9/11 anniversary: Why I can’t let go of my Sept. 11 ‘hurt locker’

090211 (Ray Graham/The Palm Beach Post)--Studio--We need a photo of this old Samsonite suitcase I have that is filled with a bunch of stuff from the week of 9/11/2001.
Post reporter Staci Sturrock’s old Samsonite suitcase is filled with ephemera from the week she spent in New York City covering 9/11. (File photo/The Palm Beach Post)

The 15th anniversary of 9/11 is Sunday. Palm Beach Post reporter Staci Sturrock wrote this column on the tenth anniversary of the attack:

It’s been years since I had the heart to sift through the contents of the vintage suitcase in my spare bedroom. But recently, I flipped open the latches of the hard-sided, marbled-green Samsonite.

There was the paper air-filter mask someone handed me on the streets of New York 10 years ago this Sunday.

There were the reporter’s note pads, scribbled with quotes like this one from an eyewitness to the attack on the twin towers: “At first, we were just watching the smoke, and then we saw people jumping or bodies falling out of the windows. They were like rag dolls.”

Or this one, jotted down two days later outside the Lexington Avenue Armory, where families sought help in locating what we then called “the missing”: “We just hope someone will tell us where we can go to find our son.”

And there, the pair of battered black sandals.

I wore the shoes most of that week, when I happened to be in New York to attend fashion shows, and wound up covering a national tragedy.

Now, I remember why I couldn’t bear to look inside the suitcase. It’s my very own “hurt locker” of recent history.

*****

The Samsonite is also a time capsule of sorts, a historic relic, a souvenir of an era long past.

This particular model was popular in the 1950s, when the person who drove you to the airport could escort you to the gate and kiss you goodbye. When you didn’t have to remove your shoes and belt and jacket to pass through security. When grabbing your bags and heading to the airport meant packing your sense of adventure, not a couple of Xanax.

Stored inside, I can see the technological changes of 10 years. There’s a small stack of faxes.

A horizontal credit-card receipt that had been put through an old-fashioned, sliding imprinter. A packet of 36-exposure film developed at an Eckerd drugstore, not instantly routed from a phone to my Facebook page.

The photos trace my path after I scribbled this note during the initial post-attack phone call from my editor: “first person story, center of the apocalypse, walk as far south as possible.”

And so, around 10 that morning, I headed south from my Times Square hotel. Along the way, I talked to dazed New Yorkers and aimed my point-and-shoot camera at pedestrians trudging mid-avenue, pausing to stare at smoke billowing in the distance.

Out on the streets, news updates weren’t as near as the palm of your hand. Smartphones? Tablet computers? Try the occasional transistor radio or jam box. I didn’t even own a cellphone then, and neither did the many residents waiting at pay phones to call home.

Here’s a photo of information-gathering, circa 2001: two dozen strangers huddled around a car, its windows rolled down and radio cranked up.

And here’s a snapshot of how quickly hospitals mobilized that morning — attached to a tree, a hand-lettered sign that read “Blood needed at St. Vincent’s.”

Scores waited in line to donate at the Greenwich Village hospital, where green-scrubbed doctors stood outside, next to office chairs draped in white sheets, ready to ferry the wounded who never arrived.

And, in my note pad, phrases evoking the surreal nature of a catastrophe that was simply unbelievable, even with the evidence written in a disfigured skyline:

“NYC bus goes by with paramedics in every seat. … Police riding in back of Ford F-250 pickup.”

“A priest wearing a dusty white hard hat.”

“Soot falling from sky like snowflakes.”

*****

In the end, I made it within half a mile of ground zero before encountering a policeman who had every reason to be impatient, but wasn’t. “I even threw NBC out,” he said.  “Unfortunately, you guys gotta go, too.”

The days that followed were a blur of interviews with tourists and mourners and downtown residents trying to retrieve the pets they’d hastily abandoned in apartment buildings adjacent to the Trade Center.

My photos do a poor job of conveying that week’s schizophrenic mix of pride, sorrow and hopefulness: American flags hung from fences and scaffolding. The makeshift memorials of roses and sunflowers, candles and messages of peace. Mailboxes papered over with missing-person fliers.

Those hastily Xeroxed pleas for information — which typically featured professionals in their prime, oblivious to the violent fate that awaited them — were mind-boggling in number.

Two posters were handed to me outside the Lexington armory, where many fathers and mothers, friends and co-workers sought out reporters, or anyone else, who would listen to their stories.

One shows a handsome 32-year-old man in a swimming pool with a young child. He is Mario Nardone, and on Sept. 15, 2001, The New York Times described the bonds broker, who worked on the 84th floor of the South Tower, as the guy with “the million-dollar smile and the million-dollar heart.”

Less than a week later, The Times ran an obit of the lovely woman on the other flier. Rosa Julia Gonzalez, also 32, a Port Authority secretary. After the terrorists flew into the South Tower, Gonzalez called one of her six sisters, then tried to make her way to the street from the 66th floor.

According to news reports, Gonzalez was descending the stairs with her friend Genelle Guzman-McMillan when the building collapsed. Almost 27 hours later, McMillan became the last person pulled alive from the wreckage.

Gonzalez was not so lucky.

*****

Last month, my boyfriend asked, gently and without judgment, if I’d like to get rid of the suitcase, or at least the contents that give it so much physical and emotional weight.

We’ll be in Lower Manhattan on Sunday, and maybe, he suggested, we could leave a few items in tribute at the new 9/11 Memorial, the one inscribed with 2,983 names.

