June 10, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 271
A Street Vendor Of
"Let's Roll" Vigilance
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
ZERO, New York City, June 10--There's one street vendor
in New York City's SoHo district who sells something priceless.
It's Vigilance, and it's free for the taking.
Her name is Cella (chell-ah)
and for the past eleven years she has spent her weekends on
a busy corner of Lower Manhattan's SoHo area selling clothes
and belts and other funky items to thousands of passersby who
wander into her display.
What marks her difference from most street vendors is the big
truck she parks next to her sidewalk booth. It has a raft
of graffiti on the right side and a powerful reminder of Vigilance
on the other.
In fat giant graffiti letters
are painted two words: ""Let's Roll"!"
Yesterday (Sunday), I was
prowling the streets of New York for stories. I
had my digital camera in hand and my eyes scanned here and there
for a flag or symbol of Vigilance. Earlier that day my
wife and I had been uptown to see the annual Puerto Rico Day
Parade, a festive, music-driven 5th Avenue parade attended by
over two million people. Nearly all waved the Puerto
Rican flag and danced to the rhythm of Latin music blasting
from the onslaught of floats.
The police heavily monitored
the parade for a couple of reasons. Two years ago it attracted
national attention when some of the attendees began to harass
women and pulled at their clothing. The police
were chided for not acting and a number of those involved eventually
were arrested and prosecuted. And, because of the omniscient
threat of a Terrorist attack.
I took a good bevy of pictures and then decided to head down
to SoHo to capture some flag shots in the local community.
Flag Day is coming up, and I wanted to see if the parade might
have stimulated others to wave their flags--American as well
as Puerto Rican.
. As I turned a corner
in SoHo, I stopped dead in my tracks.
I took a deep breath.
My heart began to pound.
There in front of me was
a truck with the words "Let's Roll" engulfing
the entire left panel of the truck's left side.
I stepped into the street, snapping pictures of it from different
angles. I hoped the words meant what I thought they did--that
they were a symbol of Vigilance, a quote from Todd Beamer's
last words before he and the other 37 passengers of Flight 93
rushed their Terrorist captives to thwart the plane's attack
on the White House or Capitol building. (No one is
exactly sure of the primary target of the fourth Terrorist plane.
It is assumed the White House, the Capitol or the CIA was the
target, as the other planes attacked the Pentagon and Twin Towers,
representing the financial and military power of America.
The White House of Capitol building would have represented an
attack on America's political structure, or the CIA its intelligence
foundations. Most speculators suggest the White House
was the goal.) I hoped the fat, colorful letters
spelling out "Let's Roll" wasn't just some street
saying that didn't have anything to do with Nine Eleven, for
then, I would be terribly disappointed.
I hesitated about
approaching the owner of the truck. I didn't want the
message to represent the name of some rock band, or rap group
or something simply mundane.
But despite my reservations
to "not know," the journalist in me "had to know."
I approached the van with hesitation and posed the question
to the woman loading it.
the words on the side of your truck, Let's Roll, what do they
Thirty-seven-year-old Cella, owner of the business and truck,
looked at me with equal hesitation. Standing near the
truck was her 13-year-old daughter, Ari. A young
man helping her load shuttled back and forth, bringing her items
to stack and pack inside the truck..
"It means we have
to take responsibility. We have to take charge of fighting
Terrorism. Why do you want to know?"
My heart pounded excitedly.
"I write about Vigilance,
and how people fight Terrorism. Is it okay if I
take some pictures and interview you?"
Cella didn't stop loading
as she talked. Inside were racks of clothes and displays
of accessories such as belts and dresses she was lashing down,
and folded display tables she used to proffer her wares to weekend
shoppers clogging the SoHo district on weekends.
"Sure," she replied.
"But I'm not here to advertise anything. I don't
want people to think I am capitalizing on Nine Eleven because
I'm not. I just want people to think about being
Vigilant--to remind them they are in charge of fighting Terrorism--not
just the government."
I couldn't believe it.
It sounded as if she was writing my web pages, as though she
were a daily reader.
I began to ask questions and
scribbled notes as she continued to load the truck. The
sun was setting. The SoHo streets, usually filled
with vendors, were morphing back to their normal state-- bare,
naked strips of concrete splotched with litter and scuffed with
tiny black blotches, preparing to rest and become refreshed
so they would be ready to greet the tens of thousands of feet
rushing to work on Monday.
"Why the words, "Let's
Roll"?" I asked, trying not to lead her to talk about
Todd and Lisa Beamer, hoping she had picked Todd Beamer's words
as I had to illustrate the Action one must take, the responsibility
and duty each of us must assume if we are to drive Terrorism
back into its caves.
Cella didn't hesitate.
"They seemed simple. Appropriate. I thought
about Never Forget to Remember, but I wanted something
to honor not just the memory of Nine Eleven, but something about
taking action. About a month after the attack I
saw a bunch of young kids buying sneakers. They were laughing
and having a good time--like they had forgotten Nine Eleven
ever happened. A lot of people were getting Complacent.
They wanted to get back to normal. They wanted to
forget, to pretend it never happened, or would happen again.
I wanted something to remind them we can never forget.
And we have to stand up and be counted....like the guy on the
plane...Todd Beamer...he yelled those words Let's Roll.
He took action. It won't work unless everyone's
in the fight--this battle against Terrorism..." She
paused, reflectively."...Let's Roll...it's all about us
taking charge...the people and the government...everyone...not
just the government...everyone...everyone's gotta think Let's
Roll and do their part..."
