RON'S 9/11 EXPERIENCE
Day of Terror:
My Personal Account of the World Trade Center Terrorist Attack
My Day Begins
I woke up on the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 around 7:15 a.m. I showered and dressed in my shirt and tie for work. It was only my third week working at a health insurance company in the financial district in lower Manhattan. One of the benefits of working in lower Manhattan was the relatively short commute from my apartment in Jersey City. Taking the PATH train from Grove Street Station across the Hudson River into the World Trade Center, I could walk a few blocks to the office and be there in about 25 minutes, door-to-door. I didn’t really mind the packed trains going into the city each day at rush hour; I enjoyed being part of the energy, somehow feeling that here, in the financial capital of the world, I was in some small way part of a larger effort to keep our country strong. I liked walking down Broadway or Trinity Place from the World Trade Center, seeing the stock brokers, clad in their brightly colored jackets and member ID tags, sucking down their coffee and dragging on their cigarettes before plunging into the madness of the stock exchanges. “This is it,” I’d think to myself everyday, “This is where capitalism begins and ends. The almighty dollar at work. The free market. This is prosperity. This is freedom.”
Around 8:25 or so I locked my apartment door behind me, briefcase in hand, and started my 8 minute walk to the Grove Street PATH station. As usual, the World Trade Center (WTC) train, originating in Newark, was packed with morning commuters on their way to the city. I squeezed into one of the cars and we sped off, stopping first at the Exchange Place station near the Jersey City waterfront, and then continuing under the Hudson River into the WTC.
The train pulled into the WTC around 8:42 or so. To get to street level, I had to ride 3 escalators - one from the train platform to the PATH entranceways, then two more. I didn’t like this part of the commute. There were so many people getting off trains and making their way up the escalators, it was like a giant herd of cattle. It was frustrating trying to negotiate the crowd, dodging people, stepping on heels, moving around the slow pokes.
At the very top, I stepped off the escalator, turned right, and started walking in a southeastern direction. Normally, I would walk down two corridors, past the shops and restaurants, to get to the exit. This morning, I didn’t have a chance to walk that far. It was around 8:46 now. Suddenly, there was an explosion. It sounded like a small bomb, or perhaps even a shotgun. From where I was standing, it sounded like it was down the hall and around the corner. Women screamed, and then everybody just started running. It sounded like a stampede. The sound of people’s footsteps was so loud, it almost hid the sound of the screams that continued. I had never heard the sound of people running like that.
I was terrified. The first thing that went through my head was that the WTC was bombed again like it was in 1993. But then I thought that perhaps someone had a gun and was “going postal,” shooting people in some psychotic fit. My heart raced, my adrenaline started to flow, as I ran toward the nearest exit. I feared that the panicked crowd would trample me. I feared that another bomb would go off over my head or underneath me and kill me in a blast. I spoke aloud to myself as I ran, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.” A man tripped and fell in front of me. I jumped over him to avoid tripping on him. Not wanting to be trampled, I jumped into the doorway of the Sbarro Pizza restaurant to assess the situation. People continued to scream and run, even though we didn’t know what we were running from. Then it occurred to me: “why the hell am I standing here? Get out before you’re killed!”
The next few moments are a blur. I jumped back into the stampede and made my way out of a northeastern door. I don’t remember going through the door. I don’t remember running across the plaza. I don’t remember seeing the crowds of people running out of the building. The next thing I do remember is seeing crowds starting to gather, and everybody staring up at the sky and pointing, with looks of horror on their faces. I looked up and saw the North tower, A.K.A. Tower 1, ablaze, giant billows of black smoke shooting out of it. “They DID bomb it,” I said aloud. “No,” a stranger said, “a plane hit it.” I didn’t believe him until another stranger told me he had heard the low-flying plane and looked up to see it crash into the tower. Hearing that, I assumed it was an accident… a mechanical or computer malfunction on the plane, so I disregarded the thought of a terrorist attack.
