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Friday, December 12, 2008

Remembering Eric Rivera - EMT

By Steven P. Velasquez
December 12, 2008

EMT Eric Rivera - Rest In Peace Brother
When I first got my job at the MC, one of my regular partners was a guy named Eric Rivera. If the MC was a fraternity, Eric would be "legacy" as his older brother Eddie had gone before him. 

Eric had a shining personality that would naturally accent a room. He was charming beyond words; just ask any of the ladies! A handsome Latino somewhere in his early 20's, we used to tease him because he had a striking resemblance to Eric Estrada, the actor who played "Ponch" on the hit TV show "CHIPS." That used to drive him crazy, but I digress.

My first Christmas Eve, he and I worked together and there wasn't much going on. Without a place to aim our energy and attention, they turned inward, and so began the sad conversation of where we'd rather be than here. We talked of our families, our traditions, the things we used to do and how much we'd rather be doing that, than rolling through a quiet Journal Square in search of trouble. Long story short, we were bummed, but not for long.

The radio was no help either as one station to the next played sappy Christmas song after sappy Christmas song. We wanted to pull our hair out. Finally, we decided to be happy. That’s right, we made a conscious decision to be happy! We made a commitment to not let the drama of being away from our families ruin our night.

Journal Square had several Christmas trees lined and decorated by the taxi stand. I pulled the truck up close, pulled a branch close to me and clipped a small branch off with my shears. Eric whipped out the 2" surgical tape and we fastened our sad looking, Charlie Brown, Christmas tree to our dashboard. We then took some tinsel off the larger trees and began to decorate our little holiday shrub. A 5X9 was cut to shape a small blanket for our tree and so our night began. We decided that we would be each others family that night and so, it became a Christmas merry.

Our friendship grew stronger in the weeks and months that followed. We'd go drinking and dancing at Harpo's in North Bergen and he would tear up the dance floor. You know how those damn Latino's are with their swivel hips!! Women gravitated toward him, but so did the drama that comes with them. Eric was always getting yelled at by one or the other as he'd get caught with his hands in the proverbial cookie jar again and again.

About a year later, Eric left the MC. If memory serves me correctly, he took a position with Continental Airlines and away he went. I never saw him again but always remembered our Christmas merry, together – rolling through Journal Square.

Many years later, I had left the field to pursue a career in computers & technology. I was living in South Amboy with my (then) wife and children and would commute to my job with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield on the 30th floor of Tower 1 in the World Trade Center. I lived directly across the street from the train station and would only have to shower, cross the street, board the train to Newark for 40 minutes, cross the platform to the waiting PATH train before getting whisked under the ground of my former call area of Jersey City.

"Journal Square," "Grove Street," "Exchange Place," they'd say over the intercom and my mind used to race wondering who above me was working, what was going on etc...? It's true that you can take a monkey out of the jungle but the inverse... well, it just doesn’t work.

The PATH train was always packed; so much so that I sometimes could go flaccid and be suspended in a standing position by the people around me. On one such morning, there was an attractive blonde scrunched up against me (notice I'm complaining) with really big --- eyes! Yeah eyes. We talked briefly, just chatter you know?

"Where ya' from" 
"Jersey City"
"Really, I used to work in Jersey City."
"Really, where?"
"Jersey City Medical Center; I used to work for EMS"
"No kidding? I knew someone that used to work on the ambulances too"

Can you see where this was going?

"Oh, what was his name?"
"Eric Rivera; we used to date for a while" Shocker! I thought silently.


I was beside myself with excitement. I was hoping she might have his phone number, email, something! 

"Do you know where he is or what he's doing? Do you know how I can get in touch with him?"

She suddenly became very somber and said that perhaps I hadn't heard what happened. My heart suddenly was wedged firmly in my larynx. No, please don't tell me.

"Eric died a while ago." The actual date escapes me but I wanted to say it was around 1998 or 1999 somewhere. She told me he was working out, bench pressing or something in a gym somewhere. She thinks he suffered sudden cardiac arrest from an undiagnosed, underlying cardiac condition.

The tears began to well up in my eyes as she delivered the unfortunate news while the PA system in the background droned “Journal Square,” “Grove Street,” and “Exchange Place.” She informed me of this at Christmas time 2000, while traveling beneath the very ground where Eric and I forged our friendship so long ago. She was only one of the tens of thousands of people who travel this same route every single day; what are the chances?? It was like living out some painful dream.

She concluded the story by apologizing for dropping such a bomb on me. Here’s the kicker. I asked if perhaps she knows where he was buried. She tells me some cemetery somewhere in the Amboys.

“Christ Cemetery in South Amboy?” I asked.
“That sounds right she replied.

My buddy and partner died without me knowing and was buried, literally in my backyard. Again, what are the chances?

A few nights ago at shift change in Monroe Township, I was talking to everyone about how great Facebook is and how many friends from the old school I’ve been re-introduced to. One of the EMT’s there named Josh is also JCMC alumni. He shared with me that Eric Rivera was his uncle and that what the woman on the PATH train told me was true.

To those of you who work there today. Take nothing and no one for granted. Work through your differences with your co-workers, embrace each other. You really just don't have any idea... sometimes until it's too late.

Rest in peace my brother.

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