is yesterday's diary. I just finished and am too exhausted to check it
for spelling, grammar and content. Hope it conveys something...
For those who I just added to this list, I have included my original
dispatch from day one of the tragedy. It follows today's endless
4:30AM and I have had a day and a half. I cannot wait until the morning
(or rather later in the morning) to communicate today to you all. It's a
day of ups and downs, and incredible unexpected experiences.
remember to always take a camera. Life has an unexpected way of
providing experiences that you will always remember but that you can
never adequately describe. With any luck, I should be able to prove that
to bed the night before falling asleep to something on TV, still swathed
in the events of the day. I slept better then I had expected, but awoke
early to the telephone and the sound of planes overhead. The phone I
might have ignored but didn't as I knew it was you calling to check on
me. The planes I could not ignore, for, although a different sound, they
triggered the previous mornings events over again. Or at least the fear
of them. This time they were our jets, friendlies... Patrolling the
skies to prevent a repeat performance. It should have been a reassuring
sound but it wasn't.
calls were great; it's great to be a center of attention and to know
that people care, even if I was not really in any great danger. I
certainly could paint scenarios of how it could have been the end of 2
Wooster Street and our fair occupants, but the reality is that we
escaped all the damage except to the psyche. But it was great to hear
from so many of you, some from year’s back, and many lifetimes ago.
Tragedy is sometimes a healing and adhesive force for good.
despite your kindness there was still the need to do something to help,
to know that you could contribute anything to the recovery. To the city,
of the people and to your own sense of loss and pain.
it is now late Thurs. morning and I had to stop as exhaustion
overwhelmed creativity and I collapsed in bed until now...)
aside, on one of the local channels there was an interview of people on
the street who were trying to look at the devastation from one of the
farther perimeter checkpoints. One woman, who seemed only to be able to
form short sentences, expressed annoyance that she couldn't do anything
today and she was not going to ever come back to New York. She must have
been terribly inconvenienced by our little incident, it was shocking to
see. Perhaps she can find more action in Kabul, say in a few weeks.
decided to volunteer to do anything; dig, cook, pitch tents, sling hash,
anything. And to donate blood. The day was hot, clear and sunny, all
belying the tragedy that it enveloped. But today, the winds changed and
the smoke, white, thick and continuous now drifted northward, over the
apartment and the entire city. And it is the first time you could smell
the smell. Burning. Still.
Vesuvius, the cloud rose from ground zero in a thick white-gray mass
that slowly spread out in to the sky in a white light cloud that
extended all the way to mid-town. You could smell it everywhere. It was
a curtain to hide the fact that those two towers were gone and we
weren't ready to see the sky where there used to be steel and glass.
walked to West Street, which is the road that runs up Manhattan's West
Side along the Hudson River. It has recently gone renovation to provide
for more human activities then just driving vehicles from the Battery to
57th Street. They recently built a promenade along the water, all around
the residential and commercial development that came off of the landfill
from the construction of the Twin Towers. Further uptown it provides
bicycle and rollerblading paths, access to the piers and is well planted
with greenery. Make no mistake; it is also a major thoroughfare for a
lot of traffic.
however, it was the great staging area for the great triumph of humans
over tragedy. In less then 24 hours, this road was packed with equipment
and trucks. All sorts of trucks. Trucks with massive lights, massive
backhoes, massive dump trucks, generators, compressors, lined up for
blocks and blocks. All this in less then 24 hours. With the bridges and
tunnels closed. Aliens? Looking down the highway towards the maelstrom,
were trucks and buses delivering people, supplies, life.
walked up along this parade of total resolve, we were passed by trucks
hauling the remains of our past, fire trucks, Humvees, motorcycle cops,
golf-cartish things, vehicles with flashing lights and screaming sirens.
Coming down the road were similar scenes but they were going in to
replace what was coming out.
have sealed off the area in 4 stages. The inner seal is about 4 blocks
up from the remains, guarded by police and military units. Only those
working the rescue effort can get past them. The next ring at Canal
Street, which divides SOHO from TRIBECA is open to residents only on a
limited basis, much of that area has no power. From Canal Street north
(where 2 Wooster is) to Houston Street is the 3rd ring and it is open to
residents only. The 4th and final perimeter runs from Houston to 14th
Street. That is the limit to all non-recovery related vehicle traffic
and is also only open to residents. No commercial activity is allowed
from Houston Street down, but it is allowed into that 4th ring, provided
they don't need vehicles to operate.
approached Houston Street, the first thing that has moved me to the
point of tears greeted us. Groups of people, NYers, were cheering,
clapping and waving at each and every vehicle going up and down West St.
