Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My 9/11 Post

Yep. Gotta do it. So I was leaving the house for work at 9 am. I hadn't seen the news. Skies were blue. The morning was crisp. A worker in the butcher shop next door caught up with me as I was passing. Asked if I wanted to see the news. A plane had hit one of the towers. I told him things like that happen. A Cesna can come out of a fog and smack into a building. The towers were built to withstand that. They were. I kept walking.

The bus ride. In Da Bronx. There was a buzz. Some people had cell phones, but the world wasn't quite as "connected" as it is today, and this wasn't a rich neighborhood. No one was watching video on a smartphone anywhere in the world yet. It was phone calls from workers already in Manhatten, from people at home watching the news. By 9:20, 9:30 it was clear to me, something big had hit one of the towers, people were dead, dying. One plane? Two? Ten? Terrorism?

The bus kept pulling over. I was going to be late for work. We pulled over a dozen times to let emergency vehicles pass, and it wasn't vehicles by ones and twos, it was a dozen at a time. Every cop car, every ambulance, every fire truck. Every single last one of them. Everyone was hauling towards Manhatten. Everyone. Off duty became On duty for cops, firefighters, EMTs, doctors, nurses, electrical linemen, telephone, television. On vacation? Come back. Out sick? Get better... at your post.

The bus pulled up short of crossing into Manhatten. Driver stood up and said nothing but emergency vehicles are allowed to drive onto the island. We could walk across the Washington Bridge (not the GEORGE Washington - that's on the Jersey side of Manhatten). I walked. Look south. Billows of smoke reaching for God. Now I know this is not a local interest story. This is big. For a moment I think maybe helicopters can douse this. Maybe they can save people from the rooftops. But I can't see the towers. They're hidden in the smoke. A helicopter wouldn't have a chance. I didn't know it, but the South Tower was already collapsed.

I get to work. No clear picture of what has happened. I try getting on the internet, but the bandwidth isn't there for videos and text sources aren't updating very quickly. It seems the Air Force might be on the prowl looking for stray planes to down. A few students wander into the Writing Center at Yeshiva College, but they're smiling, dazed, not great sources of reliable information. They wander out again. Tutors show up to say they won't be showing up. It's an orthdox Jewish school. Terrorism has been bread and butter for them. They've all been to Israel, some born and raised there. Some served in the Army there. Some decide to walk to lower Manhatten (about ten or twelve miles each way) to offer assistance - former soldiers, former EMTs, survivors of rocket attacks from Saddam and car bombs, bus bombs, cafe bombs, vest bombs, briefcase bombs and just bomb bombs. My lads. You don't know what they know until you know it. Then you can't unlearn it.

They get turned away at mid-town. Lower Manhatten is being evacuated. Where a quarter million people lived is a crime scene now. Police tape and police officers and nobody wants to have to shoot you so turn around. The tutors return in the afternoon.

My supervisor shows up in the early afternoon. Surprised to see me tutoring a student. She's from Oklahoma. Tells me to go home. "You'll never get home if you don't start early," she says. I tell her this is New York and New York doesn't close for anything. When the student is gone (I tutored only two that day) she tells me what she's been watching on the news. There are an unknown number of planes in the air. Who knows where they're going. The Air Force is ready. Osama bin Ladin. I knew they should have put his head on a stick after the USS Cole.

I leave work at a bit before 4pm. One hour to get home turns into about one and a half. Not too bad. Finally I sit to watch the news. Only one channel available - most antennas were on the Towers. I don't have cable. Don't know if that would have made a difference. I watch #7 go down. Then the night turns sad. Scenes of St. Vincent's Hospital, with doctor's and nurses waiting for survivors. And waiting. Hoping for something to do, someone to save. Nothing.

My wife was in Puerto Rico. We talk for a long while when there's service. She had seen it all on TV. Glad I was safe. Worried about the future.

I watch news until midnight. The next day I'm supposed to be at Stern College on 36th street, but Mayor Guiliani has everything closed from 42nd down, so I'll be free.

The next morning I go out to my backyard and look at the sky. A little eerie to notice the lack of planes.

Looking up, I think, if Bin Ladin wanted to scare a city, he picked the wrong one.  If there's any city in the world that would shake off a right cross to the jaw like that, it's NYC.

I heard Osama danced a jig when he heard his plans had worked. Must have been gobsmacked to find America and the City still standing, the miserable plans of a miserable little man way too little to see that these people, this terrible hugger-mugger of people that is New York, that is America, couldn't be undone by him. Even were his fists of steel, we would have been adamant, we would have been cool diamond, we would have been uncrushable to him, and stood up to him and breathed only cold indifference to his tiny nothingness.