by Jim Boyle
The neon signs that flicker on at night signaling immediate seating at restaurants bring Alec Henrickson back to Sept. 11, 2001, every time.
He first became aware something was up that fateful day on his way to his first day of work at a McDonald’s located on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
He saw smoke billowing into the sky. “I thought it was odd,” he recalled saying to himself.
The 18-year-old college student from Minnesota, with dreams of owning his own restaurant someday, found out at work that a plane had hit one of the towers. A television in the restaurant’s break room broadcasting the gory details confirmed what his ears had trouble believing.
Despite his close proximity to the World Trade Center and the fact that he had been there the day before as well being scheduled to start work there the next day, the weight of the matter didn’t begin to wear on him until after the second plane hit and he got a call from his mother back in Minnesota. As he answered “hello,” he heard his mother crying on the other end of the phone.
“She said, ‘I’m so glad you’re alive,’ ” Henrickson recalled. “That’s when it kind of hit me.”
He had interviewed at Windows on the World in the North Tower the day before and was scheduled to start work there on Sept. 12, 2001. He even had an errand to run on Sept. 11 that would have placed him at the WTC.
By time Henrickson arrived home from work to his college dormitory, on Sept. 11 there were 21 messages awaiting his return on his answering machine.
His roommate also made it home safely, but another student living in the same building never did return. The best he can tell, no one ever heard from the student who came from China.
“His room (in the dormitory) looked the same at the end of the semester as it did that day,” Henrickson said. “Nothing was touched.”
The tragedy has left indescribable marks on Henrickson, who last year started looking into making his way back to New York City for the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
“It has been a rough 10 years for a lot of people,” says Henrickson, who went on to earn a degree in culinary arts and restaurant management from the New York City Institute of Arts.
He said he watched as the food capital of the world was instantly damaged by the attacks. He found himself in line, shoulder to shoulder, filling out applications with people who lost good-paying jobs when the towers collapsed. “Things have never been the same,” Henrickson said.
Henrickson took a job with Aramark in London, but when the firm lost a big contract amid political turmoil, his job there evaporated. He then came back to Minnesota to find work.
He took a job with Border Foods and managed a Taco Bell for three years. He also managed the Coffee Cup Cafe in Becker and the Baker’s Square Restaurant in St. Cloud for a time.
When the Baker’s Square franchise he worked at closed, he took a job in Minneapolis at a German restaurant called Gastofs. That’s where he met his fiancée, Lucy.
He now lives in Elk River and was hired in Elk River by Pompeii Pizzeria owner Frank Galli. Henrickson to manage the restaurant, He helped Galli open the business.
Henrickson’s goal is to someday own his own restaurant or restaurants. He would love to operate an Italian restaurant, but hasn’t ruled out other options.
He and his mom plan to visit the 9/11 Museum while in New York, and stand shoulder to shoulder again with people who endured some very painful moments, days, weeks and years together.