Friday, September 09, 2011

A 9/11 Rememberance

September 11 changed everything. Its tentacles are so vast, think of the “butterfly effect” on steroids, as to have effected even the substantial business changes I had to make this past week, in the foreshadow of the tenth anniversary. September 11, as it is for many, one of those seminal moments in life when everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing. The only other memory I have of something so momentous was the assassination of JFK, when I was a child, though my recollection is more of the profound grief of my grandparents as they watched the news unfold, than of any understanding of the situation itself.

Because observance of this day means so much to me, I knew that I had to get a post in place, even at the dereliction of some other pressing matters before me. I had hoped to reprint, or borrow widely from an article that appeared about my September 11 story in Fort Worth Weekly magazine, but alas their archives only stretch back to 2002. Fort Worth? Yes, I’ll explain that one later.

Monday, September 10, 2001. Along with fellow travelers Cory Bumpus and Carl Pasquarosa from elsewhere in our dealer group, we boarded an AirTran plane at Logan Airport to fly to Dallas-Fort Worth for some information system training. The same Logan Airport from which the WTC bound American Airlines planes would embark the following morning. Funny how innocuous events take on greater meaning after seismic change occurs. When we boarded the plane, which was one of those no frills one-class carriers, Carl, who is a perpetual cut-up, immediately engaged the flight attendant in jocular banter. We were right at the front of the plane, and he joked of being in “fist class.” Then, he earnestly told the attendant that he was a close and personal friend of the captain. She played along with Carl, and went forward and got the captain to come out of the cockpit and say hello, and invited us forward to see the cockpit. Perhaps we were the last airline passengers ever afforded this courtesy.

That evening, after settling into our hotel, I drove to Fort Worth to see Paul, a university and conservatory roommate, and meet his new wife, Beth. She was, like me, a cellist, and also a freelance writer, often writing for the Fort Worth Weekly magazine. After a quiet evening I returned to the hotel and retired.

I was up every early on Tuesday, September 11. The time change hadn’t registered, and I have been waking at 4 something for years, so my day started early, with not much to do. At about 7:30am Dallas time (8:30 eastern), perhaps because of the reminiscing the evening before with Paul, I took out my phone book and called another friend from my university days who lived and worked in Manhattan. I recall that the news was on in the background, sound off: nothing of importance that I hadn’t already seen already that morning. At about 7:45 (perhaps a few minutes later) I finished my chat, and decided to head to the conference room off the lobby of the hotel since class started at 8:00. When I exited the elevator, I saw that the television in the lounge area had a news flash about a “small plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center.” It was compelling enough that a few, including me, stopped to watch. Looking back, while I don’t know the exact moment I hung up the phone with the friend in New York, it has occurred to me that I was talking with her at the moment that tower was hit.

Just before the class started, people in the lobby were shouting about the second tower being hit. The class emptied for a time, and then everyone came back. But not for long. As news of the Pentagon attack reached us, and the scope of the disaster widened, to the consternation of the instructor everyone left the classroom to join in the collective observation of the horror and chaos which were unfolding. I think that the numbness that took hold of me precludes any specific recollection of the events, but I’ll never forget the nauseating feeling, and the crippling impotence I felt being so far from my family. We all remember the excruciating helplessness and bewilderment that befell us that day.

Cory, Carl and I, having long put aside the notion of participating in training, eventually decided we had to make plans to get back to Boston. I believe that we were originally scheduled to fly on Thursday, but it was becoming clear that nobody was flying anywhere anytime soon. We investigated trains, not possible. Same with buses. Then we called Enterprise to see what the cost would be to drive the rental car we already had back to Boston. We were advised that if the car left the state it would be reported stolen. I will admit that as things got more desperate, I had devised a scheme whereby we would exchange the license plates with another rental car, report ours stolen and drive back on exchanged plates. It never got that far.

Fortunately, the folks in Boston were hard at work trying to get us home. Tony Bartolotti, then of Boston Volvo, arranged the purchase of a new S80 with a Dallas dealer. When the world started to right itself, money was wired and we were able to purchase the car on Thursday morning, and straight away we made our way toward home. Carl took the wheel first, and we had decided that we would make as few stops as possible. I was on the second leg, so I tried to sleep in the back seat and discovered that the rear headrests in an S80 were very uncomfortable.

Our first stop was in Arkansas. I don’t recall the town. We stopped at a family restaurant and had dinner. Carl, in his inimitable way, had the waitress laughing the entire time as he poked fun of her, and of us Yankees. After dinner, Carl continued on to the Tennessee border, where, well into the evening, I started to drive.

I wanted to get a cup of coffee. Nothing special, just a good cup of coffee. Even an OK cup of coffee. Where in the northeast we can’t go a mile without driving past a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks (or two, or three), we had no such luck in Tennessee. Thus, at a roadside stop, in lieu of coffee, I tried my first Red Bull. I can attest that one can kept me up and alert all night!

In the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning, I handed the wheel off to Cory. I remember my apprehension as Cory tore through a thick fog in the mighty S80. She was determined to get us home as quickly as possible! Later that morning, as we were in New Jersey running parallel to Manhattan island, we could see the smoke still pouring from Ground Zero. The low resolution photo does no justice to what we witnessed.

North of New York, just before the Connecticut border on Interstate 95, we experienced a moment of levity. There were strange sounds coming from the chassis of the S80. I heard it. Carl heard it. Two service managers concurred that there was something wrong with the car, so we pulled off to investigate. We both poured over the tires, suspension and undercarriage. While doing so, an attendant from the gas station where we parked came over to check on us. When we told him what we were doing, he laughed and said the noise was from a weirdness in the pavement, that lots of cars made that noise and plenty of those stopped in his gas station to check on it. Slightly embarrassed, we left.

A few hours later, about 30 hours since we had embarked, we arrived in Boston. I dropped off Cory and Carl at Boston Volvo and then went to Charles River Saab. There, learned that among those who perished, a passenger on one of the planes that hit tower one, was Anna Allison, a long time customer of Charles River Saab. After spending a bit of time with our employees, I finally was able to finish my journey home, finally able to have a sense of relief in being with my family.

While you may see some smiles on the faces in these photos, I can assure you that none of us was happy. We were immensely relieved to have a way home, and perhaps a little giddy with the anticipation of seeing our families. I will always think of Cory and Carl on September 11. Their fellowship was invaluable in staying emotionally sustained during that trying time. It is my sincere hope that none of us, no matter how directly or indirectly affected by the events of that day, ever forgets what happened.

As a post script, in an effort to make some sense and feel of some assistance to the victims of September 11, I wanted to do a fund-raiser. Where it seemed the emergency response victims were well spoken for, I came across a group looking to assist the under-served survivors of those who perished in the Windows on the World restaurant: The Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund. Thus, with my wife and a few friends, supported by the Village Automotive Group, we performed A Concert of Hope where admission was a donation, and were able to offer a nice sum to that charity. Though I hadn’t performed publicly in years, it seemed the least I could do.


Carl P said...

Pierre, nicely done my friend. I will always fondly recall our travels together after the events on 9/11. Three travelers just trying to get home to their families. Good to see you left out a few particular concerns we had along the way.

Nancy Pellegrini said...

That was an amazing story! You are very strong men. Carl is a very good friend of mine and his humor is one thing that can get anyone through anything at anytime! God Bless you all!