Hello, from a new New York

This is the text of an e-mail I wrote on the afternoon of Tuesday 11 September about my experiences that day. I wanted to write it down both to let my friends and family know that I'm fine, but also to record as early as possible my impressions — I felt a strong urge to remember as accurately as possible.

Many of you've been in touch today - and thanks; since the transatlantic phone system is going to be busy for a little while, I thought I'd fire off an e-mail to let you know I'm alive and well, if a little shaken.

I was merrily wandering in to work, admiring the beautiful day this morning when the first plane hit the twin towers with a sound that came right out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Standing on the corner of John St. looking up was a pretty ghastly sight: great gouts of black smoke billowing out of the side of the building with a tickertape parade stream of paper, smuts and ash drifting gently to the earth. That close to the building it was pretty hard to tell the scope of the damage - it didn't look too bad, really - in fact several passersby were commenting on the dumbass who'd flown his plane into the tower - "How could he not miss it? It's big enough!". A minute or two later the acrid smoke, ash, asbestos and paper reached us and most people on the street rushed for cover. I beetled off to work, collecting my coffee and danish on the way.

In the office (12th floor) there was one corner with a good view of the WTC, and every body in work so far was gathered there, except those watching the news reports. Still nobody was seriously considering terrorism - we all thought some idiot had failed to miss the largest landmark in the vicinity. After a little coffee I was awake enough to put a call through to London - I'm now very glad I did, it was the only call I've been able to get across the Atlantic all day - and reassure at least one family member that I was happily alive. Halfway through the call another, larger rumbling crash was heard. I'm tempted to say it shook the building - because it sounded like it should - but I don't think it did (which, incidentally, is why I don't think either of them had explosives on board - there was plenty of jet fuel to make a lound bang, but buildings four blocks away still had windows; there just wasn't much of a concussive blast).

The second explosion was a huge fireball and much colourful language was heard from the observation corner. It struck pretty much everyone as extremely unlikely that there would be two such idiots in close succession, but still my colleagues seemed amazingly reluctant to voice the probability that there might have been a terrorist attack. Shortly after finishing my danish, our boss suggested we all leave the building - another Goldman building was being evacuated. Lots of us ended up milling around outside, wondering what to do, and desparately trying to get in touch by cellphone and pager with all our colleagues whose transit terminus is in the WTC [two still unaccounted for, but the most at-risk made it to Brooklyn]. Making an executive decision, I decided that standing on the sidewalk under a tall building while terrorist nutcases kamikazed them was probably not a good plan, and executed plan B - head for a friend in Tribeca.

My short trek to Tribeca was impeded slightly by the huge crowds of people with a similar idea - get the hell out of downtown Manhattan as soon as possible. The Brooklyn bridge was, as ever, packed, but not with cars - it was jampacked with people. As I began to cut west to Franklin St., there was another almighty rumble - but this time not preceded by the doppler shift of jet engines passing. People started screaming, and running; to be accurate, more people started screaming and running, and most of them were running away from where I was walking. It didn't take great powers of observation to see why - there was a gigantic cloud of white smoke swelling like some grotesque cancerous cotton ball, swelling fast, and coming right at me. Despite a rapid detour, I was once again engulfed in smoke and other crap, surrounded by people weeping, yelling, swearing and protesting loudly that 'this means war'. With whom? (I elected not to voice that response many times - I didn't think it would be conducive to calm.)

As I reached the corner of Franklin and Broadway, I looked downtown and was struck by a horribly beautiful image of the Woolworth building (my second favourite after the Chrysler) framed by Broadway with a backdrop of a great tower of cloud where the WTC used to be. It would have been a lovely day here - clear, not too hot, not humid with a light breeze, and between me and the Woolworth building was still a lovely day, but Hell leered from behind it. That glimpse of the Abyss was enough for me, and I hastily repaired to Todd and Catya's for a healthy slug of vodka to stop the shakes.

There's little else to tell; I schlepped home from Todd and Catya's on foot; more talk of war with phantoms, empty streets alternating with gridlocked streets, random rock clubs opening their doors as water-and-restroom-stations, the oddly reassuring sight of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings still extant, everyone looking up in fear as F-8 fighter planes flew over, not sure if they were 'our guys' or the bad guys. Anyway, I'm home, the TVs on and covered in misery, I have two refugees from New Jersey who don't know how they're getting home watching, and I'm going to pour myself a large G+T and join them.

Love to you all,
AJ

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