NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 11: Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the south tower of the World Trade Center and explodes at 9:03 a.m. on September 11, 2001 in New York City. The crash of two airliners hijacked by terrorists loyal to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and subsequent collapse of the twin towers killed some 2,800 people. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
*** *** *** ***
It has been a week of quiet reflection and introspection about those events that took place on September 11, 2001. Many people are writing on this memory over the last few days and I was going to write on Sunday, but I think I can write on it now.
It was a quiet morning in South Beach that morning. I was asleep in my bed when the phone rang. It was my friend Ricky. He said to turn on the tv, that something was going down in New York City.
I sat rapt and cold watching the events transpire as they did. At that time my memory started running because my brother was employed as was his wife by the government. And when the plane hit the Pentagon, I panicked. I called my mother for some shard of news that neither of them were there.
My mother would neither confirm nor deny where they were at that moment. The punishment of silence was being played out on me because of my parent’s belief that I was less than human and unacceptable as a member of the family. Even then relations were strained between us and she wasn’t going to give up her information without me groveling for it.
But after 12 hours of relentless questions she finally let go the info that they were not at the Pentagon.
I did not report to work that day or the next. I wandered up and down the island watching tv and talking with friends about what we had seen. We were all in shock. And life on the island stopped. The party hardy city was struck stone cold sober. I sat in an internet cafe on Lincoln Road trying to find things to do, people to help and news to watch. The young man who ran the cafe would eventually give me free time every day for the 2 week period of time that the benefit period lasted on the island.
We had a week of mourning. There were no parties. It seemed the club atmosphere was sobered up. Nobody was in the mood to party or drink to excess because of what happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
They told us that we should go to the beach and lay candles lit in the sand at nightfall, because the satellites above were taking pictures of the coastline from space. So we did that every night for two weeks.
After a week of not knowing what to do, and seven days of forced sobriety, the island began to open up again. And the fund raising began. At the major clubs on the beach would have matching donations drives and if you donate so much money – you could have the equal back in alcohol.
So we went from stone cold sober to hot stock drunk over night. We drank every drop of alcohol that was stocked on the island for more than a week. And whatever money we raised was sent to the disaster zones up North. It was a very emotional time for us.
I spent a lot of time in front of the television. I had a computer at home during this time, even writing to Peter Jennings while he talked on tv news for days and nights after it happened. I had a direct email address for him and I would write him during the night while he was alone on tv.
One night – and I have it recorded on vhs, Peter was having a hard night, trying to remain stoic and strong, and it was wearing on him badly. So I dropped him a note and I said “Peter, take a breath, loosen your tie and just relax for a few minutes. You aren’t alone. Just do it …”
That email reached him and there on live tv, he took a breath, he loosened his tie and he stopped talking for a few minutes and he got through the rest of that shift that night. Peter Jennings was the voice of reason I had grown up with from a young boy into the man I was at that time. I have 20 VHS tapes that I have in my video collection from the morning of 9-11 through the following weeks time of news, interviews and finally the first night David Letterman came back to do his first live show after 9-11 with Dan Rather in chairs – we all cried that night.
Peter Jennings, in a moment of weakness, started smoking again after 9-11 a choice that ended very badly for him as he contracted cancer and later died from it – it was a sad time for everyone. But for those crucial few days after 9-11 Peter Jennings was the man of the hour of ABC news. I will always be proud of him and what he did for the city, the world and his viewers.
This is what happened to my community in South Beach at the time of 9-11.
What is your story?