History

The Towers

 

 

WTC Brooklyn Bridge

 

 

My stepfather was an iron worker and as a kid I ran coffee and donuts for his crew. Most jobs were only a few days, but work on the Twin Towers seemed to go on forever. I got to ride the superfast construction elevators that put Coney Island to shame. I saw that incomparable view long before most New Yorkers would. I got to know the ins and outs of the place from the inside out. From my neighborhood in Park Slope, I watched the progress as each new floor was added. While many thought the design "boxy" and "brutal" at the time, they held a special place in my heart from day one, not only because I felt myself part of the crew that built them (slight exaggeration, unless the caffeine and sugar I supplied could be credited) but because they would be the tallest buildings in the world and that fed my young New Yorker pride. Few people then or now, realized how many died during construction, but for me at the time it seemed an almost daily event. This lent a gravitas and solemnity to the buildings importance.

 

world trade center construction

 

 

The Towers were THE landmark that could help orient you and seeing them across the river every day helped keep me grounded. I took my first real girl friend to the observation deck years later and surprised her with the reservations I'd made at Windows of the World. When out of town visitors said they wanted to go to the top of the Empire State Building, I always told them I'd take them to the top of the world instead.

 

Jones Family

 

 

My sister wound up marrying the boy next door, or rather the boy across the street. His name was Arthur, but everyone on the block called him Speedy and we were friends as long as I can remember. He was the kid that took everything apart just to see how it worked. His parents' brownstone's basement was a workroom that most do it yourselfers would envy, by the time we were in our mid-teens. He was an avid bike rider and later started riding motorcycles.

 

In my neighborhood most "career" expectations took the form of the Fire, Police, Sanitation Department, Post Office, etc... Speedy wound up hired as an engineer by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. He was responsible for repairing New York City's subway tracks and infrastructure. The bay where he was headquartered was among the six underground levels, directly below the World Trade Center Plaza.

 

Sept 11 crash

 

 

The morning of 9/11 Speedy had a bad bout with his gout. His wife /my sister Laura, told him to call in sick. She was in a "car service/gypsy cab" on her way to work on the Upper West Side when she saw the first plane hit. Their kids were at school, the oldest, Brittany in High School on the other side of Brooklyn and so, safe. The younger twins, Arthur and Casey were at the Brooklyn New School in "Cobble Hill".

 

Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn

 

 

For those who are not familiar with Brooklyn, allow me to digress for a short geography lesson. South Brooklyn is the area directly across from Lower Manhattan. From any street that runs up the hill (the "slope" in Park Slope) there is a grand view of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan, which of course is... was... dominated by The Towers. My sister's home sits in such a way that you could see most of it out the window and all of it from the roof. Meanwhile Cobble Hill, is directly across from Downtown Manhattan, up high as the name implies.

 

World Trade Center satellite September 11

 

 

Laura's first thought was for the twins. The school (coincidentally the one my mother had attended in her youth) was on one of the most beautiful blocks of Brooklyn's best area and had a spectacular view. Casey was in the middle of art class doing a project out in the school yard and so had an unobstructed view of both planes hitting. Once the teachers and admins had a chance to absorb what was happening they rounded up all the students and took them to the gym to await the parents. Laura called Speedy ay home, finally getting through after many attempts and told him to go get the kids. Speedy realized there was no way he could fight the traffic in a car, so he set off on his bike which had double tandem trailer seating for the young kids.

 

 

WTC paper

 

Once the kids went out and started the trip home, they saw the sky was filled with tons of paper from the many offices that occupied the WTC and it rained down all over South Brooklyn. Arthur, innocent of the tragedy then playing out, looked at it and said "it's beautiful, just like snow!"

 

Then the ash started falling. On the way home, strangers handed them paper masks and bottled water and wished them well.

 

People cross Brooklyn Bridge September 11

 

 

Meanwhile Laura realized she would not make it back to Brooklyn anytime soon, as most busses and almost all subway lines were shut down and bridges and tunnels were backed up with refugees from Lower Manhattan. She took charge at the salon where she was a hairstylist and quickly organized forays to the local stores to buy food, water and a portable battery powered TV. Luckily the quick thinking meant they got there before the majority wiped all shelves clean.

 

Outside the shop a Jamaican woman was crying hysterically, repeating over and over that her daughter was in the towers. The women of the salon brought her in and did their best to assure and comfort her as they all worked through their fears together. Some of the vodka that was part of the store provisions helped.

 

A week later the Jamaican woman returned, after burying her daughter and thanked all "the ladies" for being there at her time of need.

 

 

Forward to September 10, 2003

 

Speedy was on his way home from work and had just turned on to the off ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge, when the wheel fell off the car in front of him. It happened so quickly that even such an experienced rider was unable to avoid it, which laid him down on the pavement. A second later, a bus from the Access-A-Ride program hit him. Death was instantaneous.

