Last week on the show I found myself talking about something I've never openly discussed. I'm talking about that fateful day in September, 2011. In fact, my memories of 9/11 have been safely tucked away for years. But when Leslye read a story on the air about Michael Jackson, I told her the last time I saw Michael in concert was the night before 9/11 in New York City and she encouraged me to share my story.
It’s still somewhat surreal.
In September 2001, I was working at Magic's sister station, XL1067, and would often host Teen Nights at the House of Blues. It was there that I met the founder of Transcon Records, Lou Pearlman. Pearlman also managed and produced hit bands like Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. As many of you know, Lou Pearlman would later fall from grace, but he was always kind to me and treated me like family. In fact, I would come to refer to him as “Uncle Lou.”
One day, Lou asked me if I would like to fly to NYC and present his latest pop sensation, Natural, with a gold record at Planet Hollywood. It was an opportunity of a lifetime so of course I jumped at the chance. A Few days later, along with the band, I was on Pearlman's private jet and then checking into a hotel right in Times Square. It was my rockstar moment!
After the record presentation, Pearlman surprised us with tickets to see Michael Jackson at Madison Square Garden that night. We had floor seats, row 10, dead center, and the show was amazing. Michael's good friend, Elizabeth Taylor introduced him. Liza Minnelli also performed. It was a night I'll never forget.
The next day, I was scheduled to fly out of Newark back to Orlando. Lou had a driver take me to the airport, but while we were on the interstate I received a phone call from my dad. I could hear concern in his voice when he asked, “ Where are you? Something is happening in New York!”
At that very moment, and I'll never forget this, the driver looked out the window and said, “HOLY SHIT the tower is on fire.” He was referring to the World Trade Center. The first tower had been struck and I could see a second plane heading toward the second tower. Without thinking I said to the driver, “it looks like that plane is going to hit the tower.” It did and at that moment, my phone went dead.
The interstate quickly became a parking lot. People everywhere were getting out of their cars and just standing in the middle of the road. All we could do was watch as the worst of all possible scenarios unfolded, literally in front of us.
Still in shock, my driver managed to get me as close as he could to my hotel, which meant driving all the way to upstate New York. The city was virtually shut down and no one really knew what to do.
During the trip, which took a total of nine hours, we stopped at a Denny’s so I could use a payphone to call my parents. Needless to say, they both cried tears of joy when they heard my voice. Up until that point, they really had no idea if I was dead or alive.
After our lengthy detour, somehow we made it back to the Bronx and while the bridges and tunnels were closed, the subway was still working and I was able to get back to my hotel. I immediately headed for Lou Pearlman's room. When his assistant opened the door, we threw our arms around each other and cried. We still didn't know exactly what was going on, but we did know we had survived.
Lou's room was a flurry of activity as he worked to find a way to get all of us out of New York and back to Orlando.
We ended up spending a week in the city, afterwhich, Lou was able to rent a car to drive us to Atlantic City where we would spend five more days. From there, we caught a ride on a tour bus that drove us to Philadelphia where we boarded Pearlman's private plane. We were the only none essential plane allowed in the air and was escorted on both sides by fighter jets.
In the end, it took me almost three weeks to get home.
I remember the day I landed. It was overcast and raining, but I was never so happy to be back in the Sunshine State.
I later learned that we were able to fly out of Philly because Pearlman promised the FAA they could use his private jet to assist in the aftermath of 9/11.
Sadly, Lou Pearlman suffered a stroke and died while serving time in a Federal Prison for his role in a Ponzi scheme, but I will always remember how quickly he acted in the face of such tragedy. I will always be grateful to him that he got me back to Orlando safe and sound.