Believe in Something (The 2005-2006 Edmonton Oilers)

In case you didn’t know, I’m Canadian.

Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian (most people assume so), but I LOVE hockey.

My team? The Edmonton Oilers.

Why are they my favourite team? I think this story explains it pretty well:

Before the 05-06 NHL season happened, the NHL and the NHLPA’s disagreement over the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) had caused the entire 04-05 season to never happen, due to what many hockey fans refer to as “The Lockout.” So, right off the bat there, I was distraught. I know that it’s just a game, but it’s sooo much more than that. It’s those days as a kid when you would watch your dad sharpen your skates, or helping the other kids in the neighbourhood to shovel the snow off the rink so that everyone could skate and play on the ice, and so on. Needless to say, I had a lot of my heart riding on the 05-06 season.

I really didn’t expect much more than an average season from the Oilers, what with the whole previous season being cancelled and all. Plus, as a longtime Oilers fan, I knew that the glory days of the 80’s when Wayne Gretzky was THE man were past us. But as fans, we still cheer em’ on everytime, because that is OUR team! The regular season for the Oilers ended up being a bit more than average, with a 41-28-13 record (95 points), which was just barely enough for the Oilers to squeak past the Vancouver Canucks into the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

As the 8th seed, the Oilers were matched up with the 1st seed of the Western Conference (which also happened to be the number one team in the league that season), the Detroit Red Wings. I don’t think any sportswriters were even going to take a chance on writing a story about the Oilers having a mediocore chance of beating the red-hot Red Wings. But, alas, something did happen. The Oilers won a game. And another. And even another. And oh, what’s this? Oh yeah, that’s right. THE OILERS BEAT THE RED WINGS! “Wait, what did you just say?” The Oilers knocked out the #1 team in the league in the very first round, that’s what. I vividly remember that night after watching the Oilers win the sixth game in the series to knock out the Red Wings. Boy oh boy, did I go to sleep happy that night.

Next up, the Oilers had another tough opponent to face: The San Jose Sharks. The Sharks of course were expected to easily take care of business against the Oilers. They were fresh off a 5-game series win against the Nashville Predators from the previous round, and with the Red Wings now out (which was still sending a shock through the league), the Sharks were called by many the top team left. And in the first two games against the Oilers, it sure looked like that. With those back to back wins by the Sharks to start off the series, I began to believe that what the sports writers and commentators had been saying was true. The Oilers really were just a fluke. But once again, something happened. One win, two wins, three wins… Oh my! And finally, OILERS WIN! OILERS WIN! “…huh? Are you serious?!” I didn’t know whether to cry for joy or scream in excitement. Something magical was happening, and the butterflies were getting jumpy in my stomach. What I didn’t know was that things were just getting started.

The Western Conference Finals: Edmonton Oilers versus the Anaheim Ducks. This time, it was different. People were talking. Even though they were the lowly 8th seed, the Oilers were a force to be reckoned with. On the other end of the ice, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks had Jean-Sebastien Giguere, arguably the best goalie in the league that season. The doubters still considered this “Cinderella Run” the Oilers were on to be a fluke, and so they fully expected Giguere to take care of business and put an end to this so-called madness.

Wanna guess what happened?

Oh. My. GOD! The Oilers are going to the Stanley Cup! Somebody pinch me, this has got to be a dream.

But this is where the story ends. The Oilers, they really did make it to the Stanley Cup. All the way to Game 7 in fact. But sadly, it just wasn’t enough. The Carolina Hurricanes ended up being presented the Stanley Cup, and the Oilers went home empty-handed.

You know how there’s those moments in your life that define you? I think this was one of them for me. A lot of my teenage life wasn’t “happy happy joy joy” so to speak, particularly the 365 days before these playoffs. But this moment, it gave me hope. I’m not sure what the hope was for, but I knew that I had hope. Sure, life may suck right now, but everything will still be okay. For what its worth, the Oilers finished the next season with a record of 32-43-7 (71 points). But you know what? I was okay with that. As the saying goes, “…there’s always next year.” You just have to believe in something.

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McDonald’s: A Very “Toothy” Experience

Once upon a time, I worked in a restaurant familiar to most Americans: McDonald’s. Though originally intended to be a simple summer job in between my junior and senior years of high school, I ended up working there for 2 years. 2 years are a very long time, and a lot of burgers.

It was in these two years that a lot of different things happened. I got to learn about the working world. I made friends. I got yelled at by customers. I got yelled at by managers. I became the “Grill Master.” I watched a customer (a former friend at that) get pulled over by the police in my drive-thru. I learned more Spanish than the 2 years I wasted learning it in high school classes. I ended up on the receiving end of a “fire in the hole” more than once. I “borrowed” samples of frozen cookies, frozen McGriddles, and bacon bits. I cleaned up fecal material from the oddest places. I became the Truck Manager. I watched customers go “hyphy” in the drive-thru.

I also got a L&I claim for my tooth. Twice.

