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Last Updated: February 27, 2002
September 17, 2001: By Alex Marx

Dear all,

I finally managed to overcome the excuses not to write and put two more days into words. I caution you that they are darker and perhaps less interesting then the previous efforts. My efforts will be shorter and further apart, I am not sure how much more I can do that will hold interest and I am not sure how to conclude this. I think my next effort will be to describe the area around here as it has evolved over the last week and a half.

I will tell you that living down here takes its toll. I am at the northern edge of it all and you are always aware. Not so uptown, it is much less physically evident.

But my toll is so insignificant compared to those who labor to clear the more then 1 million tons of debris. And so meaningless compared to those who lost loved ones. 

Many people have asked what they can do to help. Now, I think the best is to live life as best you can. And, be an American, which is more then flying a flag and supporting your president. It's doing what we do best; go shopping, go to a restaurant, fly (never been safer!) and come visit New York.

Things are cheaper! You can even get tickets to "The Producers" at less then the cost of most countries Gross Domestic Product! I ran into a Londoner in Grand Central Terminal the other day. He was having a grand time, and I thanked him for coming. He couldn't have been more pleased. Nor could I.

If you want to be added to the list, or taken off, please reply to me with the request. If I've forgotten to add you or remove you, I apologize; please let me know, gently...

I have included all the previous days diaries, in case you are new to this.

Today's entries are titled "9.17.01" and "9.19.01" and are near the bottom...

And I haven't forgotten the web site either. Soon. I promise...




This first week of restored “normalcy” started with the sound of low-flying aircraft engines and then the sound of sirens. I didn’t want to know. In my half-dream state it was more than disturbing. The radio kicked on and at each newscast I forced myself to listen for the new disaster. There was none.

When I pushed forward into real consciousness a bit later I recognized it as the sound of helicopters and not jet engines. I felt a bit silly with myself, but it shows how deep this scar is. For all of us.

Like most of us, I didn’t have the energy, desire or ability to try and work last week. But, as a “rent-a-geek” I only make money when I actually get out and do billable hours.

Despite feeling otherwise, the world hadn’t stopped neither had reality. As much as I felt it had.

My client had been patient, as one would expect, but the work needed to go on. And we were being asked to be “normal,” it wouldn’t be appropriate not to try…

The hard part was this job required a trip to Newport, in Jersey City, NJ. It required a trip on the “PATH” (Port Authority Trans Hudson) train. The PATH tracks are like a figure 8 with the top and bottom swirls cut off. One bottom one went to the WTC and the other to 33rd Street. The top ones went to Hoboken and Newark.

And my normal route would be to walk or take a quick train ride to the WTC. It was the last stop on the “E” train, which I always took. Even though the “A” and “C” trains, leaving from my station, would bring me close to the trade center, the “E” brought you in it. It was like the last stop on the Orient Express. From the first car, you would quickly jaunt past the car cleaners, leaning on their mobs and brooms, waiting for the train to clear, so they could quickly swab out the trains with dirty water and get back to their rest.

Then past the bumpers at the end of the tracks, for they really did terminate here.

Funny, a few days after the attack, I had a dream I was standing in this very spot. So real, I could see every detail, even in the dim station light. I was standing there facing the tracks, for the trip home. Then a train, larger then life, now in retrospect, like a tower on its side, comes down the tracks, too fast. It smashes through the bumper, through the concrete platform and right at me. I am frozen, motionless and dead.

But in dreams, at least, you get to wake up…

I would clear the turnstile on the way out, take a few steps more to the wall of glass doors and inevitably pick the same exit door that someone, hurried, oblivious and tense, would want to use to enter the subway. A bit of the New York two-step and we would squeeze past each other. They in a hurry to catch the “E” and maybe slip on the drying ooze on the car floor.

How many made it to safety through those same doors.

How many didn’t…

Up the handicap ramp or leap the few steps into the Mall, just below the plaza. To the left is the newsstand, in front the pretzel and ice cream stand. Turn to the right. Borders is on the right. Still is for now. Then the hair salon, then Lecters, the houseware store. On the left is another passageway, I know the Warner Brothers store was there, what else?

Past the Lecters was Fine and Shapiro, the downtown branch of the upper west side’s classic Jewish cuisine. If you were there at lunchtime, there would be a line to get in, and being New York, you know that most were not Jewish.

On the left was a bank of phones followed by Ecce Panis, offering fresh bread and only recently opened. On the right was usually my first stop. The quick Japanese take-out and bar. Grab a cucumber and a tuna roll. Left my wallet there once. It was still there 30 seconds later when I returned. See, the stories aren’t true!

Hang a left at the brokerage house with the big scrolling stock ticker. Or go past the watch booth past the stairs leading up or out, and hit the Duane-Reade pharmacy for Pepto-Bismol in anticipation.

Down the first escalator the long one, under the new fancy LED information display. At the mid-level, all the walls and columns would be covered with one-theme advertising. It was printed on some sort of plastic that adhered to the walls, every brick and blemish telegraphed through.

Down the next escalator, the short one. Or hop down the stairs. The lower plaza. On the right was McCann’s bar, playing ‘50s music from ceiling speakers. It’s dark and smoky, even before you get through their doors. You could smell the stale beer before you could see the bar. I think they pumped out like a pheromone for barflies. 