 

Jackie, Speedy's sister, found Laura at work and broke the news. Jackie's husband Ray drove them back to Brooklyn and both were both so shaken up they didn't know what to think or do or how to proceed... I got the call from Laurie (yes her name is Laura, but she will always be my little sister Laurie to me) in San Diego. She (and Jackie in the background) were hysterical and despondent. It was all I could do to understand the words "Speedy is dead, I need you Pep (my nickname as a kid was Pepey) please come" repeated over and over. I assured her I was on the way.

 

When I walked in there was pandemonium. Laurie, Jackie and my mother were having a huge argument over which photo best worked to represent Speedy for the funeral. I stepped in without even a hello, told everyone to be quiet and then said there was only one opinion that mattered. Laurie made her choice and the first issue was settled. From there I started asking questions and getting a handle on what had been done, what still needed doing and prioritizing how to proceed. Laurie asked Jackie if she minded that I was taking charge and the response was a simple "I guess somebody has to".

 

The first stop was the funeral parlor. Although preliminaries had been made and Speedy's body being worked on, all of the morbid and expensive details had yet to be worked out. So we went through the litany of options and made the tough calls that everyone who has ever had to bury a loved one is burdened with. Then there was the matter of flowers... Laurie wanted to go home, but she gave me very specific instructions; "It should be made out of, or have a lot of beer cans on it. Budweiser was his favorite." Of course the florist thought that strange and tried to talk me out of it, but I made clear it was not my desire, but the widows and it would be carried out or I would find another florist.

 

That evening everything seemed to be in place and all that was left was deciding who was going to speak the next day and in what order. By this time both Jackie and Laurie were spent. They not only had no energy to speak, but asked that I organize the proceedings.

 

In the meantime people started arriving...

 

The kids from 12th street had all grown up and scattered across the country, except for Laurie and Speedy, who stayed in the old Neighborhood. Tight as we'd all been as kids, none of us stayed in touch with each other, but everyone had stayed in touch with Speedy. It was through him that we each picked up tidbits of news and gossip, good and bad about each other, over those many years. So although I had not expected or even thought about seeing any of 'that ole gang o mine' it was starting to look like an extended family reunion. Of course the main topic of conversation was about Speedy, how he 'went out' and his family, but it was inevitable that there was also a lot of catching up to be done. Who had moved where, what were we doing now, pictures of husbands, wives, kids. The entire occasion had taken on as much a vibe of the celebration of life, as the final remembrance of a loved one's death. Speedy would have liked that.

 

I was still a smoker back then, so I spent a good deal of time taking cigarette breaks out on the sidewalk. That also put me in position to greet everyone as they arrived, without breaking the solemnity within. I noticed two men in uniforms, keeping their distance and realized they were MTA. I walked over and asked if they were friends of Arthur and one, the MTA union rep said he knew him, but the other, an official of the Department did not, and was only there in official capacity. It turned out that dying on the way home from work meant you were technically still "on the job" and as such the department had vested interest. The union guy said this was actually a "silver lining" in that it meant Arthur's family would be entitled to full benefits. Then the union guy mentioned that he had several requests from other MTA workers asking if the family thought it would be ok if a few of them came by tomorrow to pay their respects.

 

The next day was to be the last at the parlor and so more people were expected and arrived. Friends not seen in many years along with many Speedy had made since I left Brooklyn long ago. Family from both sides poured in and paid their respects, but the big surprise was the MTA guys. I was told "a few" and "several" would come, instead there were many... I mean the kind of "many" you can't reliably count. They covered the sidewalk and went around the corner. Many were in their "dress" uniforms, but as the evening progressed, guys in their work overalls with dirty hands and faces started showing up. The union boss from the night before came up to me and apologized for the crowd, but I told him that it was an amazing honor. Then he explained the why of it and I'll now do my best to recount his story;

 

"After 9/11, the entire city was in morning. There were funerals every day, all over the tri-state area. The media had picked up on the "heroes" of the story, the cops and firefighters who had rushed in, while everyone else was trying to run out. So they got the vast majority of the press and television attention. Meanwhile there had been MTA casualties too, but because these people had simply been "doing their jobs" like everyone else that day, there was not only little if any coverage for them, but the families tended to grieve separately, without a lot of official recognition. Arthur's funeral, coming on the second anniversary, had created an 'opportunity' to have a common time & place to mourn not only the loss of one more brother, but those of all the others."

 

By the time he was finished I was speechless. He said he would talk to all the guys and ask them to stay out of the way of family and friends. My reaction was instant; NO, you guys ARE family and friends! I went inside and told Laurie and Jackie what was happening outside and that they wanted to add a few from their ranks to my list of speakers. They of course agreed, so I delivered the message that they should choose from among themselves who would speak.

 

Meanwhile outside, they kept arriving. My hand hurt from being shaken so often and so hard. The sincerity of all these men was an experience I had never come close to. The apologies for showing up in work clothes, the promises soon broken that they would only stay a minute, the respect shown to a fallen brother... who stood for ALL the fallen brothers, took my breath away.