Oh, the hazards of fast food…

Early on in my “career” at McDonald’s, there was one particular day where I was working on the Truck Crew, helping to unload the latest freight delivery. Among many other things, we had to unload bun trays. In our system of unloading the bun trays, we had it set up so that two people would be “stackers” while one person would be a “runner.” On this day, I was the runner. Once each stack was finished, I would roll the bun trays into our walk-in freezer with a tool we affectionately called a “hooker.” Prostitution jokes aside (and there were many…), it was just a simple metal stick with a handle on one end and a hook on the other, somewhat resembling a fishing hook. About half-way through the bun tray unloading, I was running back from my latest drop-off to go grab my next stack. In my hurry, I wasn’t watching my steps, and I slipped while still in the freezer. While falling to the ground, the “hooker” somehow ended up grabbing a hold of my lip and held it all the way to the floor where my face smashed into it. Though I’ll spare the gory details, there was blood from my split lip, and my front left tooth was chipped. And for some reason, I found this all wildly hilarious. Since I was a minor at this time, my manager(s) were very concerned, so they decided it would be best to have me sent home for the day. They ended up calling my mom to come get me, and then she took me to a worker injury clinic. At first they wanted to give me stitches for my lip, which I was fully against, but it was decided it would probably be best to leave it naturally healed. The next day, I went to the dentist, and came home with a temporary crown to replace the piece of my tooth I’d lost. The beauty of all this is that I didn’t have to pay a pretty penny for everything, since it was a work-related accident and so the bill went to Labors and Industries. Technically, my coworkers and I paid for it, as part of every paycheck had a small amount deducted to pay for work injuries such as mine.

11 months after the first tooth injury, I was still working at McDonald’s, and ready for another round. On this particular day, things were pretty slow customer wise, so the manager had me and a couple other people do some “detail cleaning,” spiffing and spanning the things that didn’t get cleaned on a daily basis. One of the first things on my list was to clean off the apple pie merchandiser. (It’s the thing that holds the apple pies warm until people buy one, or two, or seventeen.) To make my task easier, I grabbed a bottle of “McD” formula degreaser and literally showered that thing with it. Not one spot of the merchandiser didn’t feel the wrath of the degreaser. After about 15 minutes of spraying and wiping, I finally got that stupid thing cleaned off, and was ready to put it back in its spot. Now, what I haven’t mentioned yet was that at this time, we kept our apple pie merchandiser above the “fry station.” The top of the fry station is about 7 feet of the ground, while I stand at 6’2″. As I reached up to put the apple pie merchandiser back atop the fry station, it slipped out of my hands (no doubt partly thanks to the degreaser) and smashed into my face. More specifically, it smashed right into my mouth, striking my left front tooth right on and knocking all but about 1/8th of an inch of the tooth completely out. Now that hurt. Unlike the first tooth injury, this tooth injury left the nerve that would normally be inside the tooth completely exposed and out in the open. I didn’t realize this is what had happened at first, but I did know that it hurt. Every time I took a breath, I could feel a sting of pain, and I didn’t like it. The sad part was that this all happened in the first half hour of my shift that day, and I wasn’t scheduled to be off for another 7 1/2 hours. My manager (a different manager than the one from the first story) saw it all happen, and so she offered to let me go home. I figured I would be okay, so I told her that I would just stay on and finish my shift. About 3 hours later though, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and so I decided to take her up on that offer. The next day, I went into the dentist’s office for an emergency appointment. As soon as I sat down in the chair, the dental assistant took one look at my tooth and said, “Oh honey, you’re gonna need a root canal.” Though I wasn’t entirely thrilled about this, there was no way out of it. 4 hours later, I was drugged up and headed home. And once again, I didn’t have to pay a single cent for anything. Thank you L&I!

In conclusion, I leave you with this: If you decide to work in the fast food industry, consider making an investment in a mouth guard. You’ll be glad you did.

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1 Year and 1,795 Tweets Later

One year ago today, I signed up for the social media platform known as Twitter.

1,795 tweets later, I’d say it’s been a good year.

Before I ever signed up, I had been toying with the idea of joining for a few months prior. At the time, I was unemployed and pretty unmotivated. I spent a lot of time turning in applications to wherever, but when I could pull some change together, I’d spend a couple of hours just killing time by riding around on the bus. On October 23, 2010, I was walking around along Gage Boulevard in the “behind the mall” area. More so out of boredom than anything else, I downloaded the iPhone app for Twitter while waiting for the bus at Steptoe and Gage. Since it was still going to be a little while before a bus showed up, I took that time to register my account. I remember vividly how long that process was. I think I ended up going through about 7 or 8 different possible handles, with all of them being rejected due to the current usage by another person. My first choice, @Zac, had already been claimed by someone who’s tweeted a whooping 6 times in the last year. Most of the other choices I had in mind were monikers of my name. There was also the choice of going with the online name I had already been using, canadianlaughs. (Can you guess how I came up with that?) The name seemed too stale, and too impersonal to use for a Twitter handle. Eventually, I settled on @ziggzagzac. And yes, it was partly because @ZigZagZac was already taken. But I figured the two g’s on zigg would make it easier to remember, and it felt more unique. With all that said and done, I was ready to tweet.

