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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9/11/01 Tragedy, TV, Airplanes, and a Song

This blog is about my personal experiences related to September 11, 2001. It includes my perspective of the tragedy, my job at a TV station that was carrying coverage of the day, how it affected my role in aviation, and my part in a song dedicated to the heroes of 9/11.

It started for me a little after 9:00 that morning. I was driving to the local grocery store when I had WCMF radio on in the car. I heard them discussing a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. While it was obviously a horrific situation, my mind transported back to the 1940's when a military airplane crashed into the side of the Empire State Building. At that time, it punched a hole in the side of the building and rained some debris onto the sidewalk below. I did not even begin to imagine what this new event was creating. By the time I got to the grocery store, I had heard that the FAA was shutting down airspace around New York City. Still not comprehending the magnitude of what was happening, I started thinking about how this was going to affect flights across the country with cancellations and delays.

I continued with my shopping trip, all the while thinking about Air Traffic Control, the airspace, and airline flights. Obviously I was naive to what was really happening.

Once I got my groceries back out to the car, started the engine, and turned the radio back on, that's when I heard that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon, and still yet another plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. That's when I really became aware of what a horrible situation was developing.

Back in my house, I left the groceries in the car and ran in to turn on the TV. I was shocked at the amount of smoke I saw around the south end of Manhattan Island. There was so much smoke that I didn't even  recognize that one of the buildings had collapsed already. As I was watching, the phone rang. It was my mother. She asked me if I had seen the plane hit the building. I told her I did not. As we were talking, I kept my eye on the TV screen. Suddenly I saw the second tower collapse. My mother was also watching the TV and she saw it too. I was shocked at what was going on.

I am a licensed private pilot. At that time, I was the president of the Rochester Pilots Association. I don't remember who it was, put a reporter from a newspaper called me to ask me my opinion about airspace being shut down. I didn't know what to say. I told him that I was just learning of all of the events and didn't know what else to tell him. I still don't know who it was and if they used any of my comments in their story.

I continued watching TV coverage, and somewhere along the way I managed to get the rest of the groceries into the house. At that time, I worked in the control room of WHEC TV 10. I was scheduled to work at 3:00 that afternoon.

Once at work, I was asked to take over in master control and I sat there for the next nine hours straight until it was time for me to go home. My job was to keep coverage of the NBC television network on the air, write up all of the programs and commercials that we were missing, and do local special reports whenever the newsroom wanted them aired.

One of the notifications that we received from the NBC television network was, since nobody knew at that time who was behind these hijackings and attacks, NBC did not know if they would get knocked off the air. They advised all of their affiliate TV stations to be prepared to go to local programming if the NBC television network lost its signal or worse. We had videotapes of our regularly scheduled programs running on the tape machines, so we were ready to cut to regularly scheduled programming if needed. Otherwise, we continued with coverage.

A program log at a TV or a radio station is a pre-printed schedule of programs, commercials, and other content that is scheduled to go on the air. It is a master control operator's job to air these items and to write down the times that they aired. I took pictures of the program log that channel 10 had that day, and you can see some of the pages. The first one shows when the special report began, at 9:00, airing coverage of "world trade center fire." The second one shows when I signed on for duty at 3:00 PM. The third picture shows that we cut away from NBC coverage around 6:00 PM for a local news update. Otherwise, you can see some of the programs and commercials that were pre-empted at those times.

After nine hours of broadcasting repeated replays of planes crashing into buildings, and buildings collapsing, I went home and had images of buildings collapsing in my head as I was trying to get to sleep. It was not easy. I truly wondered what was happening to the United States.

At work, nearly nonstop coverage of the 9/11 events continued for the next few days and frequent coverage into the next few weeks.

The other role I had in my life at the time was that I was president of the Rochester Pilots Association. All flights in the United States were grounded for a couple of weeks until the government assessed the threat of further attacks by air. A reporter from R News in Rochester called me up and asked if we could do a story about small planes, like the kind I flew, being grounded. I met her and a news photographer at Ledgedale Airport in Brockport and here's the story.

The following month, my good friend Tony Weschler called me up and asked me if I would play drums on a song that he was recording as a tribute to the heroes of 9/11. So I did. We recorded it with Eileen Alexander singing lead and Scott Meli playing guitar. The four of us enjoyed working together so much on this song that we decided to form a permanent band, which was named Intrigued, and stayed together until 2009. This was the silver lining on a horrible tragedy. It brought me out of retirement from playing drums and I have been playing drums ever since. Here is the song.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Friday Evening in Geneseo

Stacey and I spent the evening in Geneseo, N.Y. to see some friends performing in the Rochester Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra.

