Monday, September 11, 2006

As I Do Every Year.

Frozen

That’s what the Big Apple has become.

I am writing this email to let those who I have yet to verbally contact. I am alive, and well (other than a slight cough). As for the others in my midst:

Those who are definitely safe:
Allen
Chuck
Minna
Robert
Carolyne and John

Those that I'm not yet sure of:
Erik
Lisa
**If anyone has heard from these two, please let me know.

My cellular phone was barely of use before the one decent cell tower toppled to the Manhattan street-top (it sat upon the World Trade Center Tower 1, the first to be hit, second to fall), now it has become a paperweight. So, many of you have yet to speak with me. I'm writing an email instead.

I was nowhere near the towers as they were attacked. I just finished up my packing, preparing to catch my noon flight out of La Guardia Airport. I was making myself a nice, health-free egg, cheese, and raspberry jam sandwich as the news was announced.

For those of you unfamiliar with where I've been staying: Greenpoint, Brooklyn (Northern Brooklyn). Greenpoint is too far from the Financial District of Manhattan for me to hear any of the explosions. I watched the live film of the first hit: Tower 1 was on fire, when another plane appeared out of the corner of the screen. The newscasters became hysteric, and I had the misfortune of viewing the second hit on live TV. "Surreal" is a useless word to describe how it felt to watch that. Confused, shocked, confused, distressed, confused, angry, confused, doubting, confused as hell. While "WHAT THE FUCK??!!!" is not a proper, or acceptable way to describe a feeling, it fits best.

From there I ran outside to the Pulaski Bridge (a bridge between Northern Brooklyn and Queens, just across the east river from midtown Manhattan) to see if this was really happening.

The view was fabulous. What I was viewing was not.

The smoke from the fires stretched for miles. The bridge was packed with honking cars, and cursing or crying people. Strangers were hugging and praying, if they weren't too busy listening to radios.

After a few minutes, the mood of the crowd seemed to be turning a bit nasty. The traffic was thick, cellular phones weren't working, news was coming in that other strategic locations were under siege... it was an emotional pressure cooker. On top of all that, there were very few police on the bridge. It felt like the beginning of Bedlam. I left out of discomfort.
As soon as I returned to the house, reports came in that a third plane was in route for another Manhattan landing. I ran like hell back to the bridge to see if this was true. I don't know if another plane was indeed on its way, but upon reaching my viewing spot, there was a muffled BOOM and Tower 2 crumbled to the ground like a kicked sand castle. People began crying, praying, screaming, grabbing the chain-link fence that lined the bridge, and running around like lunatics. Cars were flying down the only open lane on the three-lane bridge, honking and careening as if suicidal. The sound of sirens, in every direction.

About 15 minutes after that, Tower 1 dropped in much the same manner as its "twin". Most of us just sat there, staring at rising clouds of dust which ruthlessly pushed north from ground zero. The insanity ended. Everyone tried to comprehend that the World Trade Center had instantly become nothing but a memory, right in front of our eyes. The only noise was the continued sound of sirens. Everyone slowly dispersed. I walked home, looking only at the ground. I didn't want to cry. I didn't want to see anyone else cry.

We don't have cable, so we only watch the local CBS station. They constantly talk about how well the city is pulling together to get through this. They aren't kidding. Based on my previous experiences here, that bridge should have erupted in raw violence. Instead, everyone prayed for each other's loved ones, asked where they could go to donate blood, and discussed the ramifications this event will have on US relations, worldwide. For once, I was impressed with the intellectual side, and capacity for compassion shown by New Yorkers.

The Polish inhabitants of my neighborhood are in "WAR MODE". The neighborhood is pitch-black. Not a single light was on after 9:30pm. Quiet... Our neighborhood is playing night-time hide-and-go-seek with terrorists, holding our breath and remaining perfectly still, so as to not give away our position. I suppose they are worried about another air attack. I don't blame them. But I'm more worried about the potential for certain elements in this city to take advantage of the fact that most authorities have their attentions on Manhattan, leaving the outer boroughs vulnerable. This city was built, maintained, and will proceed through the acts of opportunists.

If Brooklyn survives itself the next two nights, along with the possibility of subsequent attacks, I'll be thoroughly impressed by the strength of those living in New York on September 11, 2001.

The only memories of this that I would like to purge are those of the desperate souls who found it more fitting to plummet 100 stories to the pavement rather than succumb to the inferno. It was reported that some were jumping in pairs, man and woman, holding hands, all the way down. I hope CNN chose to leave that footage out of their reports. It will visit me in my dreams, to be sure. I'll be back in Austin, soon. I'm just glad I booked a flight for noon out of La Guardia today, instead of earlier out of Newark.

>> Craig

1 comment:

Benji said...

My friend Daniela-- the first friend I made when I moved to Austin-- was visiting from Austria. On the night of September 10th we went to Ocean's 11 and got thoroughly trashed. Tim Pipe took our picture and I bought her one of those stupid ceramic tiki glasses. It was a truly fantastic night, in the timelessness of a guy and girl, two good friends trying to defy the laws of physics by making one last night last for something like an eternity. In the morning she was supposed to fly back to Vienna. The night did kind of stretch on forever, in a stupid-grin happy kind of way, and we finally passed out around four or five in the morning. In the too-bright morning we woke up parched and I got up to get us some orange juice. I pulled on a pair of jeans and walked into the living room. Friday, the female half of my boyfriend-girlfriend roommate dichotomy, was on the couch, doing something that wasn't exactly crying, but not quite laughing, either. Then I saw the television. Half-awake is probably the best way to see something like that. I went back into the room and told Daniela. She thought I was joking. When she saw the television, she started sobbing. That's when everything became real for me. The view on the screen, in my mind, was no different from a big-budget Bruckheimer flick. That is, until my best friend started weeping uncontrollably. We called our family and friends. Then we went to the blood bank on Lamar and waited five hours to give blood. Everyone we encountered was ultra-friendly, verging on the precipice of paranoia-invoking absurdity, which, I was to learn, was a psychological parrying-off of crippling shrieks of terror. While we waited to donate our blood, we bought some chocolate-covered strawberries and Jordan almonds, and tried, in vain, to make jokes. When it was finally our turn to give blood, we got to go at the same time. We raced, to see who could squeeze out a whole pint first. She won, even though she refused to look at the needle.