Fast-forward to now, and you’ll see that a lot (okay, pretty much all) of my tweeting relates to transit. Honestly, I never expected that I would be using Twitter this way when I first signed up, but I’m glad that it ended up being this way. For the longest time, it seemed weird that I had an interest in transit. As the header in my other blog says, I’m a transit nerd living in a car-centric community, emphasis on “car-centric.” I don’t really know any other people with a similar mindset around in my locale. That’s the simple beauty of Twitter though. No matter what you’re interested in (well, most subject matter anyways), you’ll find others that have that same interest. Perhaps one of my favorite examples of this is two fellow transit tweeps from Pittsburgh, @TransitGuru and @bus15237. Chances are I would have never gotten the chance to come in contact with these awesome dudes without Twitter.

Twitter has also been the platform I’ve used to share and record some pretty awesome stuff that has happened over the last year. The best example of this would definitely have to be the #epictransitjourney. Earlier this year in late March, I went on a trip that took me from the Tri-Cities to Seattle, then up to Vancouver BC, and finally all the way back down. With the exception of the connection between Yakima-North Bend (and later on, suburban Seattle-Mount Vernon due to a change in plans), I used nothing but public transportation all the way to Vancouver. On the way back, I (originally) planned to ride the Amtrak Cascades train to Everett, wander the Puget Sound region for several hours, and then head home on the good ol’ Greyhound. Over the course of that 3-day trip, I ended up tweeting 108 times, which was a massive amount compared to my somewhat sporadic usage of Twitter back then. On that trip, I also had another grand time in my airport sleeping saga at YVR, saw my train get cancelled due to mudslides and ended up riding on the “TrainBus,” and also got to take a ride on Community Transit’s Double Tall, which was running in it’s first day of service. Coincidentally, the ride on the Double Tall gave me the chance to meet two of the people I was following on Twitter: @AtomicTaco and @oranv. I also used it to “mass-tweet” when I took another trip to Seattle in mid-May for a weekend getaway and Rammstein concert (Disclaimer: very bad audio in that hyperlink), as well as a Psychostick concert in mid-June. Subsequently, that trip in June was the first and only time I’ll ever wear a duct tape t-shirt.

In my first year of using Twitter, I tweeted 1,795 times. Interestingly enough though, I didn’t hit my 1000th tweet until August 20th. I don’t know how many times I’ll have tweeted when October 23rd rolls around again next year, but I really look forward to plenty more awesomeness from Twitter.

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Why I will (probably) never go back to Philadelphia

During my Summer Adventure of 2010, I got to do and see a LOT of new things. The entire trip was almost 100% awesome. Even getting kicked out of the airport in Vancouver BC was awesome. But, there is one particular incident that left me rather jaded. Now, before I continue on with this story, let me just say that what I did get to see in Philadelphia was awesome, but as you’ll soon understand, it wasn’t much nor was I able to really enjoy it. The whole experience has just left me with very sore feelings and a negative bias towards Philadelphia for some reason that I can’t really explain.

How to get out of the Big Apple
Before I’d even left Kennewick to go on my trip, I already had it all planned it all out. In the wee early hours of the morning on July 22nd, I was going to leave the hostel I’d been staying at in NYC, walk up to 125th St Station (on the IND Eighth Ave Line) in Harlem, then board the A-train down to Penn Station, where I would catch New Jersey Transit’s “Northeast Corridor Line” train to Trenton, where I would finally transfer over to the SEPTA R7 line in order to get downtown at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, which is where I would be boarding a Megabus to Toronto (which happened to be just the 2nd day that route had been in operation). With the plan I set up, I would even have enough time to jet over to Independence Hall and snap a picture for my collection showcasing everywhere I’d been.

Unfortunately, it never worked out that way.

On the night of the 21st, we had a pizza party at the hostel, and it was pretty awesome. I spent some time hanging out with the people I had gotten to know during my stay there, all while downing beers and slices of pizza. I figured I’d be able to go to sleep early, as I had to be up at 3 in the morning, or even earlier if I wanted to shower before leaving. But, as I found out, when you’ve been drinking beer and eating pizza in NYC, you just don’t go to sleep early. So, I just laid awake on my bunk trying to force myself to sleep, but it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t willing to try and stay awake through the night, because past experience has shown that it’s never a good idea. So, the best option I was able to come up with was to find the cheapest hotel I could in Philadelphia so that I could leave NYC that evening, be able to get a proper sleep, and then go downtown in the morning and take my photos before the Megabus left at 9:10. After some quick internet research and phone calls, I found a hotel in the suburban Philadelphia city of Springfield, PA at the rate of $70 for the night. (In comparison, I spent $94 for four nights at my hostel in NYC.) It was way out of proportion to all the other accommodations I ended up staying at during the rest of the trip, but I was a bit hurried and I wasn’t overly concerned about it. Looking back on this now, I should have just slept at Philadelphia International Airport, but because I’d been so certain of my original plan to get to Philadelphia, I’d done no research at all on the subject and felt it would be an unsafe move on my part.