She was singing to the
choir. I scribbled notes as fast as I could. I knew
exactly what meant. I had written numerous articles referencing
"Let's Roll", and the bravery of both Todd and Lisa
Beamer. I had even thought of making up, "Let's Roll"
buttons and wearing them, not as reminders of a tragedy that
happened on the Second Tuesday of September, but as a command
from the quarterback of the Sentinels of Vigilance to be "offensive"
not "defensive." The cry, "Let's
Roll" meant for all the spectators to climb down out of
the stands and get on the playing field, and stop watching and
"Did you know anyone who
died that day?"
Cella, who prefers not have her
last name mentioned, stopped loading the truck.
She leaned against the door, her face softening, reflecting.
"My husband's a cop,"
she said. "He works at 32nd Precinct.
I knew a lot of people who died. My former boyfriend
was killed. And two of my cousins, one was with
the NYPD, the other was a fireman. They were brothers.
And also....a lot of people we know."
I offered my condolences.
She began loading again.
"Where were you when
the attack happened?" She stopped loading again.
"I was two or three blocks
away. I was taking some sales tax papers down to be filed
when the first plane hit.
"I remember that day so well..." She looked up at the
sky. The sun was gone but the sky was turning a blue-gray as
night began to fall. "That morning...it was such a beautiful day. The sky was like azure
blue, from a painter's palate. It was so peaceful. I remember
looking up as I walked downtown. Then the
first plane hit. I thought it was an accident. Nobody
knew what happened. Then the second one hit. And I knew it was
big trouble. I knew we were under attack."
"What did you do?"
"I stood in shock, like everyone. I just looked
at the burning buildings like everyone else. I don't know how long
I stood there. Right in front of me was a
guy with a television camera.. He was taking pictures. The
fire and smoke was terrible. He crouched down behind a
building to look at what he was shooting. I looked over his
shoulder. It was awful. He just filmed a man and woman
holding hands and then jumping out of the building. I felt
"Where were you when the buildings collapsed?"
Cella shoveled a few of the boxes piling up into the
truck and then continued. "All of a sudden I realized I had the car keys in my
pocket and my husband would need them. All his stuff is in the car.
I kept thinking--the city needs my husband--the city needs my husband.
I'm not a runner at all. I hate running. But I ran so fast. I
ran from the World Trade Center to Chinatown where we live like I was in
the Olympics. I
never stopped. I don't think I've ever run faster. The
buildings were collapsing. I knew they needed my husband."
The truck was almost loaded.
Cella put the final touches on wrapping it up. She shut the loading door and
strapped on a big metal frame on the back of the truck's loading platform.
"What do you think about all the news...of how we could
have been warned..."
"The media makes me sick," she snapped, locking the door.
"Everyone is trying to blame everyone. The FBI, the CIA, the
President. This isn't just a military problem, or a government
problem, it's everyone's problem. If everyone thinks Let's
Roll, we all take responsibility--all of us. People want to
forget. They want to pretend they're not responsible. They
want to blame someone so they don't have to blame themselves.
Let's Roll just means what it says. It means we have to take
up action like Todd Beamer did. We have to pick up where he left
off. And we can't do that by blaming every body so we don't have to
look and he mirror and say to our reflection--you're responsible!"
Cella excused herself for a moment to talk to her
helper. I asked her teenage daughter, Ari, what she thought of it all.
"My mom's pretty famous...," she said. "She makes
people think, you know. People are lazy. They don't want to
get involved. My mom just wants people to not forget. To
Pride beamed on the young girl's face.
"Let me take a couple pictures of you and your
daughter," I asked, "by the side of the truck. By the way, who
"I did," Cella answered, "with the
help of an artist friend."
As I framed the pictures I thought of Cella, her
daughter, and the friend scrolling the letters Let's Roll on side of the
truck. I wondered if she used the bright blue to represent the sky
that day, and verdant green to represent life--especially life after
death. I thought of the memory in her mind of the two people
holding hands, leaping to their death as symbols of unity, symbols that
Terrorism isn't fought by any one person alone, but by everyone holding
hands, forming a skirmish line to flush Terrorism out of its hiding
places. I wondered how everyone would feel if they had seen it on
that day--the bravery, the courage, the conviction of people leaping to
their death with another person--unified. I doubted there was any
pictures of anyone jumping pointing their finger, trying to blame someone
in their last breath as the living were inclined to do.
I thanked Cella and Ari and watched them
drive off. Then I turned and began wandering up another street,
reflecting on what I had just experienced. I sat on a bench by a
coffee shop as the night began to fall to
reorganize my interview notes and make sure I didn't forget anything.
Then I heard the grinding of a truck's gears.
looked up. Passing by was Cella's truck with "Let's Roll"
the side. I watched it crawl up the street, burdened
by the weight inside, but moving ahead, rolling forward despite the
I thought about the 13-year-old young lady sitting
next to her hard-working mother. One day she would tell her
children about her mother, and how her mother stood for Vigilance in the
face of growing Complacency. She would tell them about the truck,
and the sign "Let's Roll."
She would tell them about the importance
of Vigilance. She would keep the legacy of "Let's Roll" alive.
As the truck turned, swallowed by frame of two
large buildings, I added that final thought to my notes. Then I
headed home, trying to walk with a little sharper step, trying to move
just a little more offensively than defensively.
And I had a feeling I wasn't alone. I
felt Todd Beamer was walking with me, and the other 36 passengers of
Flight 93. They were all whispering in my ear: "Let's Roll,
Cliff. Let's Roll!"