September 11 Remembrances: New York, NY
Xenophon Strategies, Waszyngton, DC / PRGN, 12.09.2011
My September 11th New York story isn’t a dramatic rescue or a harrowing escape. No one I knew personally was hurt or killed. My wife of three weeks was safely out of the city. Our apartment on 89th Street and my office on 28th Street were fine, and I never got much closer than that to Ground Zero, which was another 30 or 40 blocks away. Indeed, I watched a lot of it on television. Work at my PR firm essentially stopped, except for a few people like the account team for the hospital closest to the World Trade Center. I was just another office worker who experienced the range of emotions that day brought, including the intended one: terror.
But, proximity made the day more real, emotional and personal for me. I saw the low dust cloud and smoke coming from the direction of downtown. I heard the sirens of all the emergency vehicles rushing up and down the streets. I left work early that day and walked home alone about 70 blocks. I saw people dazed, disheveled and covered in dust. I smelled the odor of burning rubber for weeks. I spent long periods of time reading the “missing” posters that were papered over every bus stop, lamp post, street sign and abandoned car. That and one other event were the saddest part.
It was just about the one-week anniversary, and most of the city was still in quite a daze. I don’t remember if we were all back at work by then, but even if we were, there wasn’t much work taking place. Throughout the city, the smell was still strong. The rubble was still smoldering and the search and rescue was still ongoing. There was still some semblance of hope for survivors, but it was fading fast.
That night, word had spread throughout the neighborhood that people would be gathering at the nearby firehouse on 85th Street. That engine and ladder company had been one of the first to respond and was one of those hardest hit. Their trucks were down there, somewhere under the rubble. Their guys were down there too. Remarkably, a few of them were still manning the fire station, doing their jobs, protecting us. It was heart-wrenching to see them putting their gear on or just waiting for a call, guessing what they must have seen and who they probably lost.
About dusk, hundreds of people started showing up. No cars could move down the street. An enormous pile of flowers kept growing and it covered the sidewalk and overflowed out into the street. People didn’t know quite what to do. There was no leader. There was no agenda. There were no politicians or celebrities there to claim the spotlight, no television cameras. It was just a community of strangers showing their support, grieving in company with others, and sharing the experience together. Some people held up their lighters, or brought candles. I had on my American flag bandana. The street was lit up like a church. Someone would start singing a patriotic song, like “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful” and the whole block would join in. When people were coming or going, they’d walk by the men who were left and say, “thank you,” or “I’m sorry,” and the firefighters would either quietly acknowledged them, or wouldn’t.
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