My family’s not exactly a close knit one, at least not in the traditional sense. Sure, we’re close when we’re together, but when we’re apart, that’s just it, we’re apart. We call and write occasionally, but there’s virtually no communication otherwise. It must have something to do with being together in the military for so many years. We got very used to seeing people come and go and as a result, when we’re together, it’s just like it was when I was growing up. Loud and rambunctious and a million different conversations at once. Cats and dogs and little baby boys (and now a girl) and all of it comes together to sound like… The house I grew up in. We try really hard to make up for the times when we’re apart when we’re together because once we drift away, it’s over.
That’s why it was a little odd when my baby sister called to tell me she was coming up for a visit. I’d always made it known to the family that they had an open door policy to come and visit. My baby brother had been up to see me every time he could get leave from the Marines and whenever he had come up we made it into “Boys Time”. Drinking for hours in my favorite bar, hitting up the casino’s in Atlantic City and being generally sleazy individuals. All in good fun, of course. When my sister called me and told me she needed a little downtime, I told to come on up. We’d hang out and I could show her the town and she could relax.
She flew in late on a Sunday night and I grabbed her from the airport. We headed back to my place and hung out and drank coffee and caught up on a couple of years of not seeing each other. We talked late into the night and finally crashed, her in my bed and me on the couch. I woke up before she did the following day and made some coffee and kicked her outta bed. I asked her what she wanted to do. She’d never been to Philly before and I had been living here too long to think immediately of fun, touristy things to do that didn’t seem cheesy to me. Luckily, she was all about the cheese. We spent most of the day in Old City, wandering about Independence Mall and seeing the Liberty Bell. We hit up the Betsy Ross house and Love Park and took silly pictures and acted like siblings that hadn’t seen each other in years.
It was getting late and she was getting hungry so I suggested we get something to eat and head up to the Art Museum area and check out a show at one of the clubs up that way. There was a band in town that I had barely heard and I was curious how they’d perform live, so I asked her if that sounded like something fun. “Of course,” she replied. She’s from Bowling Green, Kentucky and not many British bands head out that way to play a show, so she seemed really excited. We started the walk up from Old City and stopped off at a Belgian joint that’s not there anymore for the best mussels I’d ever had.
We ended up at the club around nine, which gave us about another half hour before the show started and I was really feeling itchy for a series of drinks. I never drank heavy when family came to town. Not because I felt like it was something I needed to hide from them, but mainly because when they were around everything felt a little more peaceful and calm in my world. And that was always enough to at least put me to sleep. Regardless, I was in a club, about to attend a show that might very well suck and I was bone dry. I headed over to the bar and grabbed us a couple of Lagers. We drank and played pool for a bit when the opening act started up. We wandered away from the pool tables and checked them out. They weren’t too bad for a bunch of kids who couldn’t tie their shoes when I was graduating high school.
After their set, I looked over at my baby sister. Her eyes were a little heavy lidded from the drink, but they shone like I hadn’t seen in ages. She was really excited to be in a city again. It had been far too long and I told her so. “I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time, kid” I told her. She just beamed and gave me a hug. We hung out and talked a little more and it was through our conversation that I really started to see the city again. I had been here and in a stupor for so long that the only places I really saw were the places to get booze and food. I’d forgotten about all the little things that make this place so damn special. She was amazed at the number of funeral homes on Broad Street and the number of places you could get something to eat at three in the morning. She told me how much fun she’d had in Old City, just wandering around. That she’d loved checking out the architecture, the strange combination of old and new, and the gruff but generally genial crowds of people we’d run into. It was through her observations that I really started to look at this town again, really closely examine it, and for that I will always be grateful to her.
The main act started up and we grabbed some fresh drinks and headed up to the balcony that overlooked the stage. In everything I’d read about the band, the drummer apparently played the drums and scratched at the same time and I was damn curious how one man could pull off such a feat. The balcony afforded me a chance to check him out and her, a chance to check out the guitarist, who she started swooning over as soon as he took the stage. The drummer was pretty damn good, but he was using the occasional loop triggered by a foot pedal when he needed both hands. I was more impressed by the bassist, a tall, statuesque blond, who destroyed her bass and stole quite a few hearts that night. At the end of the show, my sister and I decided to hoof it back down to Old City, grab a couple of more beers and head home. About halfway through the walk, she decided that she was too tired, so we grabbed a six from a take out place and headed back to my apartment.