Geneseo is a college town.  I attended SUNY Geneseo from 1979-1983.  During those years, 18 was still the legal age limit for drinking alcohol.  SUNY Geneseo was well-known for drinking.  Walking around Main Street in the village of Geneseo on a Friday evening in those years, you'd see groups of students everywhere as they went bar-hopping.  I remember Uncle Waldo's, the Vital Spot, the Inn Between, and GJ's (Gentleman Jim's), among others, as well as the Statesmen, down on the west end of Court Street.  Bands played at some of them, others had DJ's.  I frequented the Statesmen during my freshman year and the Inn Between during my sophomore year. Parties with plenty of booze would be in progress all over the campus; in dorms, frat houses, the College Union, and "The Rat," which was the nickname of the Rathskellar, down in the basement of Letchworth Dining Hall.

Now, on this Friday evening in 2019, Main Street was a virtual ghost town. With the drinking age now being 21, most college students are under age. The campus has a no-alcohol policy.  The Inn Between has been converted into student housing, I don't know whatever happened to GJ's, and I can't remember the exact location of Uncle Waldo's.  It appeared the location of the Vital Spot still had some life to it, but I couldn't tell from a distance whether it was a bar or a restaurant.  The Statesmen is long gone.

I couldn't even tell you where any students were.  Their dorms?  Coffee houses? On the east side of Geneseo where all the chain stores are now?  I didn't see any at the village park, where we were watching the concert.

Times certainly have changed.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Recurring Dreams

There's a few recurring dreams that often entertain me:

One is that I am back in the house that I grew up in. For one reason or another, the dream has me buying the house and moving back into it.

Another is that I am working in a radio station and the song is running out and I can't find another record quickly enough before the previous song runs out.

The third is that I am back in school taking a course and I am either skipping a lot of classes or I don't have my homework finished.

I find it weird that I have these dreams. I've often wondered what makes people have recurring dreams.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Thoughts on the Bahamas after Dorian

With Hurricane Dorian being stalled over the northern Bahamas in the past couple of days, it has been making me think about my first cruise in 2004. Freeport was the last port on an itinerary that included Labadee, Haiti; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Georgetown, Grand Cayman. It had been many years that I had been dreaming of going on a cruise. The Stars finally lined up and in 2004 we sailed on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas. The group traveling included my immediate family, my in-laws, and a friend of one of my daughters.

We sailed out of Cape Liberty, New Jersey. It was exciting to sell under the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge where we had the fun of  "wondering" if the ship would fit under the bridge. When it did, everybody on deck cheered.

The itinerary was a mixed bag of economies.  Sailing into Labadee, I got quite a culture shock.  As we were coming into the bay, we could see people sailing small, rustic boats as they took their places for a day's work, serving the guests of Voyager.  Labadee is part of Haiti, which is a very poor country. Even though most of the people on the island where employees of Royal Caribbean, the poor economy was quite obvious. People were begging us to purchase paintings and other art items that they had made.

Jamaica has better economic situation than Haiti, but it was still quite annoying to have people constantly begging us to buy something or go for a taxi ride in Ocho Rios. Grand Cayman was the complete opposite. There is a lot of money in Grand Cayman. We purchased excursions in the first three ports.

We didn't go anywhere in Freeport except for the immediate cruise port area since it was the last port on the itinerary. So it's with those thoughts in mind that I'm thinking about the people of the Bahamas in general and Freeport in particular. The pictures of the flooding in the Bahamas that have been coming back so far are quite devastating. I can't begin to imagine what it must be like for those people. I hope for the best for them.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Remembering the MDA Telethon

As a child, I remember watching the MDA Telethon with Jerry Lewis on the national broadcast, and Eddie Meath on WHEC Channel 10 for the local portion here in Rochester.  I remember kids in the neighborhood going house to house with a can, looking for donations.

As a young teen, when I was a member of the Greece Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps, I remember marching down East Avenue for the Labor Day parade. On one Labor Day, after the parade, we went to the Mapledale Party House parking lot to do a performance when Eddie Meath came outside.

WHEC Channel 10 was one of the original stations to broadcast the MDA Jerry Lewis telethon when it first began in 1966.

Little did I know in those days that I would end up working many of those local broadcasts myself.  I started working at Channel 10 in August of 1982, just a couple weeks before Labor Day.  I was still training to be a control room crew member.  If memory serves correct, the Rochester broadcast was coming from the ballroom at the Americana Hotel on State Street.  Today it is a Holiday Inn, which is weird for me because back then the building across the river from there was a Holiday Inn.  That day, my job was to change the numbers on the Tote Board every time we had a new dollar amount for donations that had come in.

