CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Twenty years later and the pain and memories of Sept. 11, 2001, are still very vivid to a husband and wife team in Coral Springs.
Both were New York Police Department officers at the time, and since retiring to South Florida, they have dedicated their lives to helping others.
“When someone said, ‘20 years is coming,’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ You relive everything,” Irving Rodriguez said.
“It seems like it was yesterday. So I get emotional when we talk about it,” Maria Rodriguez added. “I was assigned to ground zero for two years straight, and we had no days off.”
“I remember finding, like, pieces of scalp with hair on it. I found a shield that had the numbers missing,” Irving Rodriguez said.
Irving Rodriguez was assigned to an abandoned landfill on Staten Island where all the debris was taken.
“I did the midnight shift, so we did 12 hours. It’s dark. All you have is the floodlights, there’s a conveyor belt that brings the rubble through, and you take a rake and you go through every single bit of piece that’s there,” Irving Rodriguez said. “An ID, wedding ring, shield, body part, hair, nails, anything you can find, and you put it into an evidence bag, and then we had our own morgue that was there.”
The sights and the smells are imbedded to their core.
“I remember the methane gas bubbling through the water. It was always wet up there,” Irving Rodriguez said. “Some of the methane gas, you know from the landfill, it was bubbling up, and I was like, ‘This is not going to be good one day.’”
The couple is medically monitored yearly and Irving Rodriguez has esophagus issues.
“I have sleep apnea, and I do have stomach issues,” Maria Rodriguez said.
“Now I have Barrett’s (esophagus). I suffer from PTSD from the events,” Irving Rodriguez said.
Four years ago, the Rodriguez’s went back to New York City for the first time.
“Me and her -- we broke down, you know?” Irving Rodriguez said. “You can still smell it, can still smell the death in there.”
“If you can still smell it, if you were there that day, that hits you,” he added. “You learn to cope with it, to deal with it. And then you take it to the next level where you help other people that might need your help. That’s why we opened this restaurant.”
In the middle of the pandemic, Irving and Maria Rodriguez opened Gyroville in Coral Springs.
“The first thing we did was feed all of our first responders for free to give back to them,” Irving Rodriguez said.
The restaurant has become a shrine.
“I started out as a corrections officer. Then I went to the police department, then I got promoted to detective, then sergeant,” Irving Rodriguez said. “All these patches have a little story behind them -- the Riker’s Island patch, here is my son’s.”
There are also pictures of former NYPD officers who are no longer with us.
As they have done in the past, this Sept. 11 the restaurant will be open for business and all first responders are invited not just to eat the good food, but to come together to tell stories.
“If you needed to speak, come here and speak to anybody,” Irving Rodriguez said. “If you needed a hug, to get a hug, if you need to cry it out, cry it out. So that’s kind of what we’re doing.”
“The sadness that comes to mind is how many people have forgotten, you know, what the men and women that put on that uniform did that day,” Maria Rodriguez said. “We can’t forget this thing. We can’t forget what happened, you know? We have to remember and we have to show solidarity.”
“It didn’t end when the Twin Tower went back up, it didn’t end when the Pentagon was rebuilt,” Irving Rodriguez said. “It’s still going on to this day and I want people to remember that.”