Photo from Flickr user purist_andrew

Drunk and tired in New Jersey
I ended up leaving the hostel pretty hastily, not really taking the opportunity to say goodbye to anyone, but only sticking around just long enough to make sure I got my $10 key deposit back. (Gotta be at least somewhat frugal!) I got on the subway at Cathedral Parkway/110th Street station and made my way to Penn Station. My advice to anyone who ever plans on going to Penn Station is DON’T GET LOST!!! I cannot stress that enough. There is a lot going on in there, and it is very easy to get lost if you don’t pay attention. Luckily, I do plan ahead, so earlier in the week during my first full day in NYC, I explored Penn Station a bit to figure out how to navigate it. With my prior knowledge, I was able to slowly manage my way over to the New Jersey Transit tracks, where the train to Trenton would be leaving in a half hour. The one thing I’d failed to consider in my very hastily made plan was that I was trying to get on a train travelling in the Northeast Corridor, smack dab in the middle of the biggest city in the US. …I should have known better. I have never seen that many people all get on one train. In retrospect, I should consider myself lucky that I even got a seat on that train. Thankfully, as each stop went by, more and more people disembarked, and I was able to stretch out a bit and watch a couple episodes of “The Office” on my laptop. It was also at this time where I thought that I was sitting across from the crazy guy I’d seen merely hours earlier at the United Nations building. (I later confirmed it wasn’t him. You can’t fake a New Jersey accent like the one the guy on the train had.)

Welcome to Philadelphia
When you’re in a city that you’ve never, ever been to, you really hope that the guy driving the taxi to the hotel you’re headed to will know where he’s going. Maybe you’ll cross your fingers or something. I found out that crossing my fingers didn’t work, because I got the “creme de la crap” of Philadelphia taxi drivers. Don’t get me wrong, he was very happy to see me. I can’t imagine that they get too many paying fares from the train station at 11:30 at night. He gladly heaved my luggage into the trunk for me since I was, as he called it, “a weary travalla’.” After seeing that bag get slammed in the trunk, possibly breaking my shampoo bottle in the process, I declined to let him place my backpack (which contained my laptop and glasses among other things) in there as well. “Where to?” he asked. “Springfield-Philadelphia International Days Inn.” “Where ‘dat?” “Just go down Baltimore Avenue…” I told him. (Like I said earlier… I do try to plan ahead.) While doing some fact checks and clarifications for this, I found out that the distance from the train station to the hotel is 8 miles. With all the rain and that guy’s driving, it felt like 30. Now, I don’t wanna sound like I’m doing nothing but ragging on this taxi driver or anything. Sure, I can look past the nearly hitting a SEPTA trolley when there’s no other traffic on the road. I can also excuse his excruciatingly bad breath. But, when a taxi driver in a major city like Philadelphia has to pull over to the side of the road and ask me to use my phone to find out just how much further away the hotel is, that’s not good. At that point, I was ready to literally jump right out of his cab. But, because it was raining and I was exhausted and coming down from my slight-drunken stupor, I just kept telling myself that I was almost there. Eventually, we did make it. And THEN he asked for a tip on top of my $37.25 fare. Nearly at my breaking point, I just kept my mouth shut, grabbed my stuff, and walked inside to the hotel reception desk.

The guy at the reception desk was very happy to see me. I gotta admit, I was rather impressed by this guy. He has an amazing work ethic and attitude about him. As he got my info, he told me that I was the last one checking in for the night. I’d spoken with him earlier on the phone inquiring about rates (which led to my booking online for $12 cheaper), so he knew I was going to be there. He gave me a room key, wi-fi password, directions to my room, and most important of all, a wake-up call time. And with that, I was set for the night. I got to my room, posted an update on Facebook to my family and friends saying “I am now in a little city called Springfield. The question you must answer, however, is which Springfield it is…” and then promptly fell asleep. I was ready with my new game plan, where I would take the hotel’s airport shuttle to Philadelphia International Airport (which was the main selling point in picking that hotel) and then take the SEPTA R1 train straight to 30th Street Station, where I’d be able to get something to eat and pick up some snack food before going outside and catching my ride on the Megabus to Toronto. I don’t remember if I had a dream that night, but if I did, it must have been a really good one, because I just slept. And slept. And slept. …right through my wake-up call AND alarm.

As a testament to this experience, I kept the slip of paper with the hotel's wifi password, and now always carry it with my laptop. It's a little sad that this is my only souvenir from Philly...