By this time, emergency vehicles were starting to arrive. Police started telling people to back away. Everyone was pouring into the streets, staring at the burning tower, making frantic calls on their cell phones. I remember being in the street when a fire engine arrived… I had to step back to make room for it to pass by. I looked up at the truck…I can still picture the face of the firefighter in the passenger seat… his arm dangling out the window as he leaned out, shouting to people to clear the way. I realize now that he’s probably dead… most of the firefighters who were first on the scene were killed when the tower collapsed some 30 minutes later.
I stood there in awe for a few minutes, watching the scene unfold. Office papers from the tower were flying through the air like a tickertape parade. I knew there must have been people killed by the blast, but I assumed, naively perhaps, that the building’s sprinkler system would eventually extinguish the fire. The hook and ladder trucks certainly couldn’t help; the fire was too high. People were confused… not knowing what was happening or why. Time stood still. I looked around and noticed some people taking pictures with disposable cameras, and thought I should quickly run to a drug store and buy one. As horrible as the event was, it was history unfolding, and I wanted to document it for myself. I turned to walk a block away to a drug store. I stepped in the store, withdrew some cash out of the ATM (my ATM slip says “9:02 a.m.”), and stood in a short line for the register. It was while I was in line that we all heard a second explosion. It was 9:03 a.m. I turned to look toward the storefront window, and noticed people running away from the direction of the WTC. I quickly paid for the camera and headed back to the street where I was standing before.
More smoke. More flames. More debris. More paper. The South tower was now on fire too. I overheard someone say that a second plane had flown into the tower. Someone else confirmed that. I knew then that this was no accident. These were terrorist attacks. By now, the police were pushing people farther away from the vicinity. Now people were really starting to panic. Running, dropping their bags, shoes, keys, and hats. Women crying. Friends gripping each other in tears. Everybody was staring at the burning towers and uttering words of disbelief and amazement. I felt like I had been sucked into a Steven Spielberg film. Or was it a nightmare? Was I going to wake up soon?
As I stood staring up at the towers and snapping pictures, I noticed people jumping or falling from the burning buildings. It was clear the jumpers were still alive - their feet and arms flailing as they plummeted 80 or more stories to their death. They must have been faced with the unthinkable choice of either burning to death, or jumping in resignation to their death. Whenever a victim would jump, all of us onlookers would gasp in horror. That’s when it really hit me: this was no nightmare. This was no movie. I knew these people were dying right before my eyes. I started to cry, and closed my eyes to pray for them. My stomach ached. Damn those terrorist bastards.
First Tower Collapses
I watched for a few more minutes in disbelief, the police pushing us farther away as the minutes passed. I thought the best thing to do at this point was to go to the office and call my roommate and my family to let them know I was ok (I didn’t have a cell phone then). It was around 9:30 now. Would anyone be at the office? I was so dazed at this point, I couldn’t even remember how the heck to find my office from where I was standing. I asked a passerby how to find Broadway and, after reorienting myself, started the short walk to my building. On the way, I picked up some things on the street, including an office document burned on its edges, someone’s keys, a book, and a receipt for an airline ticket.
When I got to my office building, it was clear most people had left. I took the elevator to the 9th floor and found my boss, Ray, and a coworker, Carolyn, among others, still there. They were relieved to see me, as I was unaccounted for, and they knew I traveled through the WTC each day to get to work. I quickly booted up my computer while I dialed the phone to reach my roommate. The circuits were busy, no doubt because of all the people making calls in the area. I found a few e-mails, from my family and friends, all of them wondering if I was ok. I fired off quick replies, saying I was ok but shaken. Meanwhile, on the 5th or 6th attempt, I got through to my roommate. As I was telling him I was ok, I heard another explosion, the building shook, and the lights flickered. I told him there was another explosion and that I had to go immediately. I hung up and ran to Ray’s office to look up Trinity Street toward the WTC. The first tower was collapsing, and all I saw was an enormous thick black cloud of smoke and debris heading right for our building. I was afraid that when the cloud hit our windows that it would break them, so Ray and I moved to the interior of the floor. It didn’t break the windows, but it did shoot dust and particles through the seams and into our building.
