Today is the 19th anniversary of 9/11. We just got back from the 9/11 Memorial for Hasbrouck Heights, NJ and it still reminds me of that morning when I was still living in California. I still can’t believe that 19 years have gone by in the blink of an eye.
I have students who were not even born when it happened or I have to hear “I was in elementary school when that occurred’. That is surreal for me. Everyone generation has their moment. Our’s was 9/11.
In memory of that day I have enclosed the beginning of my novel “Firehouse 101” and the events that lead the main character, Alex Livingston, to return to New York City. This book can be found on the IUniverse.com website and can be purchased through that site, Barnes & Nobel, Amazon.com or any online book store.
This book is dedicated to my best friend, Ahilya Mangroo, who survived the falling of the towers that day by having to go to a doctor’s appointment in the City first before she had to go to the office that morning.
The Introduction of my novel “Firehouse 101”
September 11th, 2001
There were fifteen hundred Japanese business people and their families in Waikiki this week. The Singi Group, an Internet company was meeting at The Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Honolulu. Alex Livingston had been on the job all day and it looked like he was going to be there through the night and into the next morning. He had a thousand goody bags to finish by 7:00 am and he and the staff had to set them up for an early morning breakfast pick-up. The goody bags were filled with many little gifts for the employees as a token of appreciation for their hard work. The Singi Group staff was a trying bunch. Their demands had been exhausting from the start and the staff had been on their toes since their Friday arrival. Alex was accustomed to this as he had worked in the casino industry before moving to Hawaii and was used to the demands of the high rollers.
Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa 9/11/2001
The silver goody bags had to be folded in a particular way and their ribbons had to be tied a certain way. The group’s meeting planner, who had yelled at the staff in both Japanese and English on how these bags should look, had supervised the first five hundred bags. After she finished yelling, she showed Alex and his staff how to do it and watched the next couple hundred being made in front of her. It annoyed Alex that any client would sit in his kitchen to watch what he did this early in the morning.
When Alex finished helping with the last of the goody bags, a few of the staff headed to the hallway to help the banquet set up crew get the early morning breakfast buffet finished. A special set up had been arranged with the flowers positioned in a way that guests would believe it brought good luck. At 3:30 am, all Alex could think about was the good luck he would have when this group checked out at the end of the week. Thursday could not come fast enough for Alex.
“Yo, Cuz!” Maka yelled from down the hall, “We’re all done outside. The banquet people are done and the captain is setting up.” Maka was Alex’s lead Room Service Captain. “Maka, can you help me with these bags? We have to get them outside,” Alex yelled back. In the distance, the staff could hear several Japanese businessman in the bar yelling at the television set. They were finishing watching a sporting event that had been taped for them by the hotel. Others had arrived late from Tokyo and had been drinking through the night.
The bar had technically closed a few hours earlier but it was kept open by the hotel for the convenience of their arriving guests. The bar manager had left in a huff an hour earlier. Since Alex had to stay until six in the morning to help banquets get the tour guests out, he had said he’d stay and watch the group. Alex went in the bar every half hour to check on them. They were having a grand old time watching the end of the game and watching another channel that was being broadcast from the East Coast, so Alex felt he had nothing to worry about.
The Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
As he helped the staff get the goody bags out, Maka and Robert (the other Room Service Captain), spoke with Alex about Maka’s son’s first birthday party, which had been the week before. “You know, Cuz,” Robert said to Maka, “you should have had more food. You ran out.” Maka turned to Robert and said, “My mom did not expect thirty extra people at the party. She should have though, more people always show up for these events.” “Your mom can cook, Cuz,” Alex said, “I always enjoy going to your house.” Alex had been there a few times over the last year and a half. Ordinarily Alex would not have gotten this close to his staff members in the past, but he had worked with this group for over three years, so they felt more like family.
Alex had been Room Service Manager for the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on Waikiki Beach since he had moved from Las Vegas over three years earlier. A co-worker friend had recommended him for the job when Alex tired of casino life. The high rollers wore him down and he never really liked the tacky glitz of the city even though he had lived there for almost five years. There had been a big Polynesian population living and working in Las Vegas while he was there, driven there by better paying jobs and a lower cost of living. Most worked in the hospitality industry. His friend, Sean, had recommended Alex for the job in Waikiki when Sean’s cousin moved to Las Vegas. Alex jumped at the chance to get off the mainland and as far from his family as possible. In time, his staff at the hotel he become his surrogate family.