…good morning?
At 7:54, I awoke to the sound of the phone ringing. Groggy and not wanting to get out of what felt like the comfiest bed in the world at that moment, I grabbed the receiver and said “…hello? Who’s this?” “Yeah, this is (check-in counter guy’s name, I can’t remember it). I’ve called you like 7 times since 6:30.” “Oh, okay, thanks.” And with that, I hung the phone back up. Now that my eyes were starting to open up, I saw the clock finally, and then the thought process started kicking in. “HOLY #&%$ IT’S 7:54!!!” I had to be at the bus stop in an hour, or I was going to completely miss my bus. I started freaking out, running around the room trying to get all my stuff together and packed back up even more hastily than I’d done at the hostel back in NYC. Two minutes later, the phone rang again. “Hello?!?” I answered in the highest pitched voice I’d had in years, all the while still panicking. “Um, yeah, were you still wanting to try and catch the airport shuttle? It leaves in 2 minutes…” “Yes, yes, I’ll be there.” “Okay,” he said. So, I hung up the phone again, though it was more of a throwing motion, not unlike something you’d see in a movie. I won’t lie, I’m pretty proud of myself that it landed right on the hook on my first try. Making sure I had all my stuff in hand, I barreled out of the room and ran right for the reception desk. Again, the check-in guy impressed me. (It’s still the same guy from when I checked in during the middle of the night.) As soon as he saw me open the door, I saw him holding my receipt and ticket for the airport shuttle. “Here you go man, you’re all set.” “Thank you so much,” I said as I mustered as much sincerity that I could dig up while in my groggy panicked state of mind.

Though it wasn’t a failure of my pre-planning methods (as my sleeping-in had killed any efficiency I’d made for myself already), again there was a lot of people holding up the process. And this time, they were in cars. So now, I had to sit in the airport shuttle, while watching the traffic crawl along at a snail’s pace, all the while sitting two steps away from a panic attack as I kept thinking that I was going to miss my bus. If that happened, I would be stuck in Philadelphia, which is something that I had NOT accounted for in my travel plans. Eventually (about a half hour later), we made it to the airport, and so now I had to figure out how to get to the train platform for the R1 train to 30th Street Station in downtown Philadelphia. I think that if I hadn’t been so amped up and panicked, I would’ve easily figured out which doors and stairs to use to get there, but I just didn’t have time to figure it all out. In my aimless, panicked wandering, I found a taxi stand nearby. Not really caring about cost or saving money at that point, I walked up, put my stuff in the trunk, and I was on my way. Now, the nice thing with this cab ride was that I did get a rather competent driver, and I was only having to pay a flat-fare. The City of Philadelphia has it setup so that any rides to/from the airport and any point located in the designated “Downtown Area” cost a flat-fare of $28.50. So, at least this time I knew how much I’d be paying, but I still think it was too much. I’m not sure what happened, but it seemed like this guy knew some secrets, because even though traffic was crawling along on the highway, we seemed to be flying along enroute to downtown. Once the taxi driver took the exit off the highway and turned towards 30th Street Station, I started to wind down. It was 8:59, and my bus wasn’t leaving until 9:10. I was relieved. I hadn’t missed my bus, and now I could finally start enjoying the fact that I was actually in Philadelphia, however short-lived the experience was going to be.

When I posted this photo, which I captioned as “Philly,” my friend Jared wrote a comment saying “And it’s sunny!!! Hahahahaha” (referring to the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) which just made me laugh out loud hysterically. I think I might’ve scared the taxi driver a little bit with my manic laughing, but I didn’t care. I was going to enjoy the next 10 minutes or so that I had to spend in Philly, and I was going to be in a good mood. I had a little bit of a party damper later on when I realized that I’d unintentionally paid the driver a 30% tip. But, again, I just wanted to be in a good mood after having such a panicked start to the morning. On the bright side, I was on my way to Toronto for the first time in quite a few years, and I was just days away from seeing my Mom’s side of the family, plus getting to finally meet my Dad’s side of the family. I felt much better after a little reflection. I’d survived Philadelphia. And I made a promise to myself as we sped along the highway towards Toronto that the next time I travel to the east coast, I was going to stay away from Philadelphia at all costs… forever.

While I was enroute to Toronto enjoying the great amenities of the Megabus (particularly the wi-fi), I decided to do a little math. For the 10 hours or so that I was in Philadelphia, I spent nearly $150, which by my standards is a lot. That equates to $15 per hour, while in comparison, my time in New York City cost me about $.40 per hour. For someone who’s as cheap (though frugal is a much better word to use), it wasn’t a good thing for me. Luckily, I still managed out okay, stayed frugal for the rest of the trip (…mostly), and ended up returning home with enough money to hold me over for plenty of time.

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9/11 (The Ten House Story)

We all saw what happened 10 years ago, one way or another.

For me, I remember very vividly how as I was walking to Mr. Howell’s math class, Mr. Foltz, the assistant principal, came over the intercom and said something to the line of “there’s been an accident in New York City this morning,” and then suggested that the teachers turn on their TV’s. Except for my science teacher Ms. Isley, all my teachers that day had their TV on. It was like watching a bad movie. None of it made any sense. I also remember how much trouble my friend Roberto and I were having at lunch while trying to figure out the proper way to say Osama Bin Laden. I think I ended up going with “Asama Been Layden.” By the next day, it was a household name and I don’t think anyone was having trouble pronouncing it.