Second Tower Collapses
We knew then we shouldn’t linger any longer in the building. We headed to the stairwell, where we mixed into the crowd and headed downstairs to the lobby. I lost Ray somewhere along the way and never saw him again that day. As we stepped out into the lobby, a maintenance worker handed us all dust masks to wear. Someone told us to stay in the lobby because it was too dangerous outside the building. Some of the women were panicking. One was having an asthma attack, and had lost her breathing apparatus. She eventually calmed down without losing consciousness. A group of women crowded in the corner and read passages from the Bible aloud. Others formed a line to take turns using a payphone. I tried calling my roommate again from the payphone, but I couldn’t get through. By now it was around 10:30. We then heard another explosion and a long, drawn out rumble. I looked toward the revolving doors in the front of the lobby and a new cloud of ash, smoke, and debris shot its way down the street past the doorway of our building. Moments later, someone confirmed that the remaining tower had collapsed.
We all lingered for a while in the lobby. Some strangers came in from the street, covered in ash, and washed themselves off in the janitor’s sink in the hallway. Ash was collecting on the street like a dark gray winter blizzard. Soon we were all instructed to go next door to the large post office because supposedly the quality of the air was better there. Most people chose not to leave, but I was happy to get out of there. I felt like sitting there in the lobby was a waste of my time. I walked over to the revolving doors and looked outside. What had started out as a gorgeous, sunny, September day was now dark and dismal. Everything was covered in an inch or more of ash. Everything was gray. The sunshine was completely eclipsed. I secured my mask over my mouth and nose, and headed outside. I couldn’t believe it. It looked like nuclear winter. I couldn’t see more than half a block in front of me. I looked North up Broadway (toward the WTC), and it was a wall of black smoke and ash. The ash burned my eyes. The smell was sickening - like the sharp odor of burning wires or plastic. The few people who were on the streets walked around with masks, shirts, or towels over their mouths and noses. I noticed a bank of two payphones half a block up. No one was using them, so I went up to them to try again to reach my roommate. I couldn’t get through to him, so I thought if I tried calling one of my brothers or sisters in upstate New York, I might have better luck reaching someone. The only person’s work number I could remember was my brother Gary’s. I called and he answered.
I barely remember what I said at that point. But I told him where I was standing and what I was doing, and asked him to phone my roommate and tell him I was ok, that I wasn’t sure how or when I would get home to Jersey City. I also asked him to share the information with my other siblings. I remember that it seemed he didn’t know what to say, but that he was happy I was ok. I turned to walk back to the building, when a passerby stopped me and offered me the use of his cell phone. He was concerned that I couldn’t get through to my loved ones. I took him up on his offer and tried one more time to reach my roommate, to no avail. I thanked him, and we went our separate ways.
I walked into the post office, where there were dozens of people waiting, most of them sitting on the floor along the perimeter of the walls. There were two pay phones inside, and of course, long lines of people at each of them. I saw a co-worker standing alone crying. I put my arm around her to ask if she was ok, then left her alone to make her phone calls on her cell. I sat for a few minutes before I decided I wasn’t going to sit around any more. I was worried about how I’d get home. I wondered what would have happened to me if I had left the apartment 5 or 10 or 15 minutes later and been on a later train.
I was thirsty. With mask over my face, I again ventured outside and up the street to see what I could find. To my amazement, a large deli/café was open a few doors up Broadway (only in New York!). I walked in to find a dozen or so people, most of them sitting at the tables and chairs, waiting to find out what to do next. The staff was still selling food and drink to people. I was appalled that they weren’t giving away water. I bought some fruit and a water and settled down at one of the small tables.
