FLETCHER: Taking a long walk with a friend

Brian Corr and News Advocate City Editor Jodie Fletcher sit in a pub on the Upper East Side toward the end of a very long walk on Sept. 11, 2011. The walk — and the stop at the pub — were a part of retracing their steps from 10 years before.

We saw a man playing ball with his kid, just as we had on that day.

We stopped into a pub, the same one where we watched the president’s address to the union. But this time, instead of shedding tears into our ale, we laughed over old times. And shared new ones. Told each other of loves lost and those found. And life that continues day after day. Jobs that come and some that go. And people we knew. A decade worth of memories.

The similarities were there, but the differences were what mattered.

Meeting up again

I spent Sept. 11, 2001 with my friend, Brian Corr, who was the perfect person to be with on that day. He’s like this Idaho philosopher in New York web designer’s clothing.

We were roommates back in the olden days, and we met up on Sept. 11, 2011, in our old neighborhood, ready to recreate the walk we’d gone on 10 years before, from our apartment on 109th Street to Long Island City Queens.

I was still a little down. I started that morning in a bad mood, having only slept for a couple hours. I also didn’t want to do what I had to do as I made my way downtown toward the World Trade Center site.

But I did, and then I spent the next couple hours writing about it while Brian made his way from Brooklyn, where he lives, to our old neighborhood.

He arrived just as I was writing the last sentence. We sat and drank coffee while talking about how much the neighborhood, which had been dangerous before, had changed in the past 10 years.

We gathered our courage and set off on this walk, which we suspected would be much harder than it was 10 years ago when we were 10 years younger.

My story

I woke up on Sept. 11, 2001 to the voice of my boyfriend at the time, Greg, on my answering machine. He was working as an art handler for a business out of Long Island City, Queens, where he also lived. They were at a job at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue and from there, he could see the Twin Towers.

His message went something like this (with some expletives deleted for the sake of this family newspaper): “Oh my God, I don’t know what’s going on. The World Trade Center’s on fire. We’re going back to Queens.”

Greg’s truck was one of the last over the Queensboro Bridge before it was closed to traffic.

I got to the phone as he hung up and immediately tried to call him back, but the lines were already jammed and I couldn’t get through.

After trying to fix our broken TV for a bit, I went to my room and turned on the radio. The announcers said that a plane had just hit the Pentagon as well. At a loss for words, the DJ said, even music couldn’t properly express how he was feeling. However, he felt this one came as close as it could.

I still can’t hear Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” without thinking it was in really poor taste.

I don’t remember at what point we got the TV working, but I know it was in time to watch the Towers fall.

Meandering about the neighborhood

Fed up with the TV, and a little annoyed with our roommates, Brian and I had set off to try to be useful. We headed three blocks uptown to St. Luke Roosevelt Hospital to try to give blood, so that’s the first place we went on our walk.

“There were signs on the doors,” Brian recalled, “saying something like, ‘thank you, we’ve taken all the blood donations we can hold, try one of the other hospitals.’”

A crowd had gathered outside, obviously with the same thoughts we had.

“You’re sitting at home and you’re like, well I don’t have to work today. What am I going to do?” Brian said. “I could go down with 800 other people and I don’t know, stand there and look pretty, but I’m just going to be in the way. Maybe I’ll just go and give blood.”

Retracing our steps, we left the hospital and walked over to Riverside Park.

“This is where I saw the guy playing catch with his kid,” Brian remembered.

This time, as we walked over the cobblestones and stopped to watch acrobatic squirrels jumping from tree to tree, we talked of anti-terrorist policies and a decade of warfare.

Brian Corr, walking through Central Park. (Jodie Fletcher/News Advocate)

The long walk

At some point that day, we went home. Throughout the day, we were able to reach friends and check on people. Sometime that afternoon I reached Greg. I hadn’t remembered the reason Brian and I decided to walk to Queens, but he did. It seems Greg had said he had a line on a pick-up truck and a guy who was going to sell him a gun. It seemed like the world was ending and he wanted to be armed in case.

We were going to talk him down.

That wasn’t the first time Brian had to talk someone down that day. Our friend Zach lived in SoHo and from his roof, through binoculars, Brian remembered him saying he saw two people join hands and leap from one of the Towers.

How it changed things

Central Park runs vertically for 51 blocks in the middle of Manhattan. Its paths meander and there’s solace in its beauty. It’s a peaceful haven in the midst of a city of madness.