Some even held up hand lettered signs on the torn cardboard from boxes.
It was the best expression available at the time for ordinary people to
encourage and thank the other ordinary people doing the extraordinary.
the first time since the tragedy that I felt the veil unwinding, I was
so proud of those people, those simple human beings for their simple
gesture, which meant so much. Real New Yorkers. I can't wait for this
crisis to be over so they can go back to ignoring their neighbors and
stepping over the homeless like they were invisible. See I'm a New
Yorker too! Always see the cynical side of a good deed!
today they did their reputation a world of good. I wish you could have
seen it, I wish I had brought the camera.
Scattered questioning of random people yielded up bits of information,
such as they were taking volunteers and drawing blood at the Chelsea
Piers, a huge sports and entertainment complex in the mid-20s on West
Street. The day was perfect for the walk and we soon arrived with a
scattering of other folks with the same idea.
sort of random and chaotic system they turned out to be a staging area
for trained medical volunteers and some sort of drop off point for
donations. No blood, no civilian volunteers. "Try the Javits center,
they're taking names and blood." It meant another 15-block walk, but
Chelsea Pier folks had too many medical volunteers too, and they were
just taking names, other people brought donations of food, drinks and
clothing. How much was donated I was to find out later.
was so overwhelming at the Chelsea Piers was the endless rows of
ambulances parked for blocks along the complex. There had to be a least
two hundred of them from everywhere. Many were from little townships in
New Jersey, and upstate New York and Connecticut. People who were
willing to sacrifice the safety of their town to help ours.
were also police from Connecticut and Long Island doing guard duty, all
somber but polite and grateful to be able to help.
spirit alone has destroyed the hate wrought by the religious fanatics.
It is the triumph of good over evil.
I had had the camera.
continued up to the Javits Center which was chaotic, but so unlike a
normal New York chaos, peaceful and polite. There were places to sign up
to volunteer, no blood collection but there were signs posted saying
that Bellevue Hospital needed blood. Bellevue is completely on the other
side of Manhattan, a good 2-mile walk, for which we set off.
more like a holiday weekend then the middle of the week. So few people
out, so few vehicles. And it was so quiet, not country like, but quiet
for New York. To the point that when an emergency vehicle went by with
siren wailing it was amazing just how loud those sirens are!
walked by the Empire State Building, the last remaining and original
symbol of the success of the city (yes, I know there is still the
Chrysler and Woolworth building, both predating the ESB but they are
art.) It was cordoned off and guarded by sinister looking men in black
jackets. It would be safe, though later that evening, a bomb threat was
announced for the building, which, of course, was some asshole's idea of
Reaching the hospital, it too was fully staffed with emergency, rescue
and relief personnel, and we worked our way over to the donation center.
But they did not need any more blood, but O type people should return
tomorrow afternoon, as they needed that. We decided to get some food and
go home, as it was almost 3 PM.
started to walk down 1st Avenue I ran in to my Doctor whom I consider a
saint for just being a great Doctor in normal circumstances even in this
day of (mis)managed care. He cares. And he was off to relieve some
Doctors at the Triage center down at ground zero. I wished him the best
and thanked him as he and his colleagues set off.
I had had the camera.
bore you with details of lunch, perimeter checkpoints and glory of the
day. What I will say is that there is something so incredibly surreal
about the situation. I mean, here was a glorious fall day, warm, blue
sky (except for the long blot of smoke), a quiet Sunday afternoon in
Podunk. People were jogging, rollerblading, biking, pushing their kids
in strollers, and there were still a few people on those horrid
scooters, which were an awful fad when it was started and even more so
now! I wonder if anyone donated theirs to the relief effort...
it's in all ways a glorious day in the Big Apple, and yet, not 2 miles
away is a scene of such horror and devastation that few can recall
except in a battle zone. But New York isn't a battle zone (of the war
type at least) and we're out on holiday... The incongruity strains the
home around 5 and collapsing in front of CNN didn't bring any sense of
having done anything to help, we had the best of intentions but
intentions don't count in soothing the soul. We needed to help somehow,
no matter in any small way. We couldn't even give blood.
least I had the camera.
killing a couple of hours watching the same blather on every channel,
there was knock on the door from my next-door neighbor Phil. He needed
some more facemasks, as the smoke was getting pretty noxious. In
chatting he told me how he skirted the police line just across the
street from us and worked his way down to the inner checkpoint and
watched, from a safe distance, the effort. It sounded like a plan.
changed in to "work" clothes and donned facemasks (which all the police,
rescue, relief workers and fair number of citizens carry and many use)
and grabbed a set of the fluorescent safety vests I keep in my closet as
a safety measure for my motorcycle riding. I just never seem to
motorcycle in my closet.