It’s amazing how tragedy and emergency can make instant acquaintances out of perfect strangers. The group of us sitting at the tables started talking as if we had known each other for a long time. We shared whatever news we had heard. Someone reported that the Pentagon was hit. Another said the White House was bombed. We all cursed whoever had planned and executed these attacks. We all agreed the United States would kick someone’s ass over this. At that moment, a Coast Guard officer came in and asked if anyone was hurt. He then asked if anyone needed to get home to New Jersey. I raised my hand and told him I lived in Jersey City. The military, he explained, was ferrying people from Battery Park across the Hudson River to Liberty State Park in Jersey City. There were two others in the group who needed to get to Jersey. The three of us immediately left the deli and turned southward toward Battery Park. When I reached Battery Park, only a couple blocks away, I could see people walking to the park from all directions. Halfway across the park I noticed a heavy-set elderly woman limping along and huffing and puffing, a rag held over her mouth and nose. I stopped and offered her my mask. She refused, saying “I’m an old woman - I’ll be ok.” I insisted, but she again refused. Unable to offer her my help, I continued walking to the docks. There were dozens of boats of every size and kind either docked, pulling away from the docks, or waiting to alight. Ferries, tugboats, fishing boats, military vessels all working together to evacuate people off Manhattan. I got in a line of people boarding an Army Corp of Engineer’s boat. Some soldiers helped us aboard, and within minutes we were pulling away.
Some of the people on the boat were absolutely covered in soot and ash. Barely a word was spoken, except by a couple people sharing what little news they had heard about the catastrophe. As we pulled away from Battery Park, more and more of the cityscape came into view. It looked as if all of lower Manhattan was on fire. Billows and clouds of gray and black smoke hovered over the city, moving southward over New York Harbor. Again, it was like some kind of scene from a movie. I was exhausted. I was relieved to be alive. I was angry at the terrorists. Where were the towers? They should be there, and they weren’t. What was going to happen? What else would be attacked?
I turned away from the view of the city and looked over the other side of the boat. There was the Statute of Liberty. What a glorious site to see at that moment. The sky over her head was still clear and blue. No smoke, no ash. She stood tall and sure. This was a message, I thought, that despite the evil and the destruction and the death, we, too, will stand tall. The WTC was a symbol of America’s power and wealth and greatness. But what the terrorists don’t realize is that destroying our symbols does not destroy our greatness. What they don’t realize is that by attacking us, they only make us stronger. They only make democracy shine brighter. They only bring out the best in all of us.
The boat finally reached Liberty State Park. There were medical units set up under tents to treat the wounded. I felt lost. It was quite a hike to get home, but no way to get there except to walk. I was tired, and all I wanted was to see a familiar face and to be hugged. I asked some officials if there was any transportation available to get to downtown Jersey City from there, but they said no. I started my walk. Along the way, as I passed block after block of homes, I could see and hear people’s radios and televisions tuned in to the reports of the attacks. Neighbors clumped on each other’s porches and on street corners to talk about it. Some people stared at me because I was covered in dust with my mask down around my neck.
About 35 minutes later, I reached my apartment. My feet hurt. I had a headache. I was so tired. As I climbed the stairs and neared my apartment door, I could hear my neighbor inside my apartment, talking with my roommate. I stepped in, and we all hugged each other. We cried. The horror of everything that had transpired that morning came rushing at me all at once. I was so happy to be home. I was so happy to be alive.
The Days Afterward
A blur and a fog. That’s what the first week was like after September 11th. After taking off my ash-covered clothes and taking a shower, I rested on the couch and watched the news unfold on television. Like the rest of America, I was in a state of disbelief for quite some time. My office was closed. We had no power, water, or phones. I didn’t have my boss’s home phone number with me, so I had to wait for him to contact me before I knew when we might expect the office to open again. I closely monitored the city government’s website, where daily updates were posted on the conditions of the Financial District. For days, no traffic was allowed in and out of the city except for emergency vehicles. The city south of Canal Street was declared an emergency zone and closed. The National Guard was called in.
