David Tengelin’s Own Words

Editor’s Note: The journal entries below were submitted in 2001 and appear in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. 

New York, New York

David Tengelin worked at the World Trade Center and was killed on September 11, 2001. The following excerpts are taken from David’s journal and were submitted by his family. David hoped to someday publish a book about his New York experience. 

Everyone carries at least one novel inside of him or herself, so goes a saying. At the age of 25, I have already gathered enough material for several novels, but if I were to pick just one to be published it would be my move to New York after graduating college. It has all the elements you expect in a great novel.

Throughout college I knew that I wanted to go to either New York or San Francisco after graduation. I had visited the latter regularly and liked its European character (the proximity of things) and mild year-round climate. I did not visit New York until March of 1997, and it was love at first sight. I can vividly remember the day Jared, one of my roommates, and I drove our black Chevy Cavalier over a hill in Jersey to see Manhattan. Awestruck we descended the hill and merged with ten lanes of traffic to squeeze through the Lincoln Tunnel. Spat out at the other end of the tunnel I had shrunk or maybe it was everything around me that was bigger.

January 4, 1999

When the bus left Newark on its last leg of the journey, which had taken me across a whole continent in three days, I was beginning to feel nervous. I had not slept many hours during the trip and the last meal I had was in Effingham, Illinois, a whole day earlier. As soon as I set foot in Port Authority I was approached by a homeless person, whom I shoved aside and pretended to be perfectly comfortable in my new surroundings. I called the hostel and after a heated exchange with the person on the other end, I had an address to give to the cab driver. I have not taken a cab since, but on that night it was probably a very wise decision. We passed through the theatre district just as the plays and musicals were letting their audiences onto the sidewalks, and where I didn’t see people, I saw flashing signs and billboards.

The cab slowed down outside a one-story yellow brick building with a blue door. This was 427 West 12th Street to be sure, but the windows were blacked out as if though they were expecting an air raid and there were no signs of life. As a man who takes precaution, I wanted to ask the cab to wait while I checked it out, but I let him go and rung the doorbell. Moments later, I had signed in and was given the tour. As always, I was pleasantly surprised by the hostel and that was a good thing, because I ended up spending five months there. There were three small rooms with three bunk beds in each room and a larger room with many more beds for people who stayed shorter periods of time. The communal areas were in the basement and that is where weary travelers would gather in the evenings in the dark winter months. The place provided a cozy shelter and I enjoyed the company of many of the travelers.

When I first arrived in New York I didn’t have my temporary work visa, which I was entitled to after finishing college in the United States. Since I didn’t have a work visa, I also didn’t have a social security number, and without the two you cannot apply for a job. I also did not have a mailing address or phone number of my own.

July 6, 1999

I grab some coffee and a bagel, and then head out the door and down the stairs to the ground floor. I make a right on 21st and uptown on 2nd Ave. I join the flow of people on the sidewalks hurrying to their cubicles. “Walk” means cross. A flashing “Don’t walk” means cross, but fast. And when it stops flashing, the bold put their life on the line. The walk to work has all the elements of a car race. I pass her and she trails me. Dogs’ leashes create a roadblock and I get held back. The daring crossing earlier is rendered useless. On the corner a “Coffee & Bagel” stand, but who can afford a pit stop on the final stretch.

March 18, 2000

Last Thursday when I came back to the World Trade Center after checking my mailbox down on Broadway, I saw Kim Le Pref, one of the owners of Bakers Bounty. She is the one that let me sell bread a couple of times. She was standing in front of her van selling hamentashen, rugulash, black and white cookies and apple turnovers. I felt like going up to her and saying: “I don’t want your job anymore. I’m an accountant making thirty grand a year. I live in a building with doormen and not in a hostel. I have to make trips to LA and take cruises to Mexico.”

But just seeing her in the square in front of the Twin Towers was enough for me to realise how incredibly far I had come since last March. She was nice enough to hire me and I just couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t have me back. I know there were customers who asked me if they could freeze the fuccuci (soft pizza) and I would shrug my shoulders, because I didn’t know. I should have nodded instead just to get the sale, but there’s the honesty getting in my way again.

March 10, 2001

It’s when I walk up to the window in our new offices on the 100th floor of One World Trade Center that I realise how incredibly lucky I am. I see Manhattan laid out at my feet almost like a roadmap, and every landmark is distinguishable. The fifty-floor skyscrapers crouch humbly; at our height, we’re alone with the jets.


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