Wednesday, September 12, 2001

New York Thoughts: What Can I Say?

Date: Wednesday, September 12, 2001 11:42:02 PM

The wind has shifted now and up on 112th St., about 8 miles from the World Trade Center, the acrid smell of smoke hangs in the air. It's on the streets and now is in my apartment. It's like the smoke after a huge fireworks display.

I just found out that my old office building, 1 Liberty Plaza, from which I had a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty, is in danger of collapsing. I worked across the street from the two towers for almost a year. Every day, I would walk out of the subway station at Cortlandt St., right under the towers and exiting, thinking, "you know, I am not going to be here forever, let me just admire these buildings, because they are just so incredible." For 6 months, I worked at a desk that literally faced the two towers. Who knew that the towers would be gone before I?

It's just so inconceivable since they were such a part of New York and such a symbol of America. I want to grieve, but I don't really know where to start. I feel anger, some hatred, a fierce pride in American values, a fear and a curiosity about how this will all play out. All I know is that it seems everyone in this city has his own story. It's like the Challenger and what I imagine it was like for Kennedy or Pearl Harbor.

Tamar had left early, before Sam to get down to her job near City Hall, about 7 blocks from the two towers. I had been down there around 8.30am on Monday for Jury Duty, but the Judge had told me that I didn't need to be there until 9.45am on Tuesday. I was shaving when the phone rang yesterday morning. It was Tamar, telling me about the first plane. I quickly turned on the radio and was listening when the announcer yelled "OH MY GOD!! ANOTHER PLANE HAS HIT THE OTHER TOWER!!" I started to shake.

I didn't know what to do. I ran downstairs to my neighbor's to watch the TV (we don't have one and my computer is being repaired.) I saw the videotape and goose bumps jumped all over my body.

I decided to go downtown. The subway ride was surreal. In fact, everything from that moment on seemed to be surreal. The announcers told us that due to the "situation" at the World Trade Center, the system had been disrupted.

Some people on the train knew what had happened, the others had the shock register on their faces when they heard the news. The reaction was always the same: incredulous. I think everyone probably felt the same way that I did: just numb, wondering how the city of which we are so proud, could be brought to a standstill.

Anyway, I guess I knew that jury duty would be canceled, but already, I knew that this day was not going to be a normal day. The subway stopped at Christopher St., in the West Village, going no further due to the "catastrophe at the World Trade Center." I decided to get out and walk.

I exited on 7th Ave. about 8 blocks north of where my first job in New York was located, where the two towers were clearly visible. The street was empty, except for emergency vehicles screaming down towards the terror sites.

From most parts of lower Manhattan, you could always look down the major avenues at the reassuring sights of the World Trade Center. On this morning, however, I got out of the subway and saw the towers in flames and

I still didn't know what to do and started heading across the Village towards the courts, still thinking, perhaps in denial, that I was to go to jury duty. As I walked, I heard the sirens wailing, all over the city, trying to make sense of it all, wondering what was really happening. Wondering if I knew anyone in the buildings downtown.

By the time I got to 6th Ave, only 4 blocks away, I was told that the first of the two towers had collapsed. Crowds were gathered all along the street, which was full of traffic going uptown, away from the financial district.

Some were covered in soot. The buses were packed with people. Everyone was listening to radios from cars on the street. I started talking to an Israeli named Ronen about the gruesome similarities to recent events in Israel.
What 1 couldn't get over was the faces of New Yorkers, who are generally known as tough and callous. Not on this day. Tears, especially among the students from area schools, were aplenty. Shock. Silence. People really didn't know what to do.

We just stared at the remaining tower, saw a few flames of fire on the floor below the bottom of the smoke. We started talking to two escapees. They started to tell us their stories.

All of a sudden, 30 people gasped in unison, a few people shouted "OH MY GOD!!". We turned, and we saw tower begin to fall....and then there was nothing. Quiet. The sky was empty. We all just looked around. Ronen said, "what we all have to realize now is that it's not about Israelis and Palestinians or anything else, it's a War against Civilization."

It was like watching a movie and then the show were over, morbid as the show was, and it was time for us to go home and collect our thoughts. All this time I was trying to reach Tamar. Cell phones were useless. Everyone had his out, the lines at all of the public phones were long as could be, but no one could reach anyone- Though Tamar was only 7 blocks away, I knew that she was ok, I just knew it. We tried vainly to get in touch with each other and
kept heading north, homeward bound, until we rendezvoused at our friends' apartment to watch the day's event unfold on TV as all of you did, watching the same scenes over and over again. Hearing the stories. Being revolted at scenes of Palestinians celebrating the deaths of innocents.

Anyway, by this point, the subways and all public transportation had shut down. Manhattan was isolated. There was no way to get in or get out. As we made our way north, we would periodically stop and listen to the radio,
trying to get updates on the day's event. I made it through Times Square and the crowds were packed, staring up at the television screens. It was like the Exodus from Egypt, as thousands of people made their way up the avenues returning home. I saw one man, covered head to toe in soot.

I've never heard this city so quiet. By the time I got uptown, around 57th St., there were hardly any cars, a few buses, also packed, but mostly people walking. It was the only way to get around the city and people were most clearly alone with their thoughts.

At the same time, compassion was omnipresent. Those cars that were on the street, drove more slowly than usual. People hugged strangers, gave looks of hope and sympathy. The city, a city that really felt more like a town yesterday, became united in this tragedy.

The rest of the day, in fact, the time since then, has been a blur.

There were thoughts of how we could help and this is where the best of New Yorkers has come out. Blood donor centers have been overwhelmed. We went down at 7am this morning to the Red Cross Center to try and volunteer. It was overwhelmed with people as well. There have been prayer services all over the city. Most stores were closed; a prominent sign posted on a popular jazz place near our apartment read "Music is a celebration. We don't really feel like celebrating tonight."

Today, the silence was eerie. Normally, the city is bustling with noise, but the streets were empty and people continued to walk around in a daze, not really knowing what to do. It's like the world has come to a standstill,
but we know it hasn't.

We are so appreciative of the calls and emails from all our friends around the world checking in on us. We share the fear of everyone else that when all is said and done, every single person in this city will either know someone or know someone who knows someone who was killed or injured in this great tragedy.

The emotion of this email is stunted. It's all so surreal. We're kind of numb and I guess that's what makes this email feel so different, since it's not real emotion in a way, since the real emotion we are feeling is one with which we are completely and wholly unfamiliar. I am sure that in the days and weeks to come we will have a more clear understanding of what has transpired, but for now, we are just trying to figure out what it is all

I feel like there is so much more to tell you about what it is like to be in Manhattan right now, to see the faces of our fellow citizens, to sit glued to the televisions and radio, to recognize that a third of the city isn't going to work until Monday at least, and to wonder how it will be rebuilt.

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