On Thursday, September 13, my roommate and I decided we needed to go into the city - not only because we needed to relieve our cabin fever and get out of the apartment - but also because we felt a need to be in Manhattan and see what was happening. We took the PATH train into the West Village on Thursday night. There weren’t many people on the train, and those that were onboard remained completely and unusually quiet. The streets in Manhattan were deserted, except for local residents. Everyone seemed to be walking around in a daze with their heads down. No one smiled. No one laughed. We walked in the streets because there was so little traffic. Restaurants - usually buzzing on a Thursday evening -- were closed or nearly empty. Juke boxes and stereos were off, and TVs were on instead. The whole city appeared depressed. I’d never experienced anything like it before.
While we walked down the street, a fire truck happened to go by with an ambulance behind it. The few of us on the street stopped and waved and clapped. The drivers waved back in appreciation. We also passed by the firehouse on West 10th Street off of 6th Avenue. A make-shift memorial was growing there. People left signs, cards, and candles. Pictures of the firefighters from that unit who had perished were posted on the walls. Lots of flowers. As the days unfolded, we realized that make-shift memorials like this one popped up all over town. The largest was in Union Square.
There was no escaping the aftermath of the disaster. Pictures of missing loved ones were posted everywhere - walls, subways, bus stops -- especially in the Financial District on northward up to the Village. The signs were hard to look at. Seeing pictures of these smiling people, I knew the loved ones who posted the picture would only end up having their hopes dashed. One poster I saw quite frequently looked a lot like one of my nephews. I imagined how I would feel if it had been one of my nephews. The pictures remained up all over town for weeks.
A week after the disaster, I got a phone call from my boss saying that power had been restored to our office building and that I had to return work on Tuesday the 18th. We could wear casual clothes, because the place was so filthy inside, and there were a lot of barricades, cables, and other obstacles to walk around. I dreaded having to go back to that neighborhood, but at the same time I was curious to see what was happening there. I knew the subways were going to be jammed, since the PATH train line to the WTC was destroyed. Instead, I took the ferry, the dock for which is only a short 15 minute walk from my apartment. On the ferry, a gorgeous young woman in her early 30s sat next to me, and I noticed a button she was wearing on her purse. It was the face of a young man, his name printed above his face, and “9-11-01” printed below. I wondered if he was her boyfriend. She wore an engagement ring on her hand.
As we crossed the Hudson River on the boat, Ground Zero smoked and smoldered. In fact, it smoked and smoldered for weeks afterward. Every day for weeks, people stared out the windows at Ground Zero as we ferried across the river. I don’t think any of us really believed that those magnificent towers were gone. We needed to stare at the smoking hole to remind ourselves that this horrible thing really did happen. The window that provided the view of the disaster site was also the same window that, on the return trip at day’s end, offered a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty. I can’t express more sincerely how much this comforted me each day. Out one side of the boat was a smoking, smoldering symbol of hatred, cowardice, and death. On the other side of the boat was a majestic symbol of freedom, strength, and comfort.
When I stepped off the ferry, it was like a war zone. National Guard and police everywhere. Barricades, cones, ropes. I had to show my I.D. five times before reaching my office. This continued for a couple weeks, and gradually the security lessened. After a while, the National Guard, who made Battery Park their headquarters, left the area. The air reeked. It smelled like something I’ve never smelled before. It made me ill just to think that much of the smell was probably due to incinerated bodies. The smell was especially strong when the wind blew southward toward my building, and it lingered for weeks. Lots of people continued to wear masks. Dust everywhere.
I remained frightened for weeks and didn’t sleep well at all. Anxieties were high all around. Would there be another attack? When? Where? How? Wherever I went, I couldn’t help but think how that location might be a target. I avoided the subways. I was even afraid that the ferry was a target - after all, the boat was merely a tin can full of people and fuel. I wasn’t alone though. Lots of people were jumpy. The slightest loud noise would startle crowds. When planes flew overhead (only military jets were flying overhead for quite a while afterward), people looked nervously toward the sky. But somehow this situation made people more sensitive to each other. New Yorkers, known for their brashness, were polite and patient now, courteous and friendly.
