An NYPD cop and an MTA bus driver formed a life-long friendship after their paths crossed on the tragic morning of New York’s darkest day – September 11, 2001.
MTA veteran bus driver Nick Rotondo recalled their chance meeting and how the tragedy and chaos of 9/11 brought them together and forged a life-long bond
“It was probably the saddest, bittersweet, happiest day of my life. I met Vinnie, and he’s one of my dearest friends to this day,” Rotondo recalled.
Their meeting came when Sergeant Vincent Benvenuto of the 24th Precinct waved him down on his usual morning route to ask for help responding to the terror attack.
According to a story in the Daily News, Benvenuto was busy ordering bus drivers to abandon their routes and instead transport medical supplies, police officers and firefighters to Ground Zero.
Benvenuto recalled having a difficult time persuading some drivers, and even threatened to arrest a driver.
“I got this guy, saying ‘No, no, no.’ I said, ‘We’ve got your bus. We own it.’”
The Harlem cop then lucked out with Rotondo, a Bus No. 2 driver who was carrying a full load of passengers, and who would later become a life-long friend.
After Benvenuto got the passengers to exit the bus, he explained to the mustached Rotondo, who he thought looked like one of the Super Mario Brothers, that they would need to head back towards the towers.
Rotondo, now 60, remembered the meeting.
“He looked at me and asked, ‘Are you Italian?’,” to which Rotondo nodded yes. “And he says, ‘I’m a paisano too. I really need you. You want to help out?’”
Both men recalled Rotondo’s unusual injection of comic relief in his introduction – he said he was “Brad Pitt’s brother, Arm Pitt.”
Throughout a 24-hour shift – the longest of his career – Rotondo made around two dozen runs between lower Manhattan, the 24th Precinct, and the nearby FDNY Battalion 11.
Rotondo remembered his first passengers – two police officers and a firefighter – as they headed towards the burning towers in silence.
“Two guys sitting behind me, one standing by the front window,” Rotondo said. “Looking downtown, no words, no nothing. It was like a Hitchcock movie to me. So scary, so quiet.”
He then worked as a downtown courier for the next 22 days, and for the next six months contributed to the relief efforts.
Benvenuto at first offered his cell phone number to Rotondo and said thank you. Since then, the two friends have been inseparable.
“He said to keep in touch,” Rotondo recalled. “It felt like an instant bond with this guy. His kindness was an instant bond. And we started calling each other regularly.”
“Me and Nick are the best of friends ever since,” said Benvenuto. “He actually sang at my wedding in 2004. He has a group called ‘Armonia’ — it’s Italian for harmony.”
Benvenuto retired from the NYPD in 2007 to join the police force in Hartford, Conn. Rotondo also left the MTA in 2016 to pursue other hobbies.
Benvenuto still regularly keeps in touch with Rotondo.
“He calls me just to chat. Twenty years, and I cherish it. I always tell him, ‘Vinnie, I love you like a brother. But I would give you up to have those towers back,’” Rotondo said.