I have had to turn off the part of me that writes this blog. There's a core to all of us where creativity comes from. I turned off that part to get through one of the darkest periods in American history. We built a TV network and a social audio app during Covid. But I didn't grow as a human being, at least not creatively. It's time to resume planting a beanstalk. The three or four of you and I are back together again. My breath stinks. How bout yours?
For me, Covid started on St Patrick's Day, 2020. That's a year and a half ago. Covid's been raging since, except of course for a six-week period this summer when the numbers dipped and it looked like we were past this thing. We're not. With the advent of the Delta variant, Covid's hitting record numbers. People are still dying. We're all still arguing about whether you should wear a mask or not and if you should get vaccinated. I don't understand US. I talk on the radio every morning (okay - four mornings a week now) and I take tons of calls and messages and I see a lot of people on the streets - and I have no explanation for how we got here. I have no inkling where we're headed.
One of the treats of not working on Fridays is I get to watch my wife dress for work. She's doing this right now and talking to me. To hold up my part of a 30-year marriage, I turn and listen. This causes breaks in concentration with the three or four of you. My wife's funny. She makes jokes all the time. She'd be pissed if she even knew I was mentioning her so please don't say anything.
Since I wake at four to do the show most mornings, I also wake at four on days I'm not doing the show. This is something I learned from all the mill rats who live around here. When they retire, they still wake at four in the morning... for a while. Eventually, they start staying up late watching Brazillian beach parties, and the next day they sleep in. One day they wake at four and the next day they don't wake til my show's over. This will be me someday. I wake now long before dawn and will for a long while after I stop doing the morning show. And then one day I'll stay up late watching old Jack Nicholson movies and I'll sleep til nine the next day. The cycle will be broken.
On Tuesday, I was coming out of working out and I picked up my phone - 27 text messages. There were reports of an active shooter at Lake Central High School. Since I was halfway there anyways, I went south down US 41 and pulled in next to the high school. The gray-haired guy who owns the Produce Depot let me park around back of his place. Later, I would return and buy a gluten free veggie wrap and a bunch of fruit and vegetables, some of which Alexis cooked up last night with a piece of salmon.
There were police everywhere. I knew a couple of them because I've lived around here most of my 59 years and for a good portion of that worked in media. It was a perfect day. Sunny, low humidity, warm and comforting, not the kind of day for a possible school shooting. The first cop I talked to told me - off the record - that there was no gun and there was no shooting. No one, not even a couple of the cops I've known for a while, would go on the record. For the time being, there were helicopters hovering overhead, parents running up to the school, cops directing traffic, and a Taco Bell in the middle it all. There was no official news to report to anguished parents. Social media had all sorts of wild conjectures.... including of course shots fired. I knew right away from the cops - off the record - that there were no shots and at this point no gun. They were sweeping the school but hadn't found anything yet.
It just so happens that since the last time the three or four of you and I talked, we've expanded at WJOB and JEDtv. We now have our own TV network... and we have people live from 6am to noon. Sonny Santana was live in studio. I did a little video, emailed it to him, and he played it on our TV network... which also plays on the radio. More on this TV network later. In the video, I emphasized that it is "alleged" shots fired and that we should remain calm until we get more news. I also cautioned against anyone trying to drive down US 41. It quickly backed up for a mile in north and south directions. Part of the traffic jam was from so many emergency vehicles rushing to the scene. Ambulances, fire trucks, police chiefs, federal authorities... They were all over the place.. across from the high school at the strip mall. On the lawn of the school, in the middle of 41 directing traffic. If you were a parent running up to the scene, you had every right to be freaked out.
We gathered in an open area south of the school by the Taco Bell and the Fagen Miller funeral home. When I first got there, there were a few dozen frantic parents pacing back and forth. Within an hour, there were hundreds. By the time I left a few hours later, there were thousands of people hanging out on their cars. Some had lawn chairs. After a while, it filtered out to the crowd, partly by the videos I sent from my phone and other media reports, that there was no gun and they were just being "better safe than sorry." Around 2:30pm, Andrew Garcia from WJOB/JEDTV arrived on the scene. I left and went home. Andrew stayed for the press conference and did what is known as a "package," a couple minute summary of the happenings with video highlights. It turns out a student in a stall in the bathroom heard what he thought was another kid in another stall loading a gun.
