January 22, 2012

A Reason to Go Out Of Your Way

Disclaimer - This blog post didn't start off as an almost 2000 word tribute to a pub in Manhattan. But then again, that sunny Tuesday morning in New York City, September 11th, 2001 didn't start off as a day we would never forget.

"Making Your Way in the World Today…"

If you’re older than 35, you can probably sing the theme song from the sitcom Cheer’s without even thinking. There’s no doubt that “making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.”

It's true in any occupation in our world today. It doesn't matter what sex, nationality, age or economic demographic you're in. I can personally attest that it's true in real estate.

Imagine if you worked at or owned a bar just feet away from where The World Trade Center towers once stood in New York City.

"Taking a Break from All Your Worries…"

I was in New York City recently for a real estate conference and one of my new friends from Utah, Chris Nichols, thankfully arranged a group of attendees to travel to lower Manhattan and visit the 9/11 Memorial. To get there from the Times Square area where we were staying is about a 12 minute train ride and then a 10-15 minute walk.

I knew nobody who died that day in those towers on that fateful day but I am sure, like many of you, you remember it as if it was yesterday. I didn’t know what to expect when I made it down there so it was nice that I had decided to make the trip alone (I figured I would connect with Chris and the rest of the group at the site).

The city of New York and all of the planners and volunteers have done a great job of making the entire process (entry, security, etc.) very efficient and minimally intrusive. The first thing you notice as you get close is the “buzz of work." From the construction workers high in the rising buildings to the workers at street level and below, there wasn’t a whole lot of standing around. Everyone had a purpose and was completely focused on why they were there.

"Wouldn’t You Like to Get Away?"

The memorial reflecting pools have been created in the foot prints of the two towers that the world lost that day 10+ years ago. Designers, architects and landscape architects have done a tremendous job of honoring those lost as well as giving a place for family members and friends of the victims and people just like me to come and pay our respects.

Each reflecting pool has walls with the names of each person who died as a result of those terrorist acts etched on them. I felt a literal chill run down my spine as I gazed at these pools and the names surrounding them and trust me...it wasn’t the arriving dusk of a chilled winter evening in the Northeast.

The sight of the new Freedom Tower being built just a few hundred yards away made me very proud of the desire of these workers and all who supported this effort with donations or help along the way. It will be quite a sight when it is totally complete and will hopefully allow those who lost someone that day reach some closure knowing that we can, and did, rebuild.

"Where everybody knows your name…"

Another one of my new friends I met for the first time at the conference, Teri Conrad from Vancouver, Canada had arrived in NYC a few days before me so she and her husband were able to visit the 9/11 Memorial a few days earlier. While no one can tell you how you’ll react upon seeing this place, any advice or guidance on getting there and things around it would be helpful.

Teri told me of a small bar/restaurant near Ground Zero that she and her husband stopped in after their visit and how they were really moved by their visit. Teri suggested that I try to do the same on my visit.

After leaving the actual site and passing through the Visitor’s Center (way more emotional than I was ready for, but certainly worth your time upon exiting the grounds) I texted Teri to find out the name of this bar I, according to Teri, “HAD TO VISIT.”

O’Hara’s Restaurant and Pub is at 120 Cedar Street. Teri had told me specifically about the police and fire badges and patches that covered the walls of the place. I popped in to enjoy a cold beer for happy hour and check my email messages before heading back to my hotel but once inside, the emotion and “story” of O’Hara’s kept me seated on that stool that night and turned me into a fan of what this place is all about.

Located right next door to Fire Engine House #10, it obviously became an integral part of the rescue and recovery that occurred for weeks and months beginning the morning of September 12, 2001. Serving as a temporary “headquarters” of sorts for the National Guard as well as police and firefighters from across the country that descended upon Ground Zero to “help their fallen brothers,” O’Hara’s has become the unofficial pub for firefighters and police everywhere.

This bar survived the collapse of the towers but it was probably more by luck than by anything else. The neat part of visiting O'Hara's is they have multiple scrap books that commemorate the events of 9/11 through photos, news articles and letters from patrons, employees and visitors who were there that day or experienced it in their own way somewhere else. As I sat there looking at the book and chatting with David behind the bar, I texted my new friend Jeff Kershner from Chicago to join me (he had just tweeted about being at the 9/11 Memorial across the street).

Jeff joined me and for the next hour or so, David began to enlighten us with what happened that Tuesday morning ten years ago. David wasn’t there that day (he was a grade schooler) but you wouldn’t have known that by the way he told the stories.

