Thoughts from Manhattan Part 2- The Days After
A Note From the Author:
"Thoughts from Manhattan - Tuesday Evening" has received hundreds of eloquent, thoughtful responses from people on every continent. They described what was happening outside their window and inside their heart.
It was a humbling morning. I tried to answer each one and promised I would write more. This will be the second of two installments.
I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings. My e-mail is: email@example.com. Many thanks. God bless all of us in these troubled times.
David A. Miller II
Rosen Seymour Shapss Martin & Company LLP
NO WALL STREET BUSES TODAY
Wednesday morning, September 12, 2001
As I noted, because there was neither transportation nor hotel rooms available, I slept in the office Tuesday night. Eerie, but quiet. Couldn’t sleep past six a.m. Dressed, went downstairs. Our building’s security man was up on a ladder, putting the second of our two big American flags at half staff. I choked up, said: “That’s good.” He looked down, patting the flag as he came down the ladder. I reached out a hand to steady him. His eyes were wet, as were mine.
Third Avenue, a northbound river of humans escaping horror the previous afternoon, was deserted. No delivery trucks…all bridges and tunnels closed. A few runners, a few dogs walking their humans, but virtually clear all the way downtown. The billowing cloud from the disaster scene seemed just as large as it was yesterday. Unseen sirens echoed crosstown and downtown.
Got a bagel. Newstands locked up. Back to the office. Had to sign in, show photo ID and building pass. Our HR Director came in, as did a half-dozen dazed co-workers. Within a short time, we were told we could leave. E Train to Penn Station. Very few passengers, plenty of seats. Everyone swayed in an individual cocoon.
Penn Station was a ‘zoo’…the only way to get to New Jersey or New England. Had to shoulder my way to the stacks of newspapers flying out of the newsstand and bought extra copies of the New York Times.
NJ Transit had extra staff answering an endless series of questions from upset and exhausted travelers. They did well. “All trains are free today. It’s the least we can do.” That produced some smiles. “Train to Dover, Track 13.” A pushing, shoving throng broke through other lines to muscle their way to the narrow escalator.
Ample seats on the train. We left on time. Then, suddenly we’re moving south through New Jersey. Out the left side was ‘the view’…the plume of smoke and NO World Trade Towers. Every passenger watched, transfixed. Men and women alike, we cried.
My cell phone worked. My wife, Emily, would pick me up at Hackettstown, NJ. Had a three-hour layover at Dover before the ONE train to Hackettstown.
In the Dover train station parking lot, a white sedan pulled up and a big guy ran down the stairs to it. Short black hair, huge build, looked like a linebacker. T-shirt, jeans. On closer view, white ash ground into the jeans.
He enveloped his pretty wife, who ran from the car, leaving the driver’s door open. They hugged and kissed endlessly in the warm sunlight. He broke down, had to lean on the side of the car, his large body heaving.
She handed him a cell phone and he talked a long time, crying and pacing, unaware of his surroundings. She finally got him into the passenger seat and closed the door. He leaned back, just drained. A dozen of us had watched the whole thing. We were not pleased to be voyeurs, but were unable to take our eyes away.
Two other cars drove up, picking up daughters. The scenes were much the same, hugs and tears all around, then dad gets everyone in the car, sighs deeply as he drives towards home, which will never be the same.
Thursday, September 13, 2001
No access to New York. We sat in front of the TV, mute with the horror of it all.
Friday morning, September 14, 2001
We commuters are pathetically predictable. By rote, we get up at the same time, arrive and park in the same place, nod to the same faces, take the same bus. The trick is to get to work with as little thought as possible. ANYTHING unusual is noticed.
In the dim half-light of 5:35 a.m., I walked from the parking lot to the little bus station, noting that there are FAR too many cars parked here for this time of morning. I cringed to think what that meant.
Strong thunderstorms and a cold front rumbled through late Thursday evening. Colored leaves are splattered on the macadam. We are in between showers.
As I walk, I think about the 20 buses each morning which bring about 2,000 commuters to NYC from eastern Pennsylvania. I’ll guess that half of them work in the Wall Street area. Ahead of me, the Martz Park and Ride bus station looks weird. What’s wrong? Two buses should already have rumbled past me.