So we walked through the park to get to 59th Street and the bridge to Queens.

On our way from Riverside to Central Park, Brian and I talked about how the events of 9/11 changed the course of our lives.

We’d graduated from acting school 11 months before and had joined forces with other performers and began staging sort of Socialistic street theater stunts. Our goal was to wake people up from their Capitalist slumber.

For one of our stunts, we rode the 1 train downtown during morning rush hour dressed in business attire and wearing rubber pig noses. The closer we got to Rector Street, the louder we started oinking. Once we got to that stop, which was at the center of the financial district and just blocks away from the Twin Towers, our oinking had reached a fever pitch.

At Rector, there was only one exit, so we exited the train with all these so-called Capitalists (in other words, people who were on their way to work) and ran screaming piggy murder all the way out to the street where we dispersed.

After the attacks, these stunts didn’t seem necessary.

“It was a different environment after that,” Brian said. “People didn’t need to be woken up.”

“We talked about revolution in those days,” I recalled.

“I think you do that at that age, no matter,” Brian said.

We didn’t want violence, and we were deeply offended by what these radicals had done. We thought ourselves radicals at the time, but we were advocating revolutions of backyard barbecues and villages of people taking care of each other.

Reaching the park

We got to Central Park and Brian pointed to a bench at the entrance.

A small waterfall in Central Park.

“I remember seeing a guy at that bench,” he said. “It was like two guys huddled over a radio and I don’t think they knew each other, they were very different. And they were both dead silent listening to the radio. And a couple other people would stop, because I remember everybody just kind of wandering around.

“So people would wander into the park and see these guys and stop and they’d listen to the radio for a little while and then walk on.”

A little ways into the park, we saw a fellow pitching to his son, who hit a ball all the way out into the path. Brian joyfully ran after it, scooped it up, and tossed it over to the man.

We walked on and our conversation turned from politics and memories specifically of that time to more personal matters. We caught each other up on what and how mutual friends were doing.

We stopped in the mid-80s on the west side, to point out the spot where we stopped to visit a friend who was waiting tables at that time. This time, we stopped and ate, had a couple pints. We needed sustenance to continue on our journey.

While we were at dinner, Brian’s girlfriend called. She couldn’t believe it had taken us three hours to travel a little more than a mile. Especially considering we had several miles left to go. Our legs aren’t as young as they used to be, but we would make it in the end.

The rest of the walk

Somehow, we made really good time getting through the park after dinner. We cheated a little bit as it got darker and took to Fifth Avenue so we wouldn’t get lost.

We turned on 59th Street to head toward the bridge.

“I think that’s the bar we stopped in,” Brian said as we approached a place called the Carriage House.

“It is,” I said. “I can’t believe it.”

“I kind of can’t either,” Brian admitted. “I was just ready for a beer, but I think that really is the place.”

We stepped inside and any doubt we had disappeared. The booths were the same, and we sat in one and looked over at the TVs positioned over the bar, where 10 years ago Bush spoke about the horrors we’d witnessed. Sunday night, football played.

There were a few moments that reminded us of where we were and what day it was. I missed one in particular, unfortunately.

I’d gone to the restroom and when I came back Brian said he’d just seen the most ridiculous thing. The Budweiser Clydesdales had bowed their heads for a moment of silence to remember 9/11.

And we laughed.

I don’t remember much laughter that day 10 years ago. I think there were tears mixed with the shock and disbelief as we saw the cloud and knew what it was.

The bridge

We left the bar, much later than we had several years ago. We were in much better spirits as we found our way to the Queensboro Bridge. It wasn’t the same as it had been before. It had been closed to traffic and we’d walked on the opposite side. It had afforded us a clear view of the hole in the skyline and the destruction and death that had taken place hours before.

This time, it was overcast. We could still tell where the Towers had stood, but it was like the decade since had put a haze over everything.

We cheated again. We got more than halfway across the bridge, but we turned around and walked back to Manhattan. We spit over the side of the bridge and laughed hysterically.

We weren’t grieving, we were living life. Old friends, who haven’t seen each other enough during the past 10 years. The reason we were together hardly mattered.

And just as I’ll always remember sharing the grief of that Tuesday in September with my very dear friend, I will forever fondly recall the day, 10 years later, when we instead simply celebrated being alive.

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