By Lori M. Berlin
There are two hashtags you’ll be seeing regularly from Tevelady MEDIA in September. Each holds its own important, distinctive and personal meaning to me.
For many years, Tuesdays were my Sundays. I covered the NFL for more than nine years as a bureau producer at ESPN, so Tuesdays were my off days. It was a day for errands, catching up with friends, hitting the gym, and Tuesdays with Gertrude (technically before there were “tuesdays with Morrie”).
Every Tuesday afternoon, as a volunteer for Dorot, I would spend an hour hanging out with Gertrude, a nonagenarian living in her own Upper West Side apartment. She read the New York Times daily, so we’d talk current events and the arts. After we met, she started reading the sports pages and we’d talk about championship boxing or the NFL after returning from my assignments.
Then there was the unforgettable Tuesday morning in September. I could not have wished for a more beautiful Tuesday to start my Sunday. I’ll always remember looking up and seeing the most magnificent blue, crystal clear New York City sky. The temperature was perfect. The first stop on this 11th day of the month would be the voting booth before heading to the gym.
“Re-rack the tape, re-rack the tape,” I kept saying to myself while working out at Reebok after seeing the initial special report. A small plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center, or so they thought. If they rewind the tape they’d be able to see what actually happened, or so I thought. I immediately left the gym, listening to the radio on my tiny yellow Walkman, stopped at Food Emporium for bread and milk (because during a disaster you’re supposed to have bread and milk in the house), came home and put on the TV. Between the few minutes of WTF and the world is about to change forever, there was a call from my doorman downstairs. The perfect chair I’d been searching for was finally being delivered. The Macy’s guys dropped the chair and ran out to get home before every bridge and tunnel was closed.
My cousin Davey was on 42nd Street outside of Port Authority on his way to Secaucus for an interview with the NBA. He looked up and saw the breaking news on all the Jumbotrons, then learned the Port Authority was shut down. He jumped on the subway, where he saw people who had been at the World Trade Center, and he came to my apartment. Many of us left our front doors open. We were all in disbelief. Thank goodness I did not know anyone who worked in the World Trade Center, I kept thinking. A neighbor I did not know was in the hallway yelling, “My fiancé, my fiancé” before she went into the elevator and ran into the street before the doorman could stop her. Thankfully, her fiancé was OK. He was on his way downtown, but she couldn’t reach him. The phones were not working. I remember I couldn’t get through to people a few blocks away, but I did get a call from my friend Tony who was in Australia. Everyone was checking on everyone. If you weren’t one of the thousands of people walking uptown, you were glued to the TV. When were they going to show us footage of people being rescued from the rubble?
The next morning I went around the corner to volunteer at the Red Cross. Apparently, this wasn’t an original idea. There were tons of people online, so I walked across the street to the local firehouse. I’d never been to Engine 40/Ladder 35, my neighborhood firehouse since moving to the UWS in 1986. I didn’t know what I could do, but figured we were nowhere near the World Trade Center and there just might be something I could do to help.
Thanks to Paul, then Jack, this September 12 marks the 6,209 day of my friendship with my 4035 family. They can’t get rid of me. From fundraising and vacations, to births and deaths, we’ve all shared many life experiences together. My life has forever changed and I will never forget what happened on September 11, 2001. All 11 firefighters working in Engine 40/Ladder 35 on 9/11 were killed. And now the first responders who were off duty or retired on 9/11, the ones who went to work digging through the toxic debris at the WTC site searching for the 2,753 innocent lives lost, are sick and dying.
First responders like my friends Ray, Robert, John, Joe, Chris and many other firefighters from Engine 40/Ladder 35 spent months digging on the pile at ground zero. While I was volunteering at the firehouse or launching a golf tournament to raise money for scholarships for kids of firefighters, my friends were downtown risking their own lives in the hopes of giving other families a little bit of closure. It turns out I really did know people who worked at the World Trade Center.
Ray is gone now. He died on May 28, 2017 from 9/11 cancer. Craig from 4035 started The Ray Pfeifer Foundation, a 501c3 charitable organization, dedicated to assisting September 11th first responders, firefighters and police, with medical needs not covered by insurance. The foundation carries on Ray’s legacy of helping others. “Do the right thing, even when no one is looking,” Ray would say.
As the only non-first responder on the board, we’re all volunteers trying to “do the right thing” for our heroes to help ensure a better quality of life for them in their darkest days. We will never forget our 9/11 first responders. Not this month, not ever.
September is also Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. As a longtime volunteer for the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation, the gold ribbons represent the countless kids with cancer, their families, and the selfless TCJF team I’ve been fortunate to know over the last 14 years.
The first Coughlin I really got to know was actually Judy, Tom’s wife. My friend Andrea introduced us while we were working at an NFL owners meeting. Years later, when TC was hired in 2004 as head coach of the NY Giants, Judy asked me if I would meet with her daughter Keli who ran TCJF from Jacksonville. The foundation needed to start putting together a playbook to help pediatric oncology patients in the NY/NJ area. They were kicking off some fundraising efforts, and Judy knew I was doing the FDNY golf tournament.
I remember meeting with Keli in my office at ESPN’s Cold Pizza. I wasn’t sure what I could do, but was happy to do anything to help their families. Eventually I became a regular volunteer for TCJF. To be there for these kids, to see the smiles on their faces at our Sundae Blitz (hands down THE best volunteer day of the year), is also something I will do forever.
Our annual Champions for Children Gala is in September again this year. From coordinating the blue carpet interviews to handing out auction claim letters, I will be there to do whatever is needed.
Whether it’s setting up TV interviews with Ray Pfeifer Foundation board members at a firehouse on Staten Island, or simply holding a door open at the Giants facility for our TCJF pediatric oncology patients, to me it doesn’t matter what the calendar says. I will #NeverForget and I will always #BeThere.