MILFORD, Conn. — With every step of every mile, Paul Veneto keeps on pushing.
“I’m just the one pushing the cart, that’s all I am,” he said. “I’m just the one pushing the cart.”
What he is pushing is not just any cart. It is one normally seen 35,000 feet in the sky: an airline beverage cart.
It’s all part of “Paulie’s Push,” a walking journey that began in Boston.
“There’s only one thing I gotta do, push this cart to New York,” Veneto said.
Cars passing by him on the road constantly beep their horns, offering him encouragement.
“It’s amazing when people beep,” he said while walking. “Funny how it happens right when you need it, too.”
While his effort is called “Paulie’s Push,” in order to understand what is pushing Paulie, you have to go back in time, back to that shocking day 20 years ago: September 11, 2001.
“I was based here in Boston,” he said.
Back then, Paul Veneto was a flight attendant for United Airlines. His normal weekday route was Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles. On the weekend before 9/11, though, he was called into work.
“It just happened for me that I couldn't hold the schedule because of my seniority,” he said, because he had less seniority than the others on the flight crew.
Veneto came back to Boston the night of September 10 and had the next day off. The crew members he normally flew with on Flight 175 headed out the next morning.
He would never see them again.
Terrorists hijacked and crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center, killing all 65 on board, including nine crew members – Veneto’s colleagues and friends.
“What they did that morning on that airplane, they were the first first responders of 9/11,” he said. “Can you imagine under those conditions?”
After that day, he spent the next decade in a downward spiral.
“I flew for 10 years, fell into an opioid addiction and it almost took my life,” Veneto said, who often wears a t-shirt with the word "miracle" across the front of it. “It’s a miracle – that's why I wear the shirt. It’s a miracle that I survived to be sitting here today to tell the story.”
He eventually got sober and started dealing with what happened on 9/11.
“I was like a zombie,” he said. “And my emotions and everything were just numbed out. I was just functioning, but I wasn't processing it, you know, like everybody else was.”
When he finally did, he started thinking about all the crew members who lost their lives on 9/11. With help from the nonprofit “Power Forward,” Paulie’s Push came to be.
“They need to be recognized as American heroes,” Veneto said of the flight crew members who died that day.
Paulie’s Push is a two-week journey of more than 200 miles, from Boston’s Logan Airport to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York.
“It’s amazing. It’s an inspiration,” one woman said as he passed by in Milford, Connecticut. “You get choked up thinking about it.”
Veneto has walked through towns big and small while stopping along the way at fire stations and waving at those who gather outside as he passes by.
“I think it’s a real nice tribute,” said one man, who was using his cell phone to get a video of Veneto pushing the beverage cart down the road. “We have some friends who are flight attendants, so I wanted to video it for them and show it to them, especially now with the way people behave on an airplane, it’s not that good. So, I wanted to make sure we showed our support.”
Veneto appreciates the well-wishes from those he walks by, but says this push is all about remembering his fallen colleagues.
“It's about this: recognizing them. And they understand it,” he said of the onlookers. “And I'm so grateful for that because after 9/11, there was no better feeling for us crew members when people said, ‘What can we do to help?’”
It’s a sentiment that he hopes people will be reminded of with each step he takes.