The next morning - yesterday - St. John police chief Steve Flores explained on my show what happened. It was partly a misunderstanding and partly the police being "better safe than sorry." In the end, with all of the school shootings we've had in America, this was no doubt the best course of action. I told Flores on the air that he did a good job, which isn't something a journalist should do... but I've known Flores for a long time and he did do a good job.
That was the second half of Tuesday. On the first half of Tuesday, we had one of the most powerful shows in a long time. Verlie Suggs hosts with me on Tuesdays. She grew up in Queens near Shea Stadium but moved to the Region a long time ago. Her real job is as a flight attendant. Her real passion is as a radio host.
Verlie had lined up a special show to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9-11. She grew up in NYC and her airline had two planes as part of 9-11. As Verlie put it, "my co-workers died that day." It also turns out that Verlie knows people who were there and played a prominent role in dealing with what went down.
First, Michelle Scott called in. Michelle and Verlie grew up together. Michelle was on the 20th floor when the first plane hit. There's a picture that appeared all over the place of Michelle with an N-95 mask hanging below her chin. She's covered in soot and the look in her eyes says it all. I've seen that photo. So have you. That was Michelle.
Like the next two people who came on the show, Michelle was not comfortable talking about 9-11. She did it for Verlie, who got out of the way and let me interview her friends. That's the thing about radio and TV and podcasting and blogging and the rest of it. It's good that you can get your friends to come on, but it's not always good if you are the one interviewing them. It's like your nephew the doctor operating on your liver. Let someone else do it. It's better that way.
Michelle filed down the stairwell with the rest of the people while the building was burning apart floors above. There was soot and smoke everywhere. Michelle has asthma, so when she got to the bottom, she was having trouble breathing. An NYC fireman or cop handed her his mask. That's the famous picture.
There's a lot that Michelle said that will make you do the sign of the cross, if lime Verlie and me you're Catholic and that's what nuns taught you to do. One thing stands out... and it was my wife, the woman who just left in a tan summer dress, who pointed it out. It was "the man in the Navy suit."
On Tuesday night laying in bed, Alexis asked me - "so how did your day go?" I told her a little about the alleged school shooting and then, "oh, and we had a really powerful show about 9-11." So we listened to whole hour and a half of 9-11 commemorative coverage. After Alexis and I listened to Michelle, Alexis's first words were - "the man in the Navy suit. That will never go away for Michelle."
As Michelle was running from the World Trade Center, she looked up and, according to her estimates, saw about six different people jumping from floors above and landing on the ground. That's horrific enough. But she was so close to one of the people, she could tell what he was wearing. It was a Navy suit. The man in the Navy suit.
The second guest was Joey Irizarry. He grew up with Verlie. Yes, it's that Joey. He was the trainman in the basement of the World Trade Center who kept the doors open and ushered in soot-covered people and carried them away to safety. Joey also drove trains in the days after 9-11. It turns out he would drop off all of his riders at Chambers Street and then continue on to the World Trade Center to turn around. There was a ton of dust in the air and, as we now know, the air was dangerous. Joey drove through that. Joey also shared with us that he suffers from PTSD to this day. He said that it's never really gotten better. It's as strong today as it was 20 years ago. If you ever get a chance, look up the tape of the interview with Joey. He's a hero, no doubt, and the media has portrayed his as such. But he's also a guy who, in his own words, "just can't get past it." Joey rarely talks about that day. He did it for our little radio station in Indiana because Verlie asked him to.
The last interview was Hiram. His dad died when he was little, so Verlie's dad acted as a mentor. If you think about it, it's a little Jewish kid with a black man as his role model in an apartment building in Queens in the 1960s and 70s. This is a movie, plain and simple.
Hiram was in his second day as a commander. He had to stay at his post and didn't go down to the site that day. But he did a lot of days afterwards. "We had to get silent every 20 minutes," Hiram said. "to see if we could hear someone knocking." Hiram said at least five times, with noticable regret, "after the first 24 hours, we didn't rescue anybody." You could tell by the tone in his voice that it was a huge regret in Hiram's life.
That was my Tuesday. You can go to JEDtv and buy a subscription and listen to Michelle, Joey and Hiram... and you can even watch the videos I sent in from Lake Central High School and the coverage provided by Sonny Santana. I miss telling you about my days. I have the best job in the world. The three or four of you know that. My life represents a lot of what is the Calumet Region, including the spirit of WJOB, which is good and pure and beautiful. But there is discord and evil and danger in the world. I had to protect the part of me that writes this blog. It's the same part of me that reads novels, which I haven't done since before March 17, 2020. I closed off part of myself. Maybe you did too.