I seem to ever remember my camera except when I am at home.
Stuffing the vests in a bag as not to be too crass, we set off to try
Phil's plan. But we were immediately thwarted by the fact that his route
was now blocked by a locked fence and a police guard.
walked down Canal Street towards the river looking for an out of state
cop who wouldn't recognize my address on my drivers license and let me
pass through as a resident. We came up to the Holland Tunnel exit and
the pedestrian overpass. I took a chance with one slightly distracted
NYC officer, flashed my driver’s license up in the dark and said, "I
live in the neighborhood." Which is technically not a lie; I do live in
the neighborhood just not the one he assumed. "You going over the
bridge?" he asked, "Yes" I replied. We made it.
Wandering south on deserted streets, normally chock full of yuppies and
recently failed dot-comers keeping the recession at bay by spending big
bucks in the over-priced Tribeca restaurant scene, we closed in on the
inner perimeter checkpoint. We cut left under an apartment complex and
to West Street. Large numbers of trucks lay idling waiting for their
turn to be called to the front to haul away detritus or deliver some
vital supply. Groups of people, construction workers, military and cops,
medical personnel, volunteers, all moved quietly and deliberately to and
from the site. Several cops guarded the way south.
scouted around as best I could to see if there was an easy way past the
cops. We backtracked a bit and put on our safety vests. As we approached
the area again a group of civilian volunteers started towards the
checkpoint and we started to attach ourselves to the back. Just then a
little golf-cart pulled up and a voice said "Gatorade, take two, you
guys are doing a great job." I hate Gatorade but reached out for it,
grateful that our masks hid the obvious look of confusion and shock. The
other carter handed out the vile liquid to some grateful truck drivers.
As I mumbled "Thanks", he started to inch forward towards the
know that I am in mid-career time in my life, figuring out the next
step. At the urging of several misguided but well meaning friends I went
to take some classes in acting and improv. But being more of a ham then
Hamlet, I mostly enjoyed myself and tortured my fellow students.
tonight my friends was Oscar night. In one of those rare and fleeting
moments of brilliance I said, "Say, can you give us a lift in?" Layla,
even through the mask, looked shocked. He said, "Sure if you can hang on
to the back." We stumbled around for a second and attached ourselves
precariously to the back of his cart, knees up on many cases of
Gatorade. He talked his way past the cops and we were in!
you this is still about 5 blocks north of the outer periphery of ground
zero. Trucks of all sorts line the highway and groups of people either
wait and talk quietly, sleep or walk to and from the site.
power is out in this part of the neighborhood and temporary high
intensity light trucks light the highway. These cast an intense
white-gray light that sharply delineates black from white. It was the
appropriate lighting for the drama that unfolds.
broke open some of the cases and handed out Gatorade to any and all who
dared drink it. At some point the cart stopped and the other passenger
dropped out and our driver offered us the front seat. We hesitated to go
on, worried we'd be caught but once in go for broke, break a leg. Ok, I
moved front, Layla stayed in back and fed us bottles.
guys medical?" our driver asked. I guess he mistook my green tee shirt
for a John Hopkins degree and I went into my best act yet. "Yes, we are,
were called up to help from the hospital...um, they called us
tonight..." "Great," he said, "going to the Triage Center? I'll drop you
there, you guys are great." "Sure, well, thanks, ya, know, we don't have
to be there until 12 or 12:30 can we tag along and hand this out, it
will be a lot more useful then hanging out at triage." "Sure, but I am
going in as far as I can then turn around North so I can drop you back
to triage." "Great, thanks..."
handed out blue, red and urine yellow drinks to all takers. We unloaded
some cases at the Triage Center and headed towards the epicenter.
Blocked at one point by an unyielding cop, but our driver pressed on,
over the sidewalk and towards the promenade and marina...
tell you that even at this outer ring, everything was coated with a
white powder the consistency of plaster. Papers littered the floor and
garbage from the on-going effort was everywhere. The amount of powder
and it covers everything, buildings, trees, and the ground as if
spray-painted on. Underfoot it is about an inch thick and has been
beaten solid. This powder is the cement, plaster, plastic and DNA of
everything that was vaporized as the buildings collapsed.
drove on through the Marina, all part of the new development around the
waterfront in the area of the World Trade Center. It includes housing,
the World Financial Center, performance areas, restaurants, shops,
museums, the promenade, the works. The Marina normally filled with the
excess footage of too much wealth, now held only police and fireboats
and a large black ship blocked its entrance. Only the powder covered
sailboats of the sailing school remained. The area surrounding the
Marina is bathed in darkness and white powder. Normally a vibrant area
with outdoor restaurants and a large glass atrium called the Winter
Garden. It was as if it were winter now, perhaps a nuclear winter. The
trees lining the walkway around the promenade were coated white and
festooned with paper as if it was the holiday of love and giving.