And there was always someone there, no matter what time of day or night.

In front was a large newspaper and magazine stand. I would occasionally buy a chocolate bar, if I needed change for the  PATH, especially since the fare just went up to $1.50 from $1.00.

Hang the right past the McCann’s (your could go left too, but I needed the front of the train) and to the turnstiles. You could buy a multi-trip ticket, which I often did now that the fare went up. Easier then digging up quarters. Or you could pay each fare at the appropriate turnstile. 

Once through the tollgate, you choose your stairs for Newark or Hoboken. My stop was on the Hoboken line so down the first escalator. Except at rush hour when the escalator went up, so you had to loop around the exiting traffic and hit the stairs that faced the other way.

The platforms were dark, and dingy but clean. There were far more tracks then trains, and I once figured out that the trains actually made a loop somewhere in the deep recesses under the towers, so many stories above. Man, you could survive a Nuclear Attack down here.

(There are some interesting pictures at:

They recently had put up Computer Screens that ran news and sports headlines, the weather, stock prices and PATH information. Keeps you distracted whilst you wait.

Signs promised an upcoming renovation to the station.

The trains themselves were fairly modern, but the tunnels, dark, dank and dripping seemed far more medieval. The tunnels are narrow; the trains fit a piston in a cylinder and as they moved you could almost feel the air resistance fighting any motion.

If not eating my instant sushi, I would watch out the front always expecting disaster as the cars bounced and swayed against the air pressure and in defiance of the narrow clearance inside the tunnel. The tracks twist and turn and peel off at switches in mind-numbing frequency.  It was far more interesting then any roller coaster, and you didn’t get sick to your stomach.

Except maybe from the sushi.

Two stops and you were at Pavonia/Newport, section of New Jersey where the passenger and commuter trains would terminate and you would transfer to the ferries to New York, all in the pre-tunnel, pre sky-scrapper era. Until recently it was an abandoned shell of ancient industrial might.

Now, today, it’s different. The station will never be renovated, it’s destroyed, collapsed under 110 stories of tower and 5 stories of underground floors. Its tracks are flooded by firefighting efforts and destroyed water mains. There is fear that the “bathtub,” the gigantic 3400 foot concrete tub built to contain the huge subterranean foundation of the WTC complex from the Hudson River may be damaged.

At the Exchange Place Station, the first stop in New Jersey after WTC, they discovered water was coming through the tunnels. They have poured a 3-foot thick concrete plug, like a cork in a bottle, to protect the rest of the system.

Today, it’s different. I need to get to the other end of the system. Although there are closer PATH stations, I decide to start at the other terminus in NY at 34th street.

I hop on the uptown “A” and transfer at West 4th for the 6th Ave lines. Although it’s about one in the afternoon, the trains are full, but not crowded. Most are quiet, lost in thought, sadness, grief and, still, disbelief.

A group of young children squeal and play. In any other time we would be ready to snap at their bad behavior, at their parents for being so insensitive to the rest of us.  But not today. They are spared, in their youth and innocence, as children often are, as they often should be, as they too often aren’t, from our wrath.

We wish we could be so free, especially now.

(Later that day, or maybe the next, I am in line to pay for some cookies for a client at a drug/convenience store. A young child, maybe a year old, a little chubby, a lot blond, and in a stroller, turns, pacifier in mouth and grins at me. We make faces at each other, each leading to broad smiles and gurgles of pleasure, in him and me. He is unaware of our reality. I wish I could trade places with him, right then and there…)

The PATH train is, too, quiet, somber and crowded. After many stops I get out at Pavonia/Newport, but arriving from the other direction.

This section of Newport is undergoing a “Renaissance” (what a terrible word to describe unbridled commercial development) and what was the old abandoned train/ferry terminal area is now malls, marina, office buildings, a new “light-rail” system and tall and bland high-rise apartments with a spectacular view of, well, downtown Manhattan, now less blocked…

I take a small detour and head the half-block to the waterside. The sky is blue and clouds fill the background. And the smoke. I am almost directly opposite ground zero, on the other side of the Hudson. On any other day, it would be a “million dollar” view. A small group of people sit by the water, but many have their back turned.

I have my camera, but only two shots left. I take them. They could have been postcards. From here you can’t tell anything’s wrong or missing.

Except for the smoke.

I do my work, two hours in a small dim computer room. It’s almost mindless but requires concentration. At least I am physically removed and isolated.

My trip back is similar, but in reverse. Once off the PATH I head uptown to check on another client. The “F” train is crowded. It’s closer to rush hour, such as it is these days. A large woman is sprawled on the seat in front of me; head back, legs and arms akimbo. She snores loudly. Probably from the endless and repetitive media coverage.

Pleasant dreams, sweet princess…

Later, on the way home, at the tail end of rush hour, the trains are more crowded, but I manage to get a seat at the next stop. Someone sits next to me, and in the spirit I am trying to foster, forever, I offer my seat to her companion. She declines.

At the next stop there is a lot of commotion and struggle as people try to enter and exit at the same time. I turn to my companion and say, “Well, things sure seem back to normal…”

I smile.

She gave me the look.

The New York look.

The “whad are ya, friggin crazy” look.

Things must be getting back to normal.

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All Portions Copyright © 2001 Alex Marx