Back in the days when I was just a helper and working in a building on 3rd Avenue as an assistant building engineer, I was studying for my certification to move up in the ranks.
I was part of the team, somewhat liked and somewhat disliked by a few of the members in my crew. I was liked by the ones that worked and disliked by the ones that looked to skate.
I cannot say I was the hardest worker but I can say I was honest and I did my job. I was young and hungry. I was aiming to move up, ambitious but nervous, and I was also inexperienced and unaware of so many things.
I had yet to be really tested in life. This was before I ever knew what it meant to pay a mortgage or have a family depend upon me.
I was old enough to have responsibilities but still young enough to have the “get up and go,” mentality if my job didn’t work out.
I was in my late 20’s for Christ’s sake. I had a metabolism then. I had endurance. I had hope, which might have been blind or ignorant at times, but hell, I figured I was going to take on the world someday.
Either way, I was on the verge of change. We all were. Our entire world was about to change and I had no idea, no clue, and neither did you or anyone else.
All we knew is this was the summertime of 2001. There was a hot day in fact, which I recall very clearly.
There was a smoke condition in the building where I worked.
As the helper, and more accurately, as the youngest, I was made to head up to the top of the building, run to every tenant space, and advise them that we are evacuating the building.
Of course, there were announcement made throughout the building over the building’s speaker system. This came from the main console at the front desk, called the building’s fire command system.
There was a script set up for just such an occasion, which pretty much went like this: “May I have your attention, may I have your attention please. This is your building’s fire, life, and safety director. At this time, we are currently undergoing a smoke condition throughout the building.
Due to a small fire in the garage in the basement, at this time, we are evacuating the building. Floor wardens and searchers; please evacuate your floors through the designated staircases.”
The idea of this is to create a controlled evacuation. Now, although I paraphrased here a little, the message was clear. The reason for the smoke condition is because there was a repair garage for the postal service in the building’s sub-basement. The fire was rubber based, which creates a thick, black smoke.
Our elevators acted as a syringe, and as the elevator cabs went up, the shafts took up the smoke like a syringe would draw in the solution for a shot—and when the cabs went down, the smoke flew from the elevator doors and filled the common corridors with smoke.
The building purged the smoke; however, the elevators were not in use. Therefore, I went floor to floor for more than 30 stories, all the way down.
Some of the tenants argued. Some of the tenants complained about the fire situation below as if fault was important. One tenant was an overweight lawyer. He specifically fucked with me. He yelled and berated me because he was in the middle of something important at his desk.
“Well what if I don’t want to leave,” he challenged me.
“Then don’t,” I said.
“I have bad knees. Are you going to carry me down,” he argued.
“Then slide down on your ass,” I told him.
I had a building to evacuate.
I had people that were frightened but in all honesty, no one was too terrified. Nothing had ever really happened before. We had small fires in the past. We had false alarms too. In fact, we had so many that people became desensitized to the sound of fire alarms in the building. Besides, we worked in a hi-rise commercial office building in N.Y.C.
What could possibly happen?
Like I said
before, this was the summer of 2001.
Back then, September 11 was just a date. There was no meaning behind this. It was just another day on the calendar.
Father Mike was still around back then, My friends working the base at The Towers and me, we were all gearing up to take our practical exam for our refrigeration certificates. This bumped us up from helpers to actual engineers. We were all on our way
The practical exam is a test that is live and in person. The written test, although intimidating, could be studied for. The practical, however, was a performance of duties made in a stationary refrigeration plant. The test was to see if the applicant knew what to do, under pressure, and in a real life situation. The idea was not just to ruffle the feathers of the applicant but more so, to ensure the applicant knew what to do in case of a potentially dangerous situation.
Reading a book teaches theory. But life is not always like it is in a text. Not every situation appears in a “How to” manual.
teaches like experience.
We were on the verge of something. It was in the air and none of us knew what was about to happen. We were only a few months short of 8:45am on that Tuesday morning.
God, I was so young and so untested.
I wish I could go back and see me then. I wish I could see me and the arrogance I mistakenly showed to pass off as confidence.
I wish I could see me and some of my old friends from back then.
I assume I’d smile at me, at them, at us, and a part of me would appreciate how inexperienced we were. A part of me would weep though because I have not seen those people since. another part of me would weep because we never new how precious our time together truly was.
It’s strange to look back and see the page that turned the days before the buildings fell.
Ah, my city.
No matter what, she will always be beautiful to me