Once again, I woke up before her, so I made some coffee and turned on the news. The Today Show, I think it was. I distinctly remember sitting on the couch, watching my breath and the steam from the coffee mingle when I first heard the words. “We’re just getting word that a plane has struck one of the two towers of the World Trade Center.” I was pretty dumbfounded as they kept showing the footage over and over, speculating about what might have caused the crash. Watching several floors of the building disintegrate as the jet fuel ignited and obliterated everything in its path. I started wondering about Danny and Paul, two guys I used to work with and hoping for their family’s sake that they were in the other tower. I sat there mesmerized for about fifteen minutes when my sister woke up and asked what was going on. We sat on the couch, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes as the second plane hit. And as the speculation continued, I saw her face grow more and more worried. William.
William’s my nephew and her son. She’d left him with my parents for a few days while she had come up to see me. And after an hour or so of watching the same footage on TV, I watched her worry turn to full blown panic. No one really knew what the hell was going on at that point and once we got word that another place had struck the Pentagon, a place my father had worked at for years before he retired, she needed to get back to her son. So, we started calling around. No flights in or out of anywhere. No busses, no trains, nothing… At the time I thought I could understand where she was coming from, but I really didn’t understand it like I do now. Knowing what I do know now and if the situation were reversed, I would have kissed her on the cheek, thanked her for the good time and started walking back to Kentucky. The men in my family are impulsive. The women, however, think for a minute before they act and she did what any sensible individual would do. She called our mom.
Mom is, and always has been, the great fixer. She can come up with a plan for anything. And, after about a half an hour on the phone, she’d managed to calm my sister down and let her know that William was fine and that he’d continue to be that way. That’s when she asked for me. She told me that when they’d first got the news, she’d had the old man go and find a mid-way point between Bowling Green and Philadelphia and that he’d be emailing me directions as soon as he finished figuring out what construction was where. He’d meet us at the midway point tomorrow and she could go home with him. Now, all I need to do was keep her distracted until tomorrow morning and she’d be able to get back to the family. Mom asked if I just wanted to come down as well, hang out for a few days. I told her that I appreciated the offer, but my place was up here. She told me the offer stood until the old man left in the morning and I told her I’d think about it.
For most of the day, we just hung out in my apartment, watching the news and hoping that nothing else would happen. We saw the towers come down and waited. We watched the rescue efforts and waited. We drank a hundred pots of coffee and smoked a million cigarettes while we waited for something else to blow up and burn down. I tried to call my friends a few dozen times during the course of the day and shot off periodic emails, all to no avail. By the time the sun went down, the entire apartment reeked of smoke and coffee and bad nerves and stress. So, I told her to get a shower, because we were going to do exactly what we should have done in the first place. We were going to my Living Room.
Once we left the apartment, we were stunned by how quiet the city was. No cabs, no pedestrians, no nothing. Everyone was shut up in their homes, trying make sense of what happened. Every street we walked down was deserted and most everything was closed up. I knew the Living Room wouldn’t be, because the crowd on a Tuesday night was a hardcore drinking crowd. And since the world was ending, I knew it’d be open to give them a place to get loaded. We got to the bar and were greeted immediately by the Ramones on the jukebox and a mostly empty bar. But Mikey the bartender was there slinging drinks and we managed to have a good time despite the fact that no one knew what tomorrow would bring.
We left nice and early, bleary eyed and half drunk. Stumbling out to the car and heading off west through parts of Pennsylvania I’d only been through a handful of times before. We sang songs on the radio and bought cheap truck stop stuff to amuse ourselves, but I could fell her pushing me on with her eyes. She needed to get back to her boy. So we kept on until we’d reached Zanesville, Ohio. The first and last time I’d ever been there. A small town right off the freeway and the place where Route 666 ended (I’m not making that up). Any place that the devil’s highway ended was good enough for me, so we met the old man at a hotel just off the main drag and jumped out of the car. I gave my pops a hug and told him to take care of my little sister for me. And she kissed me on the cheek and told me “Thanks. I definitely won’t be forgetting this trip anytime soon.”
I watched them hop into my father’s truck and head off for home. I sat for a while and watched the sun go down on Zanesville, mainly because it seemed like a cool thing to do. And I got back into my car and started back to Philadelphia. To this day, she's never come back to visit.
thefinn lives in awe of his mother’s cool head and hopes to be as cool as she is one day. Archives