Every year I share the 9/11 story of myself and my lifelong best friend, Mike.
It’s an amazing story of baseball, beer and friendship.
Here is our story.
Back in 2001 I worked in the grocery business for Wild Oats Markets, overseeing stores throughout the country.
Twenty years ago this past week, I was sent to the east coast. Starting in Florida for two days, I then flew to Boston for a day before driving to visit a couple of stores in Connecticut.
On September 10, 2001 my co-worker Simon and I finished our project several hours early in Westport, CT. It was noon and we realized that we suddenly had a free afternoon and evening. We weren’t scheduled to fly back home until more than twenty-four hours later, on September 11th from La Guardia Airport in New York City.
We checked out of our hotel and headed down to New York City early. At Yankee Stadium, Roger Clemens was going for his 20th win vs. the Red Sox that evening. We headed straight to the stadium.
We bought our tickets and then it started raining like crazy. The game was delayed. After an hour or so we headed into the stadium and got situated into our prime seats near the field, between home plate and first base.
We just got into our seats and right in front of us was my lifelong best-friend Mike and his wife Elena walking by. I was in disbelief, such a wild coincidence! Mike and I had been to dozens of LA Dodgers games together as we grew up in Bakersfield, California. Now here we were running into each other at Yankee Stadium.
The rain started up again and the game was cancelled. Mike and Elena didn’t have a vehicle at the game, and we didn’t have a hotel booked for the night. So they jumped into our rental car and we headed to their apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey.
We could see Manhattan and the World Trade Center perfectly from Hoboken. Energized by the sight, we came up with the idea of going to visit Mike’s office in the morning to see the amazing view on our way to the airport.
Throughout the night I called my wife, my parents and a few people that I worked with. I told each of them how unbelievable it was that we ran into Mike and Elena and that we were going to spend the evening at their apartment. I also shared my idea of going into work with Mike on our way to the airport in the morning.
Mike, Simon and I went to a great little Irish Pub in Mike’s neighborhood. The Harp’s and Guinness’s started flowing. We had a lively, beer-fueled conversation as Mike and Simon hit it off really well. Mike kept saying he needed to get to bed, but we kept insisting “one more beer”.
At the bar the three of us had been having a passionate discussion about music. The Pixies place in modern music’s evolution came up and created great debate. So at the apartment we proceeded to loudly put on their classic Doolittle album and have more beer and impassioned debate.
Extremely irritated, Elena got up and told us to turn the music and our voices down now. It took her a few more visits to the living room for us to retire for the night. After 3AM we finally went to bed with the obvious agreement that we would not be getting up early to go to work with Mike. We said our good-byes as Mike said he’d be up early for work.
When I woke up not too many hours later, I heard the shower going. Then I heard someone leave the apartment. A bit later I finally salvaged enough energy to get up. I told Simon to get off the couch and jump in the shower. I turned the TV on. I immediately saw that a tower had been hit. I opened the curtain and could see the smoke as I looked at lower Manhattan out the window.
Panicked, I assumed I had heard Mike leave earlier. But I rushed towards Mike and Elena’s bedroom and hollered for him. No response at first, so I kept hollering “Mike, are you in there?” Finally, Mike replied with an attitude that he was still in bed because he was hungover.
It was Elena that I had heard in the shower earlier. Her daily destination was the train station in the basement of the World Trade Center. She worked adjacent to the World Trade Center at One Liberty Plaza and had been alerted to the first tower being hit just prior to departing the train station in Hoboken. She turned around and headed back to the apartment. I will never forget how extreme the emotion was as she rushed in and thanked us for keeping Mike up so late.
Mike worked for the small investment banking firm Sandler O’Neill. His office was on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Mike wasn’t at his desk that morning because for the only time ever, a hangover kept him from going to work on time.
There were eighty-two of Mike’s co-workers in the office that morning. Despite the reassurance over the loud-speakers to stay put, sixteen of Mike’s co-workers took the elevator down to vacate the building after the first plane hit. The remaining sixty-six stayed and continued working.
They did not survive.
The reality of the day started to take over as the shock made way to Mike coming to the overwhelming realization and confirmation that so many friends and colleagues did not make it.
With the airports closed, Simon and I stayed with Mike & Elena for three more days. On the 12th Simon and I took the train into Manhattan to show our support for the team at our company owned store at 89th & Broadway. We visited the store and then walked the relatively empty streets of the city.
I was blown away by how kind, unified and helpful everyone was in the aftermath of this tragedy. People were solely focused on helping people. It was the best I have ever seen in humanity. The image and feeling of this was life-changing for me; staying with me ever since.
Twenty years later, Mike and Elena are still living in New Jersey with their two children, Lauren (my Goddaughter) and Matthew. Mike and I talk often throughout the year and Mike and his family visited us in Arizona this past July.
We have never missed having a conversation each year on September 11th.
Never forget 9/11/01.
Here is Mike Rowe telling our story….