We finally saw what seemed to be more of a business district, so we doubled back and started heading in the direction of point B on the map (A is where we got off the ferry.) We passed a pay phone, and called Liberty Mutual’s 800 number, and talked to some of Sharon’s co-workers, and gave them the number of family members to call. (At 11:27, I was also able to make a cell call to my mom and dad’s cell phone, where I left an unheard voice-mail message.)
A little bit ahead, we could see an Enterprise Rent-a-Car office, at point B on the map. When the second plane had hit, I realized that there would be no flying out of any New York airport that day, even before I heard of all the other hijackings and subsequent shut-downs. (This was our last day in New York, and we had been scheduled to fly out of Newark at 3:30.) So a rental car seemed to be a good option. Besides, Liberty and Enterprise do a lot of business together, so they would probably help us.
Unfortunately, they were under orders not to rent out cars, plus bridges and ferries off the Island were all closed. But one of the ladies at the counter took Sharon’s Liberty Mutual business card and went back to a phone. She came back and said she had gotten us a room at a bed and breakfast that was within walking distance. (Now, one of my regrets is that I didn’t start writing down the names and addresses of all the people we met and who helped us out along the way. There were a lot of them)
While in the Enterprise office, I noticed another couple, who had a large Akita dog with them. When we left, they caught up to us and said that they were going to that bed-and-breakfast, too, so we formed a group and went along. (Again, I didn’t get their names, so I will have to call them the Dog Couple.) They had an apartment in Battery Park City, which were the buildings we were walking behind when the second plane hit. They grabbed their remarkably-well-behaved dog and jumped on the ferry, much like we did. They had been living in Miami, and had moved back to New York less than a year ago. (Bad Move) The Dog Man was from Israel, and kept trying to call his family back there, to let them know they were OK.
The walk to the B & B was about 2 miles, over some of Staten Island’s rolling hills. It wouldn’t have been a bad walk if I hadn’t been wearing dress shoes. (There was hardly any traffic on the roads other than police and firetrucks, who were racing along with sirens blaring. Once, I saw a bus go by, with a whole group of policemen on it. At one point on the walk we heard a radio report that said that already 300 firemen were unaccounted for.) The walk was along Bay Street, the main road along the waterfront, to Hylan Avenue, which the rental car lady said would be easy to find. The address of the B & B was 1 Hylan Avenue, which meant it must have been on the water. (Hylan turns into one of the major crossroads on the island, and runs the length of it ) It was. The six of us (if you count the dog) got there a little bit before 12:30, because we were still checking in when I was finally able to get through to talk to my 92 year old grandmother, who was at my parent’s house, on the cell phone, which according to records happened right at 12:30.
The B&B was called the Harbor House, and was run by a friendly Filipino family, who couldn’t pronounce Kratofil so they always called me Mr. Bruce (actually they called me Mee-ster Bruce.)The photo at right is from their web site. We got what was called the Verrazano Suite, whose two rooms are in the front corner as seen from this picture. With beds and a private bath, we figured this would be the best thing we could do for the day, so we settled in.
Later, we went out for pizza and also to a CVS where we bought some things like toothbrushes and underwear. But mostly, we just sat and watched. Our rooms looked out over Manhattan to the north and the Verrazano Bridge to the south, with the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn right across the water. Under normal circumstances, it would have been quite a scenic spot, but now the smoke and dust was drifting from the WTC southeast across Brooklyn. A number of incoming tankers and container ships had been ordered to anchor in the harbor rather than proceed to port, and Coast Guard helicopters and ships were making constant patrols of the harbor.
The smoke had started to thin out until 7 World Trade Center collapsed.
The B&B had eleven rooms for guests, and it was full by evening. They told me they normally only sold out at Fourth of July, when people came to see the harbor fireworks. There were probably three couples- regular tourists- already there, including an elderly couple from England who were scheduled to fly home Wednesday night. In addition to us and the Dog Couple, I met the following: there was one other couple from the Dog Couple’s apartment building at Battery Park; a man who was late for work at 7 World Trade Center, and was on a bus just getting ready to cross a bridge when they saw the first plane hit – I was talking to him when they showed a replay of his office building collapsing; a man who worked on Staten Island and lived in lower Manhattan; another tourist couple from Florida.
At about 6 or 7 I heard one of the Filipino ladies calling “Mee-ster Bruce, Mee-ster Bruce!” They had their phone and said that someone wanted to interview me. A newsradio station in Vancouver, British Columbia had done a web search for places that had a view of the New York skyline. They wanted to get someone to describe the scene. They found the Harbor House website, and then lucked out when they found they had eyewitnesses to the attack. They asked if I would do a live interview, and I said yes. I think I made it all the way through without swearing. I don’t remember the station ID, but have often thought about trying to track down the station to see if they had a tape or transcript of the interview.
We went to bed fairly early, right after Bush’s brief speech on TV. Rachel seemed to sleep OK, but Sharon and I didn’t. Not only were we reliving the events of the day- we were also thinking about how to get off the island and head for home the next day. One thing was for sure- we weren’t going to fly.
©2001-2003, Bruce Kratofil