turned the corner on the south end of the Marina and there we were, 100
feet from ground zero. It was a site I cannot ever fully describe nor
can I ever, ever forget the image. On either side of what was the
walkway are destroyed vehicles of all sorts, crushed, burned, smashed
beyond believe. On the right an Fire Department Emergency Services
vehicle lies upside down and partially crushed, its tires gone, blown
Directly ahead of us, in the ghastly glow of the large banks of the
temporary high-intensity lighting, sits the remains of the South Tower
#2 World Trade Center. A pealed off portion of the shell stands about 30
stories tall, as if we were ants looking up at a picket fence. It is
grey and cold in the light and a section of it bends precariously to the
right. In front of that lies two "intact" floors of the building,
somewhat compressed, but floors visible through the blown out windows.
Flame flares up off the top of it from the endless debris hanging off of
left of that stands a piece of the North Tower, #1 World Trade Center
but not where I think it should be. But you cannot tell what's what in
this the center of the inferno. Piled high, about 30 stories of rubble
slants down towards the center of what was the plaza between the two
cranes, backhoes and earthmovers tear away at the center of the debris.
Cutting torches tear apart steel which itself has torn from it's mate.
Large flatbed trucks receive two or three pieces of the steel and move
off. A new truck moves in to take its place.
driver parks the cart and tells us he's making a quick stop and will
head back north if we want a lift. He pulls out a disposable camera and
takes some pictures. I think this crass until I notice everyone is doing
it, construction workers, police, firemen, and volunteers. Some pose
with the wreckage in back of them, like a tourist in front of the
Leaning Tower of Pisa. Except these towers lean as the result of blind
hate and religious zeal (is there a difference?) instead of bad
engineering. In fact, they are there, leaning, because they were
engineered so well...
decide to stay, saying we don't really have to be "on-duty" until later
and at least here we can help. We load our arms full of Gatorade and
wish our driver well, and he mumbles the same, his mouth full of
hamburger from a relief station.
some tentativeness we slowly move forward the last 50 feet to the actual
site. Ground Zero.
quickly realize that with all the action and people we are invisible and
not trespassing. We offer up the Gatorade.
of workers move about. Two groups stand out. First and foremost are the
Firemen. Not enough can be said in praise of these men and women, these
human mortals who risk their life everyday. They move in groups of about
20 into the debris and dig with their hands, shovels, picks and
crowbars. To a one, they have that "1000 yard stare" which is the
classic description of the look soldiers get after horrific and long
battles. They are all in shock and grief over the tremendous loss of
life of their fellow firefighters. The media lists it as 200 but in a
conversation I had with a Firefighters Union official at the site he
told me that there at least 400 missing.
today, a few hours ago, the news announced that 5 firemen were found
alive in an SUV dug out of the rubble. Three apparently walked out on
most part the firemen don't take the proffered liquids but head back to
the rest area. They prefer to serve themselves and keep to themselves.
They are joined by firefighters and rescue workers from all over the
country. I saw Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and many other
next group was the riggers and heavy equipment operators. They steadily
attach steel cables to steel beams and load up trucks. Huge backhoes,
some with claws instead of buckets attack the smaller pieces. At some
point they dug out a Hook and Ladder Fire truck, lying on its back like
a dead bug. Its tires were burned off and the ladder hung off to the
Perspective and position are hard to find in a scene like this. All
around is destruction and debris; all around endless armies attack the
piles, stand and do nothing awaiting their chance to pitch in. Police
and law enforcement from all sorts of agencies and states abound. Park
police, state troopers, INS, DEA, bomb squad, MPs.
Everyone has a mask, not all wear them. We do, the dust is thick, but
fortunately the smoke from the various piles of debris still burning
blows away to the north. The area is so vast that you wonder how the
ever will get it clear.
Surrounding buildings bear huge scars. Layla recognizes the office
building she used to work at year ago, 130 Liberty. She counts windows
and finds her old office, intact. But further down the facade in a
massive gouge from about the 15th floor to the ground. Apparently one of
the jet's engines came down there.
distance to the East one can see work in progress. Flashes of light,
some flames flicker, but it is another planet away, though it used to be
#4 World Trade Center, less then a block away.
realize we are standing where the Marriott Hotel used to be; now it's a
driveway for the trucks and heavy equipment. The World Financial Center
that stood across the highway (West St.) has no glass and its facade
bears many scars. One corner of the WFC near where the south tower stood
looks like someone took a paring knife to one corner and pealed off a
piece. Much of that piece hangs on like a flap of skin from a bad cut.
ground is covered in white powder, mud and rivers of water. Papers and
personnel effects are everywhere intermixed with the waste bottles and
wrappers from the endless supply of food and drink. I find telephones,
brief cases, a sneaker or two, laptop cases, books, sales brochures. It
is everywhere and on everything. No one touches or examines any of it.