Back in July 2010, I went on a trip that among other destinations took me to New York City. Though I was hesitant about it at first, I decided that I would go to Ground Zero just so I could see it in person. As I crossed over West Street in a pedestrian walkway, I just stood there, looking at Ground Zero, taking it all in and remembering everything from that day. As surreal as it was to be this close, I wanted to get closer. And that’s how I made it to 10 House.

10 House is the name of the New York Fire Department station that houses Engine 10 and Ladder 10. Now, 10 House is a very important part of the 9/11 story, as it is the closest fire department to Ground Zero. So, 10 House’s firefighters were the first on the scene that day. The following is an excerpt from the story “Amazing Grace,” featured on the 10 House website.

It was shift change when the north tower was hit between the 94th and 98th floors by hijacked American Airlines Flight 11. There were extra firefighters at hand. In the station, John Morabito said, it sounded no worse than a truck hitting a manhole cover.

But firefighter Serge Pilupczuk ran back to the kitchen table where the covering officer, Lt. Stephen Harrell, and other firefighters were talking. He said a plane just hit the trade center. The color had drained from his face.

“To see a fireman scared scares the shit out of you,” Morabito said, “because we go into dangerous situations all the time and don’t ever see any fear in anybody’s face.”

Outside was pandemonium, thousands of people running, some burned, some bleeding. Out the rear door, the sky was blue. Out the front, it was black. They pulled some of the injured into the station. Morabito turned and yelled to the newest Ladder 10 firefighter, Sean Tallon.

“Sean, you gotta be careful,” Morabito said. “This is a bad situation.”

They boarded the rig. Morabito was the chauffeur, a job for experienced firefighters with additional training. His officer, Lt. Harrell, sat next to him. Four on-duty and three off-duty firefighters climbed on.

Morabito drove only a few yards. Bodies on Liberty Street blocked his path.

“I stop the rig, and I look at my officer and say, ‘It’s a body,’ and he says, ‘You gotta go. They’re dead, you gotta go.’ So we rolled over them, pulled down the street.”

Turning left on Liberty, they were blocked again by a Lincoln Town Car, a taxi. The woman inside couldn’t get it moving. The siren was on, lights flashing, firefighters yelling from the rear of the truck. A police officer jumped in the Lincoln but couldn’t engage the shifter.

“So I had to ram the car,” Morabito said. “I push the car, it goes up on the sidewalk.”

They turned right onto West Street, nearing the entrance to the north tower. A man — in shock, his clothes on fire — crossed in front of them.

“He’s completely engulfed in flames, and he’s looking at me because now he thinks I’m going to run him over,” Morabito says.

Morabito skidded the truck sideways to stop the man from running and got out as another man came charging off the sidewalk and tackled the burning man, damping out the flames with a jacket. They were 100 feet from the tower entrance.

As Morabito and off-duty firefighter Terry Rivera doused the burn victim, wrapped him in a burn blanket and got him into an ambulance, Lt. Harrell led his inside team, firefighters Tallon and Jeffrey Olsen, into Tower One.

“What we didn’t know, and found out later, was that when the plane hit, the jet fuel came down the center elevator shaft, and it lit up in a big fireball in the lobby so that people in the lobby were incinerated,” Morabito said. “This man must have been close by and he was burned.”

Later, they would learn the burn victim survived.

Lt. Harrell’s team was followed up the stairs by on-duty firefighters Pilupczuk and Mike Cancel and by off-duty firefighters John Moore and George Bachman, who did not have air tanks. Morabito told Rivera, who had no equipment, to help in the street outside.

A ladder truck’s crew of six is divided into a three-member inside team, or forceful-entry team, and a three-member outside team. The inside team is the officer, the “irons man” and the “can.” The irons man carries a Halligan — a combination chisel, spike and forked pry bar named after the New York firefighter who invented it — and a flathead ax. The “can” carries a tank of pressurized water and a six-foot hook.

Their job is search and rescue, and to locate the fire. With the tools they carry, or with torches or hydraulic equipment from the truck, they can break into any building, force any door, crack open any elevator.

The outside team includes the chauffeur, who on a rear-mount aerial like Ladder 10, can operate the ladder, extending it 100 feet from ground level in less than a minute, using it to punch through windows if necessary. “OV” (outside vent) is the firefighter responsible for venting the building. “Roof” is the firefighter who goes up top, sometimes alone, opening a vent above and looking around the perimeter for people hanging out of windows. They can lower other firefighters to rescue trapped occupants or rappel down the face of a building themselves.

Skyscrapers are different, these firefighters said. Built with generally fireproof materials, they are designed to contain fires. Fire crews don’t vent them, so the OV and Roof can join the forceful entry team inside. Firefighters locate the fire (which can be tricky) and get off the elevator two stories below, where hoses can be hooked to stand pipes. The stand pipes are pressurized by the fire engines, the pumpers, down on the street. The attack is made from stairwells.