THE FOLLOWING WAS WRITTEN DURING OCTOBER AND NOVEMBER 2005,
FOUR YEARS AFTER THE ATTACK ON THE WORLD TRADE CENTER.
From Project Manager To Piano Man
Fate Plays a Hand
Over the weeks and months that followed, New York – lower Manhattan in particular – gradually returned to “normal.” Except for security-sensitive locations like the stock exchange, the barricades, cones, and ropes were removed. The rancid odor disappeared, the dust cleared, and after 100 long days, the smoke finally stopped rising from Ground Zero.
Still, what made it continually difficult for those of us who worked in lower Manhattan, is that many of us were forced to look at the gaping hole of Ground Zero on a daily basis. The company I worked for had two buildings, one located south of Ground Zero, the other located north of it. Whenever I had to traverse from one building to the other, I had little choice but to walk by the massive grave site. Also located in between my company’s office buildings was Trinity Episcopal Church. While I don’t call myself a “religious” man, I am indeed intensely spiritual with a deep faith in and a very private, personal relationship with God. Many a day I would duck into Trinity Church during my lunch hour, or on my way back to my office after a meeting at our second building, just for a few minutes of solace. Outside the church, the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple roared on, as if seemingly in defiance of the 9/11 madmen who tried so desperately to break our spirit. But inside the church was an instant and unexpected escape from the Manhattan mayhem, a safe and comforting retreat that offered the perfect environment for a few moments of quiet reflection, meditation and prayer.
About a year later, in September 2002, I found myself ducking into Trinity Church for one of my lunchtime respites. My heart was particularly heavy this day. The previous twelve months had been so difficult. The malaise from the events of 9/11 still weighed down on the city and the country. I grew unhappy with my job and tired of living in New York.
As I sat quietly meditating in the church, I felt an overwhelming sense that big changes were looming in my life. But it wasn’t clear to me what those changes would be. I prayed for guidance, and I remember distinctly saying to God, “I know something has to change. I don’t know what it is, but I know if I place it in your hands, you’ll lead me to the right place.”
The next morning my boss called me into his office to tell me that the company was eliminating two project manager positions, and the two with least seniority were the unlucky two. I was one of them. Remembering my prayer from the day before, I actually let out a giggle when my boss delivered the bad news. “You seem to be taking this well,” he said, puzzled. As he droned on about severance pay and company policies, I half-listened, somehow comforted in knowing this unexpected and seemingly random turn of events was actually fate playing a hand.
Cocktail Party Wisdom
At the time this all transpired, I was supplementing my income by moonlighting one or twice a week as a piano bar entertainer at a local restaurant. I had regularly sought these gigs ever since my first paying gig during my junior year in college, when I played piano at a four-star restaurant down the road from my campus. After moving to Washington, DC in 1993 to pursue my master’s degree and begin a career in politics, I continued to play and sing at private parties to help pay the bills, and a few years later, I was the featured entertainer at regular weekly gigs at two different bars. I had always dreamed of making music a full-time living, but I felt I didn’t have enough music education, training, or experience to simply shift gears from project manager to piano man. So I went on pursuing my “day job,” even though the only time I was truly happy was when I was singing and playing piano for an audience.
I saw the loss of my project management job as a window of opportunity to truly make some positive changes in my life. I could have simply looked for another job in the same field, but I felt that was not what I was meant to do. It was time to think outside the box. I recalled a cocktail party I’d attended at a friend’s apartment in New York City sometime in 2000, I think. There was a beautiful grand piano in the apartment, but it was covered up for most of the evening. As the cocktails flowed, one of the other guests removed the cover and started playing the piano. He sang while he played familiar sing-a-long tunes, and everyone seemed to enjoy the impromptu performance. After he finished, friends who knew of my abilities asked me to take a turn at the keys. I sat down at the piano and played a few numbers.
