Jewish World Review June 4, 2002 / 23 Sivan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | "Has anyone seen Billy?" asked a letter to the New York Daily News a few days ago. "He was the hot dog vendor who worked on Greenwich St. near Liberty." In other words - right below the World Trade Center.
"My co-workers and I have also been wondering about Billy," another reader wrote in. "Your letter stirred up many fond memories of the smiling Yankee fan and the best hot dogs downtown. I hope Billy will answer so we'll know that he's well."
Readers - he's fine. And appreciative! "It's nice to hear that people still think of me."
Right now he's resting at his parents' home on the Greek island of Mathraki - population 100. "I walk outside my door, I see the ocean, I have my cup of coffee and I'm enjoying every bit of it," the 32-year-old said in a transatlantic chat yesterday.
But Billy is also reassessing his entire life. Sept. 11 can do that to you.
For nine years, Billy Katehis sold Sabretts from his spot just outside Ladder 10/Engine 10 (and guys, he sends you his warmest regards). It was a gig he fell into after dropping out of college. "I started it as a summer job," says Billy, "and I just got stuck selling hot dogs."
The summers were hot, the winters wicked, but still, Billy grew friendly with the Wall Street types who'd stop by to talk sports and the kind souls who'd bring him hot coffee.
Then, the morning of Sept. 11, as he prepared his cart in a garage a few blocks north of the towers, an engine roared overhead. The ground shook like an earthquake.
Did he run?
A hot dog vendor to the core, "My first thought was that I didn't want to leave the hot dogs outside the fridge." He put the franks away. And when the first tower came down, he and his fellow vendors closed the garage door and prayed they wouldn't suffocate.
When the dust had cleared enough so they could see their feet, they ventured out - and the second tower fell. Billy ran like hell and made it back to Queens.
He hasn't worked since.
First, of course, there was the trauma. "The worst part was watching the news, and I'd see a customer of mine - dead. Or I'd walk down Broadway and see pictures of them all over the place."
Then came the daunting realization that he'd have to start all over again. "You got to build a reputation, like in any other business," says Billy. Take a new corner, and you're starting from scratch.
And then came the lethargy. How do you get up and go when the place you're going is gone?
So he moped a while and left for Greece, and somewhere along the line it finally hit him. "Not until Sept. 11," he says. "That's when I realized I really liked the people."
Maybe serving franks wasn't great, but the folks he saw every day, they meant something. Everything! And now he misses them dearly - just as they, apparently, miss him.
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05/23/02: The return of the tight squeeze