There’s a cement landing out front of the station. Ordinarily, the 5:25 a.m. Port Authority bus line faces left and begins at the left end, right by the big trash container. A lumpy procession of black carry bags are placeholders against the building. At the front edge, three feet out, the 5:30 a.m. Wall Street bus line starts at the other end, facing right. That bus stops at the right edge of the step.
Then, to the left of the station, the 5:40 a.m. Port Authority line snakes to the back of the building. The 5:50 a.m. line is two car widths to the right of that line. We all know our place and time. It is comforting. You know you’ll get a seat, can get some sleep. You’ll get into work on time.
Four buses load and leave within ten minutes. Very smooth, very predictable. You greet your driver, make sure you hand your ticket right side up so he can check the date.
But this morning, there’s only one ragged line. No place holders…just people standing and waiting. Very strange. What’s going on?
I don’t know where to stand. Sign on the glass door: NO WALL STREET BUSES TODAY. People stare, gulp and understand. Everyone gets in ‘the line.’ The buses fill up. Air brakes sneeze, the door swings closed, the rubber gasket squeaks.
Two men across the aisle in front of me are talking softly. “What floor?” “Forty-seven. Two.” “Were you able to get through to your wife?” “Just a quick call. She was hysterical.” Not much else to say.
Behind me, two men confer. “Any word from Joe?” “No. Kept trying. But he was on 94 of Two.” “Yeah.” A heavy shower starts. Ordinarily, there would be grousing about the rain, or “we really need it, you know.” Not today. We know that the cold chill is not good news for anyone in the rubble and we pray silently.
By now, the whole world knows the code of the World Trade Towers, which one was hit first, when they came down, which floors were almost certain death. The New York Times’ graphics have told us much more than we ever wanted to know.
Ordinarily, the Wall Street passengers are by far the better dressed. These are men and women at the top of the heap, dressed elegantly and proud of it. We in the Port Authority bus line, many of us in ‘business casual,’ have admired them out of the corner of our eye with more than a little envy.
They are all in old work clothes today. Almost everyone carries a rucksack or canvas tote, probably packed with water, a sandwich. Cell phones are charged and working.
Other days, there are always pairs of ‘chirpers.’ These are several sets of women who talk incessantly all the way in. Never mind that most of us are trying to sleep.
Not today. After a few minutes of ‘really glad to see you’ greetings, the bus is full of funereal silence. Most sleep or try to, but our eyes seem glued open.
As we approach New York on the NJ turnpike, we have an ongoing view of the skyline and the plume of smoke. It is still impossible to believe that both towers are just…gone. Everyone stares. Some cry. Most sigh. Men blow their noses and wipe their eyes.
As we’re in the bus lane, we are through the tunnel quickly. Port Authority is hushed, semi-deserted. Usually, the Greyhound buses disgorge happy throngs dragging bags heavier than their body weight. Not today.
The uptown E train has ¼ the normal load. Pass 50th St., Seventh Avenue, Fifth Avenue, exit at Lexington and 53rd.
Cold, hard shower. Umbrellas everywhere. People move woodenly, carefully. The air is acrid. I walk south towards the huge plume, visible down Third Avenue.
At 48th, a tall, skinny homeless man stands by his canvas mail cart, as he has done all winter, spring and summer. He is usually in the midst of an angry tirade, swearing softly, raising his right hand in righteous indignation against real and imagined foes. He sees the morning rush as his audience.
Not this morning. He has pulled his cart back up against the building, partly out of the driving rain. Yet about every two minutes, he shuffles unsteadily out to the curb and looks to the south.
He stands, holding on to the bus shelter, observing the rising plume of grey smoke, then turns and walks back, touching his cart, his home, with both gnarled hands. He picks through it, looking for something warmer. He has no words today.
Nor do I. Concentration is difficult at work. Loved ones call, pleased to hear I’m okay. I feel guilty, telling them I was ‘far from danger.’ My inner voice says: “Oh yeah? A few blocks from the U.N.? Where is ‘safe’?”
At day’s end, I go through the comforting, standard ‘go-home routine.’ As we reach Pennsylvania and pass the bus station, my eyes are drawn again to revisions on the hand-letttered sign.
NO WALL STREET BUSES
UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
God bless all of us in these troubled times.
David A. Miller II
Rosen Seymour Shapss Martin & Company LLP