Three people were in O’Hara’s that morning back in 2001 – two cooks and one of the owners. The descriptive telling of the sounds, smells and sights (and sudden lack of sight immediately after the first building fell) was nothing short of “sit on the edge of your chair while the hair on your neck stands up” captivating. David wasn’t trying to impress us and I am sure he might get tired of telling the story but as a great employee trying to make two first time guests feel welcome, he told it as if we were the first people to ever ask the question.

Eventually Jeff and I had to make our way back uptown for some planned events that we each had. As we walked back to the train station we both said how much we wanted to come back to O’Hara’s for a few more beers ($3 drafts compared to $9 in Times Square is kind of a “no-brainer”) and a bite to eat while we were still in town. Jeff and I knew it was much less about the cheap beers than it was about hanging our with "good people."

"They’re Always Glad You Came…"

Jeff and I did make it back the next night. While it would have been great to have spent more time with many of the others we met at the conference, I know there will be more opportunities to dine with fellow real estate agents. I might not get many more opportunities to visit a place like O’Hara’s.

Jeff and I headed for the E Train and rode from 45th street all the way to the end of the line. Up from the depths of the city’s subway system, we walked the 8-10 blocks in a chilly mist, arriving at O’Hara’s and finding it much fuller than the day before. Of course we were there a few hours later than the previous day but we still were able to secure a spot at the upstairs bar. The only bad part was that David was working the lower bar and we wanted to continue our chat from the day before with David.

We said “Hi” to David, who remembered us by name and thanked us for coming all the way back downtown from Times Square. We asked him to let us know when a spot opened up at his bar and enjoyed a beer and some real estate chatter upstairs until a few seats opened up on the lower level.

David wasn’t working all night so after a while of chatter and good natured dialogue, he introduced us to Jimmy and "Uncle Paulie" (as David called him), the two co-owners of O’Hara’s. David added to his introduction the fact that we came back all the way from Times Square and both Jimmy and Paulie were appreciative and welcoming.

Hanging out that evening with Paulie was incredible. Friendly and attentive, he was the consummate bartender and with his thick Jersey accent, he somewhat epitomized the “New Yorker” stereo-type that was created following 9/11, and that is definitely a good thing. In my estimation, Paulie is loyal, proud, hard-working and helpful. He’s the kind of guy who would do anything for his fellow man, not for what he got out of it but just for the sake of helping someone else. Paulie is everything good that people speak of when talking about New York City being the greatest city in the world.

Jeff and I enjoyed hearing Paulie’s version of that horrible fall morning and the decision process he went through when deciding to invest in the pub and become a co-owner a few years later. We talked about the fireman and police officers and service people who have travelled from all parts of the world to visit O’Hara’s, pay their respects and offer up a patch or badge from their precinct’s back home. One thing is clear when you look at firefighters and police officers – they truly believe in the concept of “all for one and one for all.” Almost every inch of the walls behind the bar at O'Hara's are covered with firefighter and police memorablia from around the world.

"Our Troubles Are All the Same"

The neat thing about spending that evening with Jeff, David, Paulie and all the other staff and patrons of O’Hara’s was that we’re all part of something much bigger. The troubles I may have in my personal or business life are no bigger or smaller than the problems everyone else has. Imagine some of the problems being experienced by a 10 year old boy or girl who will never know there father or mother except for a name etched on a reflecting pool wall? Try to picture losing your spouse or child in an istant because of some sick, thoughtless act of terrorism. Imagine a Fireman’s reunion that will be short a few alumni because they gave their life the day those towers fell.

It’s the perspective of hearing Paulie and David tell stories of what happened that day and the weeks following that really make a challenging housing market seem much more manageable.

"Where People Know People Are All the Same"

It was time catch the E Train and head back up to our hotel. Jeff and I called for the tab and were planning for the shock of triple digits. "Pleasant surprise" doesn’t do our feeling justice when we realized our bill was closer to half of what we expected. Turns out that Paulie and David each bought us a round, as did one of the locals at the end of the bar.

You didn’t have to do that,” Jeff and I both exclaimed.

Paulie slowly approached, smiled and paused before he said with a smile… "And you guys didn’t have to go so far out of your way just to spend some time with us here at O’Hara’s. There are lots of bars up near your hotel so for you to come all this way just to spend time with us and ask us questions, it’s our honor to have you as our guests.”

How freakin’ cool is that?

Thanks O’Hara’s.

Of all the cool things I did on my first visit to The Big Apple, spending time with you was the best. Much like the slogan many people have adopted for the horrific day back in 2001, I think the same thought applies to me and Jeff and our visit to O'Hara's Pub.

“We will never forget.”