Letter From New York

The Star Spangled Banner

On October 22, six weeks and two days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York, I received this email from a friend and former Amex colleague who lives in Brooklyn and works in lower Manhattan.


One person has died of anthrax, another is critical. The 5 or 6 others are OK. I agree that smallpox is much more of a threat if bio-terrorism becomes a reality as it is contagious. Who really knows what the hell is going on.

There's a general depression all over. Possibly more so with those who have been affected or have access to the reminders. It is like a war zone downtown. It's also like an obstacle course. When Con Ed ran all the emergency power cables, they were run on top of the sidewalks, and now are covered with mounds of asphalt, or orange and white striped wooden barriers. Walking can be hazardous.

We still see the smoldering, smell the burning. I must admit, fear has become a part of my life. I stay by the exit when I'm in the subways, and don't really feel comfortable until I'm through the tunnel and back in Brooklyn. Every time a plane flies overhead, you stop and look up. Downtown is dreary and it is like a war zone, although an awful lot has been cleaned up. The streets are washed at least twice a day. Everything still seems to have this grayish cast from whatever made up all that ashy stuff that was/is all over. I scraped some off the window ledge at work and have it in a jar. Very possibly the remains of a WTC worker inside. Perverse as it may seem, at least they're being remembered and not washed into the sewers.

The National Guard in camouflage uniform all over. If they want to be camouflaged, they should be wearing pin striped suits, but you don't even see too much of that anymore, even on Wall St. I wonder if the "business casual dress code" will evolve into "business combat". People I work with told me of their experiences that day. They all thought our building was falling. When the building started filling with the black cloud, they felt it better to make a run for it outside. Papers, clothes, shoes all over. I heard a story, not from one of my co-workers, about someone trying to lead a woman to safety, holding her by the arm. Steel beams came flying through the air, and suddenly he was holding just an arm. Stories of seeing just hands, wearing wedding bands.

Since there are not enough spare firemen to attend all the funerals, the funerals are posted on local TV channels for the public to attend in support. Too many funerals and memorial services, and some people still in denial, refusing to file for a death certificate. Much of lower Manhattan is still without basic services. Much still blocked off, some for vehicular traffic, some for emergency vehicles only, parts where no pedestrian traffic or anything can go in. I see truck after truck carrying out debris, still smoking beams, whatever is there. We still smell it as it still smolders. I'm so used to that burning smell, that some days when the wind shifts and you don't smell it, I feel like something's missing. Almost a kind of panic, like the whole story, the whole situation has disappeared and will be forgotten.

Basically, all I can say is, it's unreal. I feel drawn to take a look every day I go to work. I can't believe it's real, more like a movie set. And, when I turn to walk away, I always look back, always expecting to see it put itself back together again, like when you turn the corner just after viewing some kind of destruction on a Universal Studios tour. Other people look, just look and usually don't say anything. It's become quite a big tourist attraction. A little annoying, in some ways, heartwarming as there are so many expressions of support. The portable chain link fences all around the area are stuffed with flowers and messages. The religious freaks are all out handing out pamphlets hastily put together to exploit the situation.

At Amex Tower, one corner of it looks partially ripped off and there's a huge steel beam sticking out the side of it. I don't know whether the beam is from inside that building, or was propelled into it from the World Trade Center across the street. Liberty Plaza and the Millennium Hotel, across the street from the WTC (both 50-60 stories high) remain covered with mesh to keep parts of them from falling to the street.

I guess if you work mid-town or aren't in the city, it fades from the forefront of your day to day cognizance, but for me, this horrible disaster is still very much with me. There was an Amex Business Travel implant at Marsh and McLellan in the WTC. I hear they're missing.

That's how things are.....


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