To maximize office space, the north tower of the World Trade Center, like its twin, was built around a central skeletal shaft of elevators and stairwells, firefighters said. The commercial jet severed this shaft, the stairwells and the standpipe. There was no escape, no hope for the 1,344 people above the 91st floor. Many shattered windows for air, 1,200 feet above West Street. Many jumped, choosing this death rather than incineration, crashing onto a veranda above the pavement.

“Every body that hit sounded like an explosion,” Morabito said.

Just inside the front entrance, Morabito found two victims of the fireball. A man, already dead, was pushed against a wall, his clothes gone, his eyeglasses blackened, his tongue lying on the floor next to him. The other was a woman, with no clothes, her hair burned off, her eyes sealed.

“The woman, she sat up. I’m yelling to her, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to help you,’” Morabito said. “She sat up and was trying to talk, but her throat had closed up. She died right there.”

They covered the bodies so people coming down the stairs wouldn’t see them and panic. Harrell called Morabito on his radio and told him to check the perimeter. Morabito went out into the plaza between the buildings, looked up, made his report — fire all around Tower One, all upper floors burning.

Then he looked at the plaza. At this point, they still didn’t know it was a commercial airplane. They figured something smaller; maybe a pilot had a heart attack. But then he saw suitcases, purses and wallets everywhere on the ground and as he looked, he saw pieces of flesh, pieces of scalp, arms, hands, all around him.

“Then I realized this was a lot bigger than I thought,” Morabito said.

Back inside, Morabito joined other firefighters who were evacuating the building. They heard on their radios that a plane had hit 2 World Trade Center, the south tower. It had only been 17 minutes since the first plane struck. By now, more than 200 firefighters were on the scene, with more on the way.

Now they knew it was a terrorist attack. Then they heard a plane hit the Pentagon. They heard early, erroneous reports that a plane crashing in Pennsylvania hit a shopping mall, that another plane was shot down over the Hudson River.

“In my head, I’m picturing that this is an all-out assault on New York City,” Morabito said.

The elevators in Tower One were out of service, some blown out of their shafts, the people inside them killed. People were coming down the stairs by the thousands.

Rather than put the building’s surviving occupants out onto West Street — where debris was falling, where bodies were striking the veranda — firefighters and police directed them through the lobby and down escalators into the subway. There they could walk for three or four blocks and come up a safe distance away.

Many of the people coming out of Tower One were burned, others badly cut, flesh hanging from open wounds. The firefighters yelled at them to walk slowly, not to run. The marble floor of the lobby was soaked by the sprinkler system and covered with broken plate glass, with blood.

“If they’d run, they’d slip and cut themselves wide open,” Morabito said. “But they were listening to everything we were saying. They were helping one another. They were carrying one another. They were helping older women, they were helping older men, they were helping handicapped people. With all this …. going on, they were helping one another.

“I was proud of them.”

He knew the last person down, the wife of a firefighter. He told her that her husband was alive. She went into the subway. The lobby was being emptied. Harrell, Tallon and Olsen were still climbing stairs. Pilipczuk, in his 50s, suffered chest pains on the stairwell — a mild heart attack — and was ordered to stop. He was evacuated by Cancel, who was later stopped from re-entering.

Morabito entered another lobby area and found people up on a veranda, milling around, some taking pictures. He told them to leave the area, that they were in danger.

He turned, walked through a doorway, and the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed behind him. The 110-story building came down in eight seconds, creating a hurricane force blast of crushed masonry and hot black smoke that blew through the lobby of Tower One like a wind from hell.

The wall behind Morabito collapsed.

“I got picked up. I got tossed around the room, and I was screaming, ‘God please. Don’t let me die, God,’ and I heard beams crashing, and then it stopped, and I was alive.”

Alive, but beginning to panic. The smoke was so thick he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. He turned his air cylinder on, took a couple hits of air, collected himself. He searched for a way out, found a window. Before crawling through, he clicked on a small flashlight clipped to his jacket, turned and yelled: “If anyone can see my light, if anyone can hear my voice, I got a window. This is a way out.”

Another fireman, Lt. Girard Owens of Engine Company 5, came out of the darkness with five people. Thrown against the ceiling in the north tower basement, Owens had a broken rib and an injured hand.

“Myself, and Lt. Owens and these five people were the last to exit that building before it collapsed,” Morabito said. “We were the last ones to get away.”

Owens would later tell Morabito that if he hadn’t called out, hadn’t shown them the window, the six of them would have died.

Outside, they saw the upper floors of Tower One collapsing.

“I thought I was going to get killed in the street,” Morabito said. “I was not far enough away. I was just running, trying to find water. I wanted to jump in the water to get away from it. I got about a block, and it just went in on itself and I realized I was going to be all right.”

He searched for his company, found the survivors sitting near the Hudson River.