Afterward I struck up a conversation with Mark, the other piano player, a guy about my age who lived in Chicago. He explained that he was a piano bar entertainer by trade, splitting his time seasonally between a piano bar in Chicago during the warmer months, and cruise ships during the cold months. “You could do cruise ships,” he said to me, “based on what I just heard you do here.” The idea was something I’d never considered, but it wasn’t anything I could realistically entertain at that time, since I had just moved to New York from Washington, DC and had just started a new job. Still, I took the information Mark shared with me and tucked it away in my mind. I forgot all about it… until two years later.
Fast forward to September 2002 and my state of misery. Soon to be unemployed. Ready for change. I remembered that conversation with Mark two years prior, and thought this might be the perfect time to look into becoming a piano bar entertainer on a cruise ship. I didn’t know the first thing about cruise ship employment, so I went online and bought every book I could on the subject. I didn’t even remember Mark’s name at the time, nor did I have any contact information for him. So I called the host of that cocktail party, gave him a vague description of “the other piano player, a guy from Chicago.” That was enough for the host to know who I was referring to, and he gave me Mark’s contact info.
I called Mark, reintroduced myself, explained my situation, and asked for advice. He was extremely helpful, and soon I found myself gathering the necessary components of a promotional kit to send to cruise lines and talent agents. I had never needed a promotional kit, so I had to start from scratch to put one together. I had professional “head shot” photos taken. With the help of a friend in theater, I wrote a performing arts resume. I rented a video camera and taped myself performing at the restaurant, then edited the video myself with off-the-shelf video editing software. On a wing and a prayer, I put the promo packs together and shipped them off to cruise lines and talent agents who work on their behalf. The next step was the most nerve wracking: waiting.
Leap Of Faith
About ten days later, I received a call from Norwegian Cruise Lines. They had received my package. The gentleman I spoke with told me they wanted to hire me, but that I had to wait until late January or early February to be placed on one of their ships. He asked me to stay in touch and we would speak again after the holiday season about getting assigned to one of Norwegian’s vessels.
A couple days later, Carnival Cruise Lines called me. They had a piano bar position open on a ship called the Victory, explained the gentleman on the phone. “When can you start?” he asked. I was thrilled to accept the offer, but I explained that I needed to give notice to my landlord, move my belongings to storage, and take care of other personal issues before I could start my new job. Carnival offered to keep the position open for me for one month.
In the mean time I had received other offers, but on Sunday, November 24, 2002 I walked aboard the Carnival Victory as their new piano bar entertainer. I remember the music director showing me around the ship, and when we walked into the piano bar, I was terrified. Never before had I performed in a venue where people were seated directly around me at the piano, staring at me in the face! As if that alone wasn’t enough for this newbie to adjust to, the grand piano was set upon a raised platform that slowly rotated 360 degrees like a Lazy Susan. (I didn’t like the rotating platform at first, but now I actually prefer it; I’m disappointed when I work on a ship where the rotation doesn’t work. I think about that first day and have to laugh.) Only a few hours later, with my suitcases barely unpacked, I was opening the piano and beginning my first evening of work in the Victory piano bar. Elton John’s “Your Song” was the first tune I performed that night. To this day it’s often the first song I sing each night I start work in a piano bar, and the last song I sing on the last night before leaving at the end of a contract.
Now in my tenth year as an entertainer with Carnival, I’ve had the honor of being selected for six new ship launches, or “inaugurals.” More importantly, I’ve cultivated a large and loyal base of fans, many of whom make their vacation choices depending on which ship I happen to be on. These wonderful people plan their vacation days and spend their hard earned money based on where I’m performing and when. I cannot think of a greater compliment for an entertainer. Many have become personal friends. I thank God everyday for these blessings.
My life as an entertainer has been a wonderful and amazing journey. I have a feeling that the best is yet to come.