September 11, 2001 is a date that most of us want to forget. Its effects were tragic and painful. We remember the exact moment we learned of the tragedy, and I for one, owe thanks to my passion for cycling for helping me through the horrors of that day.
We All Remember
The way in which I learned about the attacks in New York continues to affect me. I traveled to Europe several times and have been fortunate to make many good friends. On my first trip to Italy in 1996 I stopped a cyclist to ask directions to Como from Lugano. My Italian was poor but he said, “you want to go to Como, I’ll take you.” I followed him for the next 60 or 70 miles down to Como and back. I was invited to dinner with his family and then taken out dancing with his daughter and her friends. They were my new family in Italy. His daughter Marina and boyfriend Giovanni came to Philadelphia later that summer to stay with me. I returned to Italy the following year but was told I must stay with them in Cremenaga, a great little town just outside Lugano, Switzerland on the Italian side.
Our new Italian ‘family’.
Fast forward to 2001 and I was engaged, owned three Colnagos, and wanted to share some of my experiences in Italy with my fiancйe, Rita. We flew to Zurich and took a breathtaking train ride south into Lugano where we met up with my “family.” We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our vacation.
Idyllic Lago Lugano.
Destination – Colnago
We walked through the fashion district in Milan and to the Piazza Duomo before heading off to the small suburb of Cambiago outside Milan. If we had a car the trip would have been just a short drive. We didn’t so it was an hour of trains and busses filled with the added uncertainty of whether or not we were going in the right direction. We needed the “Verde Intra-Urbanio” train line but no one we asked was familiar with it, including people at the information desk who never heard of it.
The train we boarded was one of those “subway” cars which once outside the city’s center traveled on an elevated platform. It was loud, old, and must have stopped 40 times between Milan and the bus station where we needed to transfer to complete our journey.
My wife and I felt something was wrong on that train ride. People were quiet and the students weren’t misbehaving. We chalked it up to being so late in the afternoon as we rushed to reach the Colnago factory by 5pm.
The home of Colnago.
I asked the bus driver on our final transfer if he knew where Colnago was. He did and instructed us to walk a few blocks from the bus stop. I was so excited to come around the corner and see the Colnago emblem on the side of the factory. I thought it didn’t get any better than that for a cyclist. Actually things were even cooler once inside where the winning bikes from Paris-Roubaix, still caked in mud, were lined on display along with framed jerseys from every race imaginable. This was a great moment for me and one I was happy to share with Rita. Unfortunately the next few moments were some of the most horrible I have ever endured.
September 11, 2001. apx. 5:00pm
This trip was during my pre-Pez days so other than being a big fan of cycling and Colnago there was no reason for me to visit the factory. Colnago doesn’t give tours. They were not expecting me and since I showed up a few days before the EICMA Milan Motorcycle and Bicycle Show they were busy with preparations.
Angelo Grasso of Colnago came out to greet us and said in perfect English “did you hear the World Trade Center collapsed and there was an explosion in Pennsylvania.” My wife started to cry and I immediately thought of my friends in New York and the status of my office in One Liberty Place, a skyscraper in Philadelphia. I thought that along with the collapse of the Towers my building was also hit.
Angelo reached out to us, offered to let us use their telephone to call home and expressed his sympathy towards the people already killed. He was scrambling to reach his US contacts but saw our sadness and stopped everything to console us. My wife and I will never forget Mr. Grasso or his kindness. When I grab my bicycle I’m always reminded of the events from that day, both good and bad.
We had planned to leave Italy the following day but Angelo invited us to the Colnago exhibit if we were still in Milan. Following the tragedy we headed back to see our friends in Cremenaga. They are our family and we are grateful to have been able to stay with them at such a difficult time.
Milan Motorcycle and Bicycle Show
Stranded in Italy we ventured back to Milan for the largest bicycle and motorcycle trade show around. Angelo introduced me to Mr. Colnago who gave me a special dealer’s book and signed it; a gesture I was told was out of the ordinary for such a private man. We met a much larger than now Merckx, although I’m also 25 lbs lighter since this photo was taken. Gianni Bugno was working for Shimano and very friendly with us.
Unfortunately my initial concerns for friends in New York proved correct. Morty Frank and Craig Lelore of Cantor Fitzgerald, people I worked with regularly, were killed in the World Trade Center that day. Another friend was fortunate to have been on vacation that day.
My wife and I eventually returned to Philadelphia but we are thankful to have had so much support while in Europe. I’m especially thankful to the bicycle. I don’t know what we would have done without the people and places the bicycle indirectly or directly took us to.
Thanks for reading; it took four years for me to pen these thoughts.
– Dave Berson
[Ed Note: I too had taken the love of my life, the future Mrs. Pez, to Italy to show her one of my favorite countries, in September 2001. My parents were also along, as it was rumored that my life began in Rome in1962, and they had not been back since. We were in Sienna on Sept. 11, and about 3:00PM noticed crowds gathering to watch the tv’s in the various cafes. We didn’t take notice at first, until a barista told us what was going on. Our hearts and spirits sank as we watched the news in the following days. – Pez.]