It is just there.
a milk crate and fill it with cold drinks from a relief station so near
this activity. They are volunteers from the Salvation Army. Some are
trendily dressed; the women tend toward young, pretty and stylish,
almost made up for a night of dancing. The guys are more, well guyish...
What you'd almost expect. A bit scary. They are all working hard,
covered in mud, even their fashion jeans. There is hope for some of our
Transfixed by the activity, we nonetheless try to keep busy and useful,
we are trespassers but finally, finally, feel useful, complete and
worthy of being New Yorkers. We are tired and dirty, but don't want to
stop. We take a long break around 2:30AM and I survey more of the scene.
the large and tall construction lights went off earlier turning daylight
into dusk and changing the shape of the scene. It suddenly comes back on
and as the bulbs warm up, they cast a brighter and brighter glow on the
scene. More reveals itself.
so fantastic, so impossible to describe, to a one, everyone I talk to
says it is like a movie set. It is too hard to fathom the amount of
destruction, and too hard to recognize so much familiar structure now
rent free from it's former self. Most say "Planet of the Apes"; it's
like "Planet of the Apes." Though I can see Charlton Heston coming
through the ruins saying, "You dirty bastards, you dirty bastards. And
say, if you let all our citizens carried concealed weapons, this would
a stage...I wish I had had the camera...
Somewhere in my act, I take on a new swagger, a bit of a Staten Island
accent and I fit in well with the burliest of the workers. A pack of
smokes and I would be complete. Acting was never so simple or so
rewarding or so helpful.
the large chunks of the towers still standing are relatively smaller
pieces stuck in to the ground like a fork into a chunk of meat. They are
jagged pieces of the skin, reaching up at odd angles like an arm coming
out of the ground. One chunk lies where the hotel used to be, another in
front of 140 Liberty, an older building undergoing renovation, it's
scaffolding bent and torn like a badly mangled ecktoskeleton. The facade
is covered with thousands of scars and every window is gone. At some
point a small fire breaks out on one of the top floors of this building,
and while later water can be seen shooting out and flashlights searching
for more fire.
burns in little pockets everywhere. It adds to the surreal lighting all
around and the smoke causes strange shadows. Along West Street to the
south of the complex, lies a wall of destroyed vehicles, one piled on
top of the other, and one, crushed but defiant, adds to the light with
the glow of it's still working parking lights, shining through the white
powder covering it. I am told that they dug out another car with its
lights still on.
times teams of fireman and police come marching in; apparently they are
the ones who remove the bodies or parts that are found. But each time it
is a false alarm. A while later several Search and Rescue Teams start
climbing the 30 story pile of rubble sloping down from the chunk of #1
tower. You can see their flashlights reflecting off the metal and glass.
A group of students from an engineering school go marching in, a
homemade robot crawler attached to one of their backs, it will be used
to crawl through the rubble with a camera on board.
is going on, there is a cacophony of noise but my impression is that it
is quiet. Even the roar of the machines is silent. Groups’ talk, most
are silent, few laugh or talk trivia. It's focused and solemn. All are
moved, all are in pain, most are civil and all are friendly.
well we are tired but fulfilled, our initial fear of being trespassers,
of being morbid curiosity seekers are vanquished as we do our little but
somehow significant part. To a one, everyone who takes our proffered
refreshments thanks us for all we are doing, can you believe it, they
thank us. I answer back, in all sincerity and all accent, "No, thank
you, thank you." I am never so grateful and so proud to be part of the
back offering drinks to everyone we pass, refilling our milk crate at
various relief stations. The amount of food and drink, I mean, hot food,
sandwiches, candy, coffee, cookies, clothes, masks, you name it,
available to these men and women is staggering. Who and where it came
from I don't know but in less then 24 hours we are feeding armies and
still have more to spare. How can we not vanquish those who don't
Exhausted, home, to bed. All day to express this, and I don't know if I
have said anything or if it makes any sense. We will try again tonight,
try to slip in and help. I'll bring a camera. It might help you
did something I would never have contemplated, growing up as a liberal,
anti-war activist with not much faith in our country and government.
the quintessential symbol of our country, the flag, on the
quintessential symbol of New York, my fire escape.
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