“Yo, Alex. Stop daydreaming!” Robert yelled as he and two of the other room service servers brought the goody bags out. Alex could still hear the loud shouts of the Japanese businessman in the distance. At least someone was having fun, he thought. Some of the early morning staff walked by Alex on their way to work and nodded hello. They looked just as tired as he did.
“Alex, how long you been here?” Maka asked. “Since 2:00 pm yesterday, when they threw a last minute box lunch meal at us and I had to help the Banquet Manager,” Alex replied exhaustedly. He had worked non-stop since he had walked in that afternoon and had not even realized the time until it was way after midnight. “Go home after breakfast,” Maka said. “I am, Cuz, I am,” Alex answered. Alex had slowly picked up the local dialect, “Pidgin” English, over time much to the disgust of his father. His father would yell at him on his visits home and tell him to stop speaking like an uneducated islander. Alex never realized it until it was pointed out to him while he was talking to another employee.
It took fifteen minutes to get the tables organized. Finally Alex, Maka and Robert could relax. The three other servers were now assisting the banquet staff with the remainder of the set up. “So Cuz,” Maka asked Alex, “are you going home for Christmas this year?” “No way,” Alex remarked, “I no deal with that.” “Don’t you miss them?” Maka asked, never understanding why in the three years he knew Alex he never went home for the holidays. ‘Too busy’ was Alex’s usual answer but he quietly answered “Sometimes.”
Alex had a strained relationship with his family that had started in his childhood. He always felt that his older sister Lisa, seven years his senior, had gotten everything while he got the leftovers and hand me downs. He adored his mother, a jovial and hardworking C.P.A., (who ran her own business out of New Haven, Connecticut), but he realized that she harbored her own secrets about her family. Like her son, she rarely talked to her own immediate family. What kept Alex from going home was the constant insisting of his father on how he should make something of his life and becoming an investment banker like himself and other members of his family. Alex Senior, as he was known, did not want his son in the hotel industry.
Alex Senior was constantly on his son’s back about his joining the firm and making some real money. He understand neither his son’s dropping out of Penn State to go to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, nor his fascination with the hotel industry. “It’s horrible pay, lousy hours and dealing with picky people,” his father would say. “It’s never dull,” Alex would say, “I get to travel and the money will come as I move up the ladder.” Whose fault was it anyway? Alex would think to himself. His father had taken the family on two foreign vacations a year from the time Alex could walk until he transferred colleges. Alex and his sister, Lisa, even in the lean years that the family experienced, had now been around the world five times.
It had always fascinated Alex how the hotels where they stayed worked. Every chance he got, Alex would peak behind closed doors. His biggest thrill was when he was ten. While the rest of the family stayed by the pool, the General Manager himself escorted Alex on a tour of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. The General Manager was impressed that someone so young would be interested in his hotel. Getting to see how the hotel worked, who cooked the food and cleaned the rooms plus the rich history of the hotel drew Alex in. After that, Alex wanted to work in the hospitality industry.
“Besides, I hate snow,” Alex continued getting out of his daydream, “I like Christmas when its 86 degrees and can go swimming in the middle of the winter. Don’t believe people when they say they want a ‘White Christmas’. Who the hell wants to shovel all that snow? In addition, I would rather sing, ‘Mele Kalikmaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day’ than ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’. Bing Crosby probably never shoveled snow before.” Maka started to sing, “Mele Kalikmaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day” as Alex and Robert joined in on the second chorus. They were laughing their heads off as the rest of the staff joined in. It was 3:45 am.
Singing ” Mele Kalikimaka”
As the group of six was singing, there was a commotion in the bar and then a scream from one of the banquet captains. “What’s going on now?” Robert asked. “Mouse?” Alex asked. “Mouse,” Maka answered. The banquet captain ran out of the bar area into the hallway where everyone was working and hollered, “Everyone get in here. The World Trade Center in New York was just hit by a plane!” “What the hell?” Alex said.
Everyone scrambled into the bar to see the crowd glued to the television. Smoke was billowing from one of the towers and the television reporter had no idea what was going on. Maybe it was a military aircraft like the one that hit the Empire State Building fifty years ago, Alex thought. The reporter was rambling so fast that no one could understand what had just happened. The restaurant manager ran into the bar with his staff. They were also setting up for the onslaught of breakfast patrons that would be dining with them in two hours.