I didn’t know what to say. He finally spoke: “You’re not ready to let it go.”

I guess I’m not, and I’m not sure why. I experienced 9/11 at such a remove that it’s wrong to say I “experienced” it at all. I wasn’t in the center of the apocalypse; I was an observer on its outskirts, and after six long days, I returned to the comforting routines of home.

But it seems heartless to discard the fliers or the photos or the note pads, or even say goodbye to those worn-out sandals.

Now, as I handle the shoes, lyrics from a favorite song by the folk trio The Be Good Tanyas come to mind:

You pass through places
And places pass through you
But you carry ’em with you
On the soles of your travellin’ shoes.

The suitcase is where I carry ’em with me — those memories of places I hope we never pass through again.

Florida’s best waterfront bar? It’s here in Palm Beach County

Guanabana's in Jupiter has earned another top honor. (Post file photo)
Guanabanas in Jupiter has earned another top honor.
(Post file photo)

It comes as no surprise to us locals but it’s still nice to be validated.

Guanabanas, Jupiter’s wildly-popular bar and restaurant tucked into a tropical rain forest, has been named Florida’s top waterfront bar by a website called Onlyinyourstate.com.

One of Guanabanas thatched roofs was built around existing trees. (Post file photo)

Citing Guanabanas lush landscaping, laid-back attitude, seafood-centric menu and live music, the website says the tiki-themed outdoor restaurant is “a taste of paradise.”

But we already knew that.

As our tourist season winds down, it’s also far easier to get a table this time of year.

Read:  More of our top picks for waterfront dining in Palm Beach County.

 

 

 

What NFL football legend was spotted in Jupiter this weekend?

Tom Brady, team owner Robert Kraft, and head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots celebrate with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Brady, team owner Robert Kraft, and head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots celebrate with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

That would be none other than New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

On Saturday afternoon, the Super Bowl-winning coaching legend was seen working out on the treadmills at Gold’s Gym in Jupiter. There is no rest for a multitasking coach in the offseason: As Belichick worked out, in a Harvard Football T-shirt, he had the treadmill TV on a basketball game, had a computer propped up reviewing football game video and was jotting down notes on a pad, a pencil stuck behind his right ear.

Belichick has been known to visit the area, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft has a home nearby in Palm Beach.

The coach wasn’t the only celeb at Gold’s on Saturday afternoon. Also spotted: Don Brewer, the drummer-singer of Grand Funk Railroad and singer-writer of We’re An American Band, who lives in the area.

Bruce Springsteen announces autobiography: The Boss’ connections to Palm Beach County

Bruce Springsteen announced today that he’s writing his autobiography titled — what else — Born to Run. It will be released in September. It’s a big year for Boss fans — his “The River” tour comes to BB+ T Center in Sunrise on Tuesday.

Springsteen has a lot of connections to Palm Beach County — will they end up in his memoir?

 

born

 

clemons spring 85
Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons play Miami’s Orange Bowl in 1985 (Miami News)

No one would have believed that Jersey boy Springsteen would one day own a horse farm in Wellington, or tool around Lake O on his chopper. Or that his iconic Big Man, Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011, would have a luxury condo on Singer Island or that drummer Max Weinberg would buy a house on Palm Beach’s north end.

Through the years, The Post has written a number of stories about Springsteen’s and Clemons’ presence in Palm Beach County.

Here are some:

A “Thunder Road” trip – Bruce Springsteen, a bar and the big lake.”

Clarence Clemons:  Remembering the “Big Man” at home on Singer Island.

Clarence Clemons in a 2009 Palm Beach Post photo.
Clarence Clemons in a 2009 Palm Beach Post photo.

In 2005, Clemons talked to former Post reporter Anne Rodgers about his memories of “Born to Run.”

Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

Question: Why has Born to Run held up so well?

Clarence Clemons: Because of the purity and the energy and the life that went into it. You can’t destroy energy. You can’t take it away. When you do something earnestly and truthfully, it lasts.

Q: What do you remember about that cover pose?
CC: I set the pose up. I stood up and struck a pose and Bruce leaned in on me. And it was perfect. When we’re together it just happens that way. We don’t hang out all the time, but when we get together, we see something in each other and it’s magic. The spontaneity jumps all over the place. From the first time I met him, I had that feeling.

Q: When did you know the album was huge?CC: When Time and Newsweek put Bruce on the cover the same week.

Q: How did you feel about the fame?
CC: We hated it! It was too much exposure too soon. We wondered how we were supposed to act. Were we supposed to be different? What should I wear? We were just a bunch of guys from Jersey.

Q: How do you feel about the cover shot today? (It splits the image, with Springsteen on the front and Clemons on the back.)
CC: It’s kind of been a nemesis. My face was on the back. Why not on the front? What’s up with that? My mom was apprehensive about me going into rock and roll. I had a strict religious background and here I was leaving my job and family to follow this dream. She always said, ‘Keep your day job.’ So finally Born to Run comes out and it’s huge and I showed it to my mom and she said, ‘Your behind’s on the cover!’
The promotions all had the whole picture, it was a big thing showing brotherhood between black and white . . . a big statement in rock and roll. But on the album, my face is on the back. I think Bruce really envisioned it would be the whole cover, but somewhere along the line it got changed. I was disappointed, but it was OK. What was inside was better than what was on the outside. We moved on. It didn’t faze me and didn’t affect my contribution to Bruce and the music.