Chapter one- BEING HAD- The Book
On September 11th 2002, I was working as a bike messenger in Manhattan. And although my weight and age would probably show people differently, I was actually pretty good at it. I was not the fastest nor was I the flashiest, but maybe like an old ballplayer, I was just clever enough to get the job done. I had been riding for the best part of two years in the city, and I had accumulated the basic goods for a bike shop of my own which was at that time, the whole of my American dream. As I said, I was a little old to be doing what I was doing, but my body was good enough to make the rides and I was serious about it. I am not convinced that bike messengering breeds the most dependable of people and I think that this was an advantage for a serious minded older fellow with something to prove. But at the bottom line there is or was money to be made. And this is what I was doing. I am a biker and I like to ride. And really, I did take pride in the fact that I could still do the job, day in and day out. But as an old biker, I had no use for the strokes or from the ego of playing a dangerous game like a lot of the youngsters: I wasn’t playing, I was working and I was making money. And so all in all, I guess I was happy enough riding in the city I think. It can be a pretty cool job. And at the time because the money was Ok I guess it was all enough to justify the pain.
I was also single when I lived in Manhattan. And although this is and of itself is not that big of a deal, it did mean quite a lot to me. I was with a girl in Wisconsin for a while but we simply had no money. Before then I was in the city and I was riding and working with the bikes and I was doing ok but again I was single. After ward, I could never get the girl from Wisconsin to come and be with me in the city, and there was simply nothing for me to do there. So, I stayed alone. I am not even sure looking back, that I was all that unhappy being alone in my little world on 174th and Broadway. I lived in a Dominican neighborhood, the rent was quite small, and I was not bothered too much by anybody. Maybe it was because I always had something to do, and I liked the bikes that I was Ok. Maybe I was just a little out of it socially, and simply never felt comfortable playing the Manhattan social game. I know I certainly never felt that I had the money to play these games. So, I don’t think I was so very unhappy. I was making some money, my bank account was growing a little and I had the best part of a functioning shop at my place. How much simpler could New York life be? And so I contented myself with simply working and doing the best that I could.
I was in the east eighties that morning, a bit off of the beaten path for a Manhattan rider, and I was dropping off three packages early. I was in an elevator going up to drop my packages when the elevator operator told me in Spanish that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I remarked that the pilot must have been pretty stupid, and the first thing I thought of was that it was a repeat of the plane that crashed into the Empire State Building in the fifties. I went into the lunchroom of the company and watched along with six or seven others the television shot of the smoke coming from the tower on the right. The window of the office was facing south but there was another building that was blocking the view. After a moment, there was what looked like a small fireball erupting from the left building. The shot was from too great a distance and you couldn’t really see very clearly. A moment later, we saw a closer view from another angle and I said it must be terrorists. I think about a week earlier, there was an attack made by the Israeli’s on some Arab target or other, and my thinking was that this was a response to that. Nobody spoke.
I stayed in the lunchroom for a few moments until the pull to go and to get back to work over took me. It is an odd thing about being a bike messenger in that the knowledge that everything depends of getting the packages to where they are supposed to be becomes a very compelling thing. I met another rider on the way downtown and we rode together. We talked about this as we rode, that even in the face of such an amazing moment, our pull to continue working was so powerful to us. Ahead of us, at the end of the Island, we could see the plumes of smoke billowing from the two towers. We talked about bikes and frames as if nothing was happening. We both were interested if the work was going to stop. I think it is an odd thing to be a bike messenger.
We stopped at 59th street and Fifth Avenue and stood with a few hundred or so people and watched the television reports outside. If you walked over to the street, you could view down Fifth Avenue and you could see the buildings in the distance. We saw them both fall from there. After this, I ride downtown. My company’s offices were on west 22nd street and I stopped there to see what they wanted to do. They said that they didn’t know at the moment, but hat certainly they were going to stop work for the day. I rode down town and stopped and talked with other riders along the way. One fellow told us that he was there this morning and had seen the whole thing. Another story was that one of our guys was in the building that morning but had left and was back at work about 15 minutes before the plane struck. The last time I was in the building was the previous Thursday when I made a delivery to a Japanese back on the 80th floor of WTC 1. I remember that the lady I had contact with was quite nice and we bowed to each other. I remember I stopped for a moment, like I always did, and copped a few moments of the view. I remember looking at Brooklyn a bit and admiring the great distance down to the square between the buildings.
We rode down as close as we could get to the chaos downtown, but the police and the military were already forcing people back and cordoning off the streets. You could smell the smoke already everywhere. I remember that the smoke and the smell were there downtown, even after when it rained for almost two months. I couldn’t give blood because I had hepatitis when I was young. There was nothing I could do. I started to ride back up the Island towards Hamilton Heights, 174th street where I stayed. I got a call from my ex-girlfriend from Wisconsin asking if I was all right. I said I was. And she said that she was worried about me and some other words to the effect that maybe we should have not been so fast about breaking up. I agreed with her and he decided to keep talking. My grandmother called and said that she was worried nd we talked if there was any family members that had any connection to south Manhattan, and she said no and that she was glad I was Ok. Then I got a call from Sara, a lady from Italy I had met some years earlier while I was living in Canada. She had also seen the news and wanted to hear that I was ok.
I rode into central park, electing to take the promenade around the park before riding my bike up the hill to little Santa Domingo. As it was a warm September day, there were many people in the park. Some were sitting on towels and chatting or sunbathing. I saw a couple of bikers, not messengers but sport riders in full dress out taking some laps around the park. I guess it had turned into simply another day off from work to some. Maybe it was simply the shock. Because all of the public transportation was shut down, there was a stream of people, thousands and thousands having to make the long walk home to wherever they had to go. All of this was as if it was in a dream to me, but I do remember thinking how nice it felt to be getting so much sympathy from ex-girlfriends. It was nice not to be a jerk for a change. I guess I wasn’t thinking too much about anything. Certainly not about what was going to happen tomorrow.