 

Finally it was time to call the service to order. As Speedy was not a religious man, nor is his family, it fell on me to start things off. I spoke of my memories of the kid who was everyone's 'go to' for anything bicycle related, which at that age meant he was central to us all. The teenager who embodied the spirit of mechanical and electrical curiosity that could provide incredible new combinations, or really pissed-off parents. The young man who my sister fell in love with. The father who had made me an uncle, thrice. I asked both Jackie and Laurie again if they would care to share, but they along with the kids were in no shape, so I started calling for other family first and then all the friends who had returned to the Slope to pay their respects.

 

 

 

Speedy and friends

 

One after another the memories, the recollections and the anecdotes were shared and the tears and laughter, yes there was a lot of laughter, because Speedy was a really funny fucking guy and it would be impossible to remember him without laughs. It was starting to get late and the MTA guys hadn't had their turn yet, so I stood and told everyone (every seat full) that there were 'a few more friends outside who wanted to say some words' and asked them all to try and squeeze together so they could come in. I went out and said that those chosen to speak and whoever else wanted, could come in now. The result was a mass of men, big guys all, gently maneuvering until there was not an inch of space in our room, or even out in the lobby.

 

They shared stories of Arthur from work. Of times spent having 'a quick one' after hours, of the breaks no one else could fix, so they called Arthur. Of how they had all mourned the loss of the original 9/11 MTA victims together. I had to brush off the funeral directors pleads to end as it was getting late, but all the memories just made others want to say impromptu adds and it kept going. The one thing Laura wanted to do was have whoever felt like it sign and add final farewells to the casket with sharpies. It was a long line and seemed to take forever.

 

Finally it started to wind down, so I thanked everyone for making the night such a special one and invited whoever wanted, to be there in the morning for the ride to the cemetery...

 

The next day was pandemonium when I, Jackie, Laura and kids arrived in the limo. There were cars everywhere, parked three deep. Every one of the 12th street 'kids' was back. Every extended family member from both sides was back. There were almost as many MTA brothers as the night before, so many in fact that the union boss had already called the cops and told them we "were going to need some help". Sure as shit, by the time we had sorted out the order the cars would be in and the casket was put into the hearse, a police Captain had found me, described the route that had been cleared and said there were cruisers waiting at every intersection to close off the street as we passed.

 

The ride was short but not bereft of drama... at one intersection an impatient motorist ran the police blockade and promptly slammed into one of our cortege. The motorcycle cop riding escort on the main limo where I was with Laura, Jackie and the kids had me roll down the window and explained what happened, said they would handle it and that we should just keep going.

 

 

Green Wood cemetary

 

 

Here I must do another short segue for those unfamiliar with Brooklyn, specifically what I believe to be one of the most incredible cemeteries in this country, Green-Wood. Resting place to the vast majority of Union heroes from the Civil War, a long list of celebrities like Judy Garland and a National Landmark. As kids we all used to jump the wall and hang out among the gothic architecture. This became especialy popular when we all discoverd acid in the late '60's. On any given day, there are as many tourists strolling past the magnificent tombs, sculpture and sepulchers as there are mourners. Not this day...

 

The cars rolled in and dropped of the many dressed in black and those in dress blues. The crowd was so large few could see the casket removed from the hearse and placed over the grave or hear the final brief words spoken at the graveside. When it was over everyone quietly disappeared, except for the closest of family who had previously agreed to have supper together.

 

That night, when we were back at my sisters place and I was starting to say my good byes prior to returning to San Diego in the morning, Jackie came over and tearfully hugged me and thanked me for having done such a great job taking over and making all those decisions she and Laura did not have the energy to do. Laurie added her thanks also and said that she really appreciated just having me there. I realized that I might have just given my little sister the best present of our lives...

 

Pepey Laura and mother

 

 

The next day on the plane, it all came rushing back, as I saw for the first time from the air, a city. MY CITY, that no longer had its most visible landmarks. My days as a little construction worker... my youth and all my friends from 12th Street... all the days with my sister and her husband, my friend and their kids, my nieces and nephew... and I tried to keep my crying silent, as to not upset the other passengers on the plane.

 

 

 

Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

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  • Joe, I spent a lot of time at the WTC. I was the weekend night security guard for the ENTIRE complex on the West Side Highway side in '71-'72 - John J. Callahan Security... (hard to believe now, 1 person could watch the entire WTC, LOL) and watched it go up 1 floor a week. Then I worked 3 blocks away in the music biz in the late 70s and later even had a loft 5 blocks away in '90-91. I also worked the location while working for the NYCTA in the 80s. One of my buddies transferred from the TA to PAPD, became a LT. and was a REAL hero on the day. I lost a few friends including 2 girlfriends in the disaster, and my friends at AEON insurance (who I did biz with) who ALL perished. I moved to California in 1991, but was supposed to be staying at the WTC Marriot on 9-11 for a Board Meeting, but cancelled. I went back to NYC to visit my late Mother in NYC 2 weeks after the disaster and stayed at my buddies 3 blocks from the WTC for a week... and got a severe cough that has never left me to this day. 2 years later (2003), I had a brain tumor... (LOL). I now am a gentleman rancher in NM and have a advanced technology biz to help secure our nation from future 9-11s. Life is so very short. Be alert and Keep Going. Take care, Life is so very short and can end at any moment... Peace.