“It was very quiet after everything fell. It was like the nuclear winter with the smoke and the dust everywhere.”

(The whole story is worth the read, so I highly recommend visiting 10 House’s website.)

Outside the station building is a memorial to the firefighters who lost their lives in the wake of the towers being struck by the hijacked planes and the subsequent collapses shortly after . Though I’d seriously doubt that I ever met one of the 343 firefighters that perished that day, much less ever crossed paths with them, I felt a huge appreciation for them. They put theirselves out there, losing their brothers and sisters, but saving the lifes of thousands more. Though some 3,000 lives were lost that day, a special acknowledgement is due for the men and women of the New York Fire Department, as well as the New York Police Department.

When I posted this as a note on my Facebook last September, I received the following comment from one of my friends: “I remember going to class with u that day…..I was ripped out of bed by my mom to watch the early morning news and I remember feeling….the first touches of youthful ignorance slowly seeping away from me. I realized that my life could end and I hated that feeling… It made me feel lost…”

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One Last Time… (YVR 3/30/11)

(To better understand, read this.)

I knew coming back was a risk. The last time I was here, I was kindly shown the door 65 hours after arriving. But, YVR is like a drug. Once you’re hooked, it’s hard to break the addiction.

Unlike the last time I was here, I wasn’t planning to stay in Vancouver for very long. I was only going to be here for the night, and then leave in the morning to take the train down to Seattle. So, I figured that it’d be no harm, no foul and I could just hang out at YVR for the night. My logic in this was that the last time I came here, it wasn’t until the third night of my stay that security took notice of me, so one night would be safe.

As it was another cold, rainy Vancouver night, it seemed like there were more people that usual inside the terminal. Of course, it didn’t take long for people to start dissipating, as the last flights started coming in and people left to head home. I figured that since it was a little busy at that moment, I would just go kill a couple hours at good ol’ Stanley’s Bar. (When in Canada, drink like a Canadian, eh?) It was about 10 o’clock or so when I closed out my tab and started to wander towards my “bedroom” in the US Departures terminal. However, this was when things started to go from good to not so good.

“What the… where’d it go?” I said to myself. Something wasn’t right. My “bed” was gone. Before, there had been benches here at the end of the US Departures terminal. Now, there was nothing but a few cardboard boxes on the backwall and a guy riding around on the floor cleaner. The strange thing was that it almost like someone was on to my plan. It wasn’t like there weren’t any benches left at all in the airport, as there were still plenty left over in the area between the food court and the walkway to the Fairmont hotel. But, I’d always preferred the area past the walkway to the Fairmont, as it was always nice and quiet and there were no distractions that would inhibit sleeping (i.e., people walking in and out the doors throughout the night). Sad but not broken, I decided to go back to the benches near the food court. Since I wasn’t able to fall asleep immediately, I decided to catch up on my emails and network connections (thank you free WiFi!). While doing this, I also watched the people walking by. And that’s when I saw him. “Him” being the security officer who kicked me out the last time I was here. Ummmm… uh oh.

When I was kicked out last time, I figured that the chances of me ever seeing that security officer again were pretty much slim to none. Clearly, I was wrong. Now I had to figure out what to do. I could pack up and go pay $20 or so for a bed in a hostel downtown, or I could risk it and stay here for the rest of the night. I chose the latter, because I’m just too cheap. So, to sleep I went.

At about 2:00AM, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Before I even opened my eyes, I was about 99% sure I knew what I was going to see in front of me. When I did finally open them, I saw I was right. There he stood, once again, with that dutiful question “what is your reason for being here?” Unlike last time, I was ready for him, and I had a story. As he requested my ID, I started to tell him how I was just here for the night as I waited for the morning to rise so I could buy a ticket on a plane up to Whitehorse. While he seemed to doubt my story, he left it at that. As he continued to write down the information from my ID, he told me that he remembered me from the last time we had met. I was a bit surprised to hear that, considering it’s been more than 7 months since we last encountered each other. Just like before, he was extremely courteous and friendly. He explained that without a ticket in hand, I really didn’t have a reason to be there in the airport. Though I’m still not sure if he believed anything I told him, he still let it slide. And just like that, we shook hands, and he went back to his rounds and I went back to sleep. At about 5:20 in the morning, I walked outside and headed up to the Canada Line station. As the train started to roll towards downtown around 5:35, I took one final look at Vancouver International Airport, and waved goodbye.

YVR has always been a strange, but polite creature, and that’s why I still like it there and hope to return once again. However, that may happen later than sooner. I’ve decided that as of now, I will accept an early retirement from my career as an “Airport Sleeper” at YVR. I fear that my profile has been raised more than I could have ever wanted, and with two recorded encounters with security, a third encounter couldn’t possibly lead to anything good at all. Even without my “record,” it just seems like airport sleeping is getting harder and harder to do. I’m sure I’ll be back for the legitimate reason of air travel, but just not for sleeping. So on that note… “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night” to you YVR.

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