My chance, pre-9/11 encounter with the stranger I almost knew
I had grown up summering in East Hampton, and had watched the Hampton Jitney grow from one tiny van into an industry, and a prestigious and competitive one at that.
I boarded the bus at the airport connection, and it was tightly packed with passengers who had settled down with copies of Hamptons Magazine and bottled water, since boarding in Manhattan.
Since there weren’t many choices, I didn’t even bother to look for any familiar faces that would be fun to catch up with. I squished in next to a man in his twenties, who was sprawled over the seat. He acknowledged my presence by curling up to the window, and going back to sleep.
He dozed on and off, and when he was more alert, we began to talk. We covered a variety of subjects, but the odd part was that we never exchanged names, not even first names. This was so not the Hamptons way.
I liked him immediately.
He seemed content with his life, and that attribute is very contagious to be around. He told me that that he was looking forward to a dinner party that his parents were giving that night. He was going to park cars, which was announced with the same degree of pride as if he were the guest of honor. He then moved on to discussing his job; he was working for a brokerage house.
He told me the title of the firm but since it meant nothing to me at the time, I’ve forgotten it. I only remember that he was proud to be there. He had a wonderful sense of peace and gratitude in his life that is rarely attached to someone his age, especially in his milieu which is so competitive that it often leads to being malcontent. I thought that if I had a daughter, he would be exactly the kind of man I would hope she would bring home. I have never had this thought before or since.
He didn’t have a ride to his home, and a taxi was next to impossible to find on a Friday. When we got off of the bus I ran into a friend, and she offered him a ride, which he thanked her for, but didn’t accept. It turned out someone was there to pick him up.
Later my friend said that she thought that his name was Kenny, but she didn’t have a clue regarding his last name.
On September 11th, I watched in horror along with the rest of the world, as the Twin Towers exploded into sky writing of smoke rings and fire. Our safety net didn’t exist; it never had, and our world would never, ever be the same.
I thought of Kenny (if that was his name) and his look of pride when he talked about his job. I remembered the address of his firm: 2 Twin Towers, then wished I hadn’t.
There are some things I wish I didn’t remember. This is one of them. I will probably never know if he survived. In the aftermath of the nightmare, I remember a mother desperately seeking a son named Kenny. How many generations before his had worked and sacrificed so that his generation could excel and taste the America Dream drizzling in seduction.
Perhaps he is alive and well. Maybe he took the day off to play golf, park cars for a dinner party, or simply escaped from the building in time.
Wherever he is, I wish him well.
Amy Phillips Penn is a former New York Post society columnist. Her love of horses culminated in the book Diosa: One Mare’s Odyssey on the Planet Earth, written in her mare’s voice, and whispered to Amy.
Penn is a native New Yorker, who is currently living in California. Her goal is to see Diosa made into a movie. Visit her site to find out more.
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