 1045AM.   

On the way home, I drove past my church. There were strangers walking around the parking lot. They weren't casing the joint. They were people from the neighborhood looking for some sort of a safe haven. I called my pastor and told her I would open the doors wide.  I took the American flag from the altar and put it by the front door.

I then passed the Federal Building in Westwood. I finally grasped the enormity of it all. There were soldiers all over the grounds. They were all looking to the sky with their rifles held high. They were ready to shoot at anything or everything.

Like most Americans that day, I consumed a lot of visual memories on television. By 530PM, the immense tension had created an appetite. My roommate and I decided to venture out for food. Wilshire Boulevard, which is usually a speedway at that hour, was empty. You could shoot a cannon down the block and not hit anybody. All of a sudden, it was like Christmas Eve. There were no restaurants open. For once, people were staying home and having a cherished dinner with their loved ones.

The only eatery open happened to be the delicatessen/restaurant, Nate N Al's, in Beverly Hills. Regardless of what was transpiring on the other coast, there would be people who would not be denied their brisket with gravy. Inside, we would have our most surreal moment of a day that was filled with a thousand of them. In the booth beside us, we found Rodney Dangerfield. Sitting in his pajamas. With the worst case of bed head known to man.

I remember this all with fresh sadness. It is just one story of 200 million others that lived through that experience.

And, unfortunately, there are another 3,000 or so stories that were never quite finished.

A week later, I was on one of the first American Airlines flights out of LAX.  I got upgraded to first class and, frankly, there was room for about six or seven friends if I wanted to bring them along.  There were only about five folks up in the fancy seats.  One was actor Timothy Busfield from "Thirtysomething" and "The West Wing."  We were all strangers as is usually the case on an airplane.

That day, we chatted like longtime pals.  If Facebook had been popular back then, we would be "friends."

Approaching Newark Airport, the day was way too overcast for us to see anything.  My very first image came the next ultra-sunny day as I crossed 6th Avenue at 50th Street.  I looked south.

Smoke.  Nothing but.  Over a week later.

I stared long and hard.  

I still do.   I have not visited the new memorial down there.   I want to.

But, at the same time, I don't.

Dinner last night:  Sausage and peppers at Carlo's on Tuckahoe Road.

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