Watching the events unfold on Honolulu time at the bar
About forty people were now glued to the television and nothing was being done. Alex thought of his sister and father, who were both working on nearby Wall Street. It was now almost 9:00 am in New York. They were probably in their offices at this point, on the phone, having their morning coffee. He debated calling home but could not take his eyes off the television. He stood there like everyone else, transfixed by the horror he witnessed.
For the next ten minutes, there was the clamor of English, Japanese and Hawaiian being spoken so rapidly that it was unintelligible. Then it happened. In front of some forty people, the second plane hit the other tower. The whole crowd went silent as the explosion tore through the building. Some people started to shout and run out of the bar. Others stood stunned, not knowing what to do.
To the shock of everyone at the bar that morning another plane hit the towers
Some of the women started to cry and quickly were followed by some of the men. People made desperate cell phone calls to loved ones. Alex grabbed his cell phone and called his sister’s apartment in Manhattan but there was no answer. He then called his father’s office but again no answer. He then tried to call his mother, but by 9:30 am, she was probably stuck in traffic some where between Milford and her office in downtown New Haven. Alex did not know what to do, so he went back to the bar to wait with the other people.
Everyone in the room was either talking on cell phones, watching television or downing the complimentary drinks that the bartender was now handing out. This was no time to be sober, one man said. By 5:00 am, more people had entered the bar. Before anyone could say anything, suddenly there was a roar heard on the television. Everyone fell silent again. Tower One was collapsing in front of them. For a split second, there was silence in the bar, no one moved and no one said a word. Then people panicked, workers and guests started to run out of the room. Maka and Robert watched Alex’s face pale in horror and they ran over to console him. In disbelief, Alex started to run out of the room too.
“Where you going?” yelled a bewildered Maka. “I’m going to the General Manager’s office. I have to call my mother!” Alex stopped for a moment. His staff tried to console him and calm him. It did not work. There was a second rumbling and he watched the second tower collapse. No one could console Alex; they were in shock themselves. Alex raced out of the bar to the office without looking back. It was now 5:40 am Honolulu time.
September 15th, 2001
Planes were finally able to leave the islands and frightened tourists looked over their shoulders at the Honolulu Airport. There was no use singling out anyone with dark skin because the whole airport had a tan and no one was in the mood for jokes. Security was extremely tight. In newspapers around the world, everyone saw a photograph taken by Bob Hakamoto, a journalist with The Honolulu Advertiser. He had been on vacation with his family, getting ready to go to the observation deck of the Trade Center with his family when tragedy struck.
Sending his family away to meet him later at the South Street Seaport, he ran around taking pictures of the towers and of the firefighters racing to the scene. Soon before Tower One fell; he snapped a picture of two firefighters assisting three frightened ladies that needed help leaving the tower. Not five minutes later, Bob ran for his life as the tower started to collapse. His picture depicting the bravery of these two firemen from New York was published all over the world as a symbol of the good in man. Because of a mistake in communication by cell phone, the picture was titled “Heroes save women and many others as Building Seven falls.” No one knew who the firefighters were or if they had died that day.
The famous Bob Hakamoto photograph in the Honolulu Advertiser on 9/12/2001
September 28th, 2001
Alex’s girlfriend, Alice Fallon (or as she was called behind her back, Princess Alice) told him that as a class project, she was having the kids of her second grade class each write a letter and make a poster for the firefighters who helped those women. Alex’s mother had told him that his cousin, a fire chief in Connecticut, said that many firefighters had lost their lives that day, so he was not sure the two of them were alive. He told Alice that it was still a good idea as it might cheer some of the guys up.
Alice Fallon, Alex’s girlfriend, was the great-great grandniece of Queen Lili’uokalani and a member of the Hawaiian Royal Family
January 18th, 2003
Alex walked across a quiet courtyard and up the stairs to the pool area to drop off some paperwork. He waved over to some bored co-workers at the front desk who were yawning. They waved back. It was quiet at the hotel and now that Christmas was over, it was getting quieter. Alex only had about ten orders that day and for the past year had not seen much of his staff. They only checked in to see if hotel occupancy had increased.
The resort over a year later
You can read parts of the book online at the IUniverse.com website or order the book to see how the story unfolds.
My novel “Firehouse 101” is available for sale online or can be ordered through any bookstore.
Articles on my novel:
Justin Watrel promoting his book “Firehouse 101” after the Brooklyn Book Festival 2011