I left the station on September 5, 2014.  From 1982 through 2013, I worked almost every Labor Day for the MDA Telethon.  The remote location changed through the years.  After the hotel ballrooms, we moved to the Xerox Theatre for a number of years, and then down the road to Rochester's School of the Arts. I worked different control room positions at different times through the years; camera was always fun because I liked picking out different volunteers to get closeups of while they were taking phone calls.  I also worked audio, video switcher, and videotape playback.  There were some years I was back at the station, running master control.

There was a large group of volunteers that worked behind the scenes at the MDA telethons.  They put many hours of work into this worthy cause.  I always enjoyed being at the remote location with them. In between local broadcasts, while the national portion was on the air, we often hung out with some of them, or down at the tables where food was being served.

It's sad in a way that the telethons have ended.  I recognize that today it's not the most effective way to raise funds anymore.  I'd like to believe that progress has been made in a cure for muscular dystrophy, but obviously it still exists.  Maybe someday.

Here's a video of a WHEC local portion of the MDA telethon sometime in the late 1980's.  I'm one of the camera operators.  I believe this was at the Xerox Auditorium.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Thoughts on Being Married For the Second Time

This being a second marriage for both of us, Stacey suggested that I write a blog on what it's like being married for the second time. I thought it was a good idea, not just for something to write about, but it's also helping me to organize my thoughts on all I've been through in the past 3 ½ years.

Everyone's experiences are different. Everyone's relationships are different, including the reasons why their relationships may have ultimately ended. So, what I'm writing about here may or may not apply to other people. For starters, I always felt happy in my first marriage, which lasted 32 years.

We had been college sweethearts and I felt that we had a strong bond right from the start. In later years, when we were drifting apart, I didn't see it coming. Sure, I noticed changes, but I attributed it to getting older. I didn't expect it to end and I took it very hard when it did. Counseling helped a lot; in fact, I took my counselor's advice to “keep busy” and I believe that's what helped me overcome my loss and move on. Keeping busy left me with little time to wallow in my sorrows and it gave me opportunities to discover new things about myself.

My nephew suggested I write my autobiography, which I did, and you can read it in this blog. I had always wanted to dance more, so I met new friends and became very active as a dancer. And that's how I met Stacey. I met her at Taylor's Nightclub a little over a year after my marriage ended. We were both dating someone else at the time, so nothing happened yet, but those relationships ended and we became good friends over the summer. By the end of summer, we were a couple. Stacey and I got married in April of 2019. She has a different personality than my first wife, so therefore different values. Not that one set of values is better than the other, it's just that I had to get used to them and make adjustments. She had to get used to me, as well.

Another thing that's different is that we have different expectations of each other from what I was used to in the past. Such as keeping house, meals, managing money together, how we communicate, and living with each other's habits.

A big factor in my second marriage is my adult children. It was hard for them to get used to the idea that mom and dad aren't together anymore. They had always seen us as role models in what a good marriage should be. So it was hard for them to have that image shattered. But they did understand that I would only be happy in a new relationship and then ultimately I would probably get married again. I like being married.  I recognized that it would probably have been hard for them to accept anyone I married, not just Stacey. So when the subject of marriage came up, I promised them that we would be engaged for about a year before the wedding. I believe that this helps them accept their dad's new status with a new wife. It seems to have gone fine.

I think what's different is that we are not having the old family get-togethers with their mom and me like we used to have. Holidays are different, as are other social events. One of the hardest things for me to get used to was that my relationship with my ex-wife's family is completely different now. I had spent many years building a good relationship with them, I watched all the nieces and nephews grow up from babies, and now suddenly they weren't technically my relatives anymore. My nieces and nephews told me they will always see me as their uncle, which made me feel gratified and I appreciate them saying that. I still see them as my nieces and nephews. I have had opportunities to visit with some of them and introduce them to Stacey. I don't know if it was awkward for anyone, but it did seem to go pretty well.  Now Stacey's family is part of my family. I have enjoyed get-togethers with them and I look forward to more.

Another thing that's different is the types of activities that I do with Stacey. When you meet somebody when you're young, you're looking for someone with whom you can start a family. With Stacey, all of that was behind me. So I was truly looking for someone with whom I could spend a lot of time and do activities together. And that's what it has been. We look for a lot of activities to do together and we spend a lot of time just hanging out together. I still wonder sometimes why it could not have been like that in my first marriage, but then I realized that we both really did change. It wasn't something that was expected, it's just the way it worked out.

Life with Stacey is wonderful and I look forward to many happy years with her.