Thoughts from Manhattan - Tuesday Evening
Sept. 11, 2001 9:30 p.m.
New York City is an amazingly quiet place tonight. I'm still here, frankly, because the Port Authority building is locked. There's no way to get the bus home to Pennsylvania.
From my office window, I can see at least 12 TV sets across 47th St., all with flickering blueish pictures. The unknown residents click/click/click through the channels, which all show the same devastating fireballs, grey-coated gasping humans, ambulances and solemn pronouncements.
The world disintegrated this morning when someone yelled that a plane crashed into the World Trade Tower. I promptly recalled the bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building during WWII, thereby confirming my generation. I got barely 15 seconds of fame.
I shut up in mid-rumination when the first horrendous CNN photo hit the screen, showing the gaping hole. A few minutes later, the second plane's fireball was captured and repeated uncounted times. CNN's site was overwhelmed.
New York LIVES on news. Nothing is too much; no coverage is enough, no scoop too great. Yet the day overwhelmed. Minute by minute, someone would run down the hall with yet another impossible update. "It can't be." But it was. And it did not end.
A Senior Partner had the presence of mind to order in food "in case our people would need it tonight." Much appreciated. We (those who could get home) were allowed to go. Others were reminded: "You're probably safer here than at Port Authority." So we stayed, stomachs churning with the impossibility of the grim reality before our eyes.
An absolutely perfect morning, with air as soft and warm as an Aruba sunrise, had coalesced into the pervasive smell of cement dust and the sickening knowledge of impending death.
Our uptown office has a splendid view down Third Avenue. This afternoon, all lanes were full of silent northbound traffic. A pickup truck got a flat tire. A group of men helped push it to the curb lane, then helped change the tire. Nobody said much. Just did it because it was the right thing to do.
Both sidewalks were eight-wide of humans walking north as fast as they could without running. Nervous laughter; many tries on cell phones that didn't work. People walking together would stop, hug, cry, dab their eyes and shuffle along again. Men in business suits and hair and face covered with a deathly pall of white silt made their way north. Their eyes had died. They just wanted to get away. Please God.
We, the lucky ones, just on the street to put our own eyes on the rising pall of billowing smoke from the downtown disaster, tried (unsuccessfully) not to stare at the survivors. Wanted to say something to them, but had no earthly idea of what the words would be. Would have patted them on the shoulder just because, but certainly wouldn't have been so presumptuous. So they walked by in their grief and we did nothing to try to comfort them.
About 3 p.m., I made my way to the Port Authority bus terminal, transfixed by the huge clouds of smoke from the south. About 100 people gathered outside, then 200, then 1,000…then more, filling half the avenue. The Police on duty couldn't help. They had no information. HQ for the Port Authority: the World Trade Towers. No communication.
Yet, there WAS communication. Everyone in the assembled multitude with a story felt compelled to tell it to complete strangers. In front of me were two union workers who had seen the first plane plow into the WTT. They did 'show and tell' with their hands, nodding to each other to make sure they got it right. Their black T-shirts had the white sheen of the blast survivors. They didn't seem to notice.
Four feet away, to the left, was a small Asian woman in a maroon business suit who saw the second plane bank and hit. She just blurted out what she had seen. She was washing her hands over and over as she spoke softly to the air in front of her. When she was done, she lowered her head. She had NOT planned to make a speech. It just came out. It had to. Everyone around her listened intently, nodding in sympathy. The crowd grew, pressing in behind us.
A rumor started; you could take the ferryboat and get to NJ…there were buses over there. A stream of people, myself included, headed west, like lemmings. We had no idea how far it was to the river, or exactly where to go. Within 15 minutes, a ragged stream of sadder but wiser folks were coming back. "Six hour wait." Everyone changed direction.
Streets full of blue uniforms, police cars with flashing lights and whooping sirens, unmarked vans covered with white powder headed south, ambulances wailing, going to any number of hospitals. We just stared. Nothing else to do, really.
We, who were waiting by the police barricades for quite a while, became a bit amused at the arrival of others calumping in who 'hadn't got a clue.' "I want to get into the Port Authority building. Which door can I use?" "It's closed." "Whaddaya mean, it's closed? It can't be closed." "It's closed." "Oh."
Anger at 'the situation' had started to build. I heard far too many comments full of braggadocio and stage rage. "If I were in charge…" "America's in a rotten shape when this kind of **** happens…" The invectives start out at full throttle, but run out of steam in about 20 seconds. No one responds. As people listen to their own words and think of what's coming, their voices fade.
A little radio carries the mayor's sidestep of "How many casualties can we expect?" A chill runs through the crowd. The mental estimate is horribly high. Someone says: "Gonna be worse than Pearl Harbor." A bass voice replies: "Helluva lot worse. Just wait."
I walked uptown to the office along an almost deserted 8th Avenue at sunset. Yes, the dogs were out, walking their masters, who follow with paper towels and little Ziploc bags, held daintily, awaiting the warm contents to be dropped into some recepticle.
Neighborhood people recognize each other, go through the 'ain't it awful' routine, then pause. They have all seen hours of the horror on TV. Terribly hard to add anything.
The crosstown bus driver is compelled to give HIS view of the situation. He's been all over town today; no charge for the ride tonight. Needs to have someone listen to him. Those in the front listened quietly to his rambling; a cluster in the left rear were having their own discussion. With deserted streets, crosstown is a zippy drive.
Tonight, everyone in the city can talk directly to perfect strangers, who turn out to be perfect listeners. And so, to bed. It's quiet here, there's a leather couch. Only one TV of the original twelve is still on. No one is changing the channel.
No point. It's all bad news. First day of a war we should have expected, I guess.
And nothing will ever be the same again.
David A. Miller, II
CPA Firm Marketing Director