Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This Day in History...

I remember. I wawalking from my house to the bus stop in the Bronx to get to work when one of the workers at the corner store came out and asked if i wanted to see the news - a plane had hit the twin towers he told me in Spanish. "Los torres gemelos." I quickly said things like that happened - I was thinking of a Cessna. He said it was a jet. I was surprised, but getting to be late for work.

The bus came quickly and people were talking about the accident. That's what it was at first. Just an accident. Oops. One man said the plane was stuck in the building and a piece had fallen off and killed a pedestrian. I was back to thinking it was a Cessna.

Round about Tremont and Webster Avenues, the bus pulled over for a stop and a half dozen squad cars and a half dozen fire trucks and a couple of ambulances passed us. Roaring through, lights blazing, sirens blaring and people were pulling over, uniformly. Doesn't always happen that way in NYC.

More emergency vehicles passed us on the way to work. The bus was supposed to cross the Fort Washington bridge into Manhattan but police pulled it over just short and we were told no vehicles were entering Manhattan unless they were emergency vehicles. That seemed odd. Betcha a dollar fifty thousand delivery trucks enter Manhattan on an average Tuesday.

Walked across the bridge. Plenty of talk about the mysterious plane. I don't think anyone knew about the second plane or the Pentagon or anything else. Enough fear though. From ten miles north we could see the plume of smoke listless, hanging there. Made you want to walk down there.

At work the students at Yeshiva College were all better informed than I. They'd been watching the news or listening to radios. The YC guys were wandering the halls, gossiping. Some said they would go down. A fair number had already served their time in the Israeli Army. They knew what to do in an emergency. They were young and anxious the walk down and the walk back only burned off some of their energy.

By the time my boss came in in the early afternoon, I knew the score. The internet had told me about the hits, the collapses, the Pentagon, Pennsylvania, other possible planes not yet accounted for - were they headed to Chicago? To L.A.? Was Paris going to be next? Were Navy pilots flying around with orders to knock jumbo jets into the water? Each of the towers housed 25,000 workers. Did anyone survive the first hit? The second? Was NYC looking at tens of thousands dead? Would so many bodies choke the rivers of New York? Were there subway trains trapped beneath the towers with passengers roasted? You can see how uncertain things were.

My boss was from Oklahoma. She was a bit surprised I was at my desk in the Writing Center. Told me to go home. The city was closing from pain and grief (my words...I have a poet's license...)I told her no such thing could happen. The city didn't close. NYC didn't run and hide, didn't cry or give in to pain, didn't do anything but conduct business. Stores, restaurants, offices closed a bit early, but they opened the next day, many of them. I left work at four. It took less than two hours to get home, but more than the usual one. Then I watched the news on the one channel Osama bin Laden left me. CBS I think. There was hope that people would be rescued. A seventh building collapsed as I watched.

NYC took a hit, no doubt about it. But if the bad guys thought it was a knockout blow, they were seriously deluded. In fact, their sense of reality and reality itself were animals of two different species.

That day was a bad day. In the following days, the city knit together so tightly Osama would have repented picking on us if he'd seen it. Not that he could. Blind, he is, and dumb besides. He should have picked on a city with less life in it, a less hardened target. He should have picked on a people for whom weeping came easier than spitting. In short, anywhere not New York City would probably have worked better for his purposes. Had he been there, he would have been gobsmacked to see the city back at work the next day while taking on the extra task of rescuing and reconstructing, consoling, nursing, fixing. Anything but giving up or rolling over. In fact, if he'd come into the city today and see it repaired and repairing, making new and making life, he'd be gobsmacked now. If if gobsmacking wasn't enough, I'd drive into the city special to deliver a literal smack...I wouldn't be alone at it either.


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