The World Trade Center - Day Two
Day one was a haze. I rarely drink before four, but I had two stiff ones before noon that day.
Painting was an impossibility. Everything seemed small and insignificant when projected on the screen of the collapsing towers.
I thought of my project, this website, which I had been working on for twelve hours a day for months now. I remembered that I thought of it as being important, and held onto the hope that it still was. But it was hard to think about. It was hard to think about anything beyond the noise of the event.
I decided to try to paint while listening to the unfolding story on NPR. I was surprised that it was as easy as ever to get into. Painting is kind of like breathing at this point.
Still, I knew that these were important days and as an observer of history, I felt the need to head downtown. I left in the early afternoon. I rode my bike.
I first saw the clouds of smoke and the missing towers from the top of a hill just north of Harlem. Wow.
The streets were practically empty of cars. Even parked cars. I imagine that anyone who could leave, did. Not a lot of people on the streets. I guess they were all inside watching their TVs.
All the blocks that had Police Precincts on them were blocked off. There were individual cops standing on many of the corners.
I stopped and bought an ice cream cone around 86th and Broadway. I ate it on a bench out on the median as I often had in the past with my daughter before going to a movie. I thought it odd that I was doing this. I would never stop for an ice cream unless I was with my daughter. I think we were all trying to love ourselves a little extra in those moments.
I first started to smell the fires when I got to the Lincoln Center area. It smelled electrical.
I waited at a light on Columbus Circle and saw a police car pass. The two officers in it were having a conversation and smiling. It occurred to me that this must be a good time to be a cop, as opposed to all the other times when cops were recently in the news. That must feel good to look at people and have them naturally look up to you for a change.
Just north of Times Square, I rode past what looked like a dead humming bird lying in the street. I thought that was unusual. You don't see a lot of humming birds in Manhattan.
I'd say that coasting through Times Square was unreal, but what wasn't that day? It looked like the downtown of an average size city. The energy on the street was so muted, when compared to what it would normally be on such a beautiful fall day. The tourists were still acting happy, but it was as if someone had just slapped them.
The closer I got to the site, the more serious the people seemed to become.
At 14th Street, I came to the first roadblock. No cars were allowed to go beyond that point, but pedestrians and cyclists could easily pass.
Greenwich Village was like entering someone's home. It's a community-oriented neighborhood at any time, but seemed all the more on this day. Especially with the roads blocked to traffic. We all looked each other in the eye, sharing our common sense of the profound. You didn't see a lot of hugging, but it was like we were.
I got to Houston Street where only emergency people could go further. I stood there in the pretty sunlight with a couple hundred others looking to the south where the smoke billowed. Every five minutes or so, they would clear the intersection so that emergency vehicles, huge tractors and dump trucks could pass. But there was no real sense of emergency, as in hurry, move, get out of the way. Everything happened in a very organized fashion.
I took pictures of the people standing there.
I headed west along Houston, stopping at every intersection along the way. I ended up on The Westside Highway. This was the main conduit of activity.
The light is different there, as you are close to the water, and all that reflected light is bouncing around off of everything. Looking south, you have a clear shot at what once was.
There were much larger crowds at this location. Many would applaud as vehicles with emergency workers passed by heading south. The guys in those vehicles looked so incredibly macho. Even the women. Like cleaning up fallen skyscrapers with thousands of dead littered about is what they do every day. Everything added to the air of unreality.
Far fewer vehicles were heading north. They were all covered with chalky dust. One time a truck passed dragging a large, twisted and flattened vehicle of some sort behind it.
I stood there and wept for a while.
When I went to leave, I noticed my front tire was flat. I was told that there is a bike shop at 14th and 9th, which there was, but like most businesses, they were closed that day.
I took the subway home.