Thank you again for
your support and e-mails. Nana and Geoff are both accounted for,
so I havent yet learned of someone close to me who has died.
I still pray for those I havent yet heard from, of course.
I wasnt in the mood to venture into lower Manhattan, so
I went to the United Artists Theater at Union Square to see a
movie. The sign on the doors said they were offering "A Day
at the Movies;" free popcorn, free drinks, free movies.
It seems like a small
gesture, maybe even an easy promotional gimmick, but it was honestly
touching. Just a simple nice thing from a stranger at a time like
this can mean a lot.
This morning I didn't
feel too bad, so I got my cameras together and got on my bike
and headed downtown. At the 14th Street blockade, I showed the
policemen my free-lance writer credentials, and my driver's license
and they let me through.
I'm used to the East
Village being so quiet now. Its really nice. First Avenue
has about one car traveling uptown every few blocks. At this time
of the day, it should be full of traffic. Now its just police
cars, official-looking SUVs, not many ambulances anymore.
It's especially strange
to see Chinatown so quiet. Almost no cars on the streets, almost
all of the shops closed, Asian-Americans and immigrants walking
with handkerchiefs over their faces. Then, in front of a fish
and vegetable market, a flurry of activity, packing, unpacking,
tossing, cutting, bustling as only Chinatown does.
There was a huge line
at a newsstand, for Chinese-language newspapers. Can you imagine
how would it would be to see coverage of this all on TV, and not
be able to understand what the announcers are saying? (Well, at
times, it would be nicer, Ill admit.)
At 09:30, in the park
down near the jail, one group of old Chinese men was already playing
dominoes around a card table, a dozen others looked over their
shoulders and commented, as they would on any other day. More
men were arriving and setting up tables. Usually the men here
are pretty hostile to cameras; I suppose quite a few have dubious
immigrant status. But today, they didn't seem to mind my camera
so much. Across the park, a handful of old Chinese ladies was
gathered to talk. They were still camera shy.
I rode my bicycle
down along the east side, near the water, until I found an unguarded
treet that led into the financial district. By now the wind had
shifted, and an area of downtown that used to be right in the
middle of the smoke and dust plume was now under blue sky. I rode
through the canyons toward Wall Street. It was peaceful and quiet,
much like the morning after a light snowfall. It even looked like
the morning after a snowfall, except that the snow was gray. (For
those of you who have not been in the city in the winter, New
York City snow is white when it first falls.)
All the cars and trucks
had a coat of gray, and there were messages on the windshields.
"No bombs," "God Bless America," and "Wash
The only movement
was service vehicles, going about their own business. Trucks from
Verizon, Con Ed, the MTA, and every once in a while, a street
sweeper, earnestly sweeping by, leaving a film of gray mud behind.
I stayed out of the
way of anything that moved, and rode towards Wall street. No one
lives here. There is no excuse for being here, but once you've
made it into this area, everyone pretty much leaves you alone.
I saw a couple of other people taking pictures, but mostly it
was a very lonely, dusty, eerie place.
I came upon three
National Guardsmen in full combat fatigues and helmets. I asked
if I could take their picture, and they agreed, posing nobly at
first, then, perhaps thinking about what their commander would
think of them posing for a journalist, one of them said, "Just
one," and they all struck a more nonchalant pose.
Perhaps the strangest
thing I saw in the financial district, was a man wearing a dust
mask, walking with a broom and one of those long-handled dustpans,
the kind people that theaters and amusement parks use. He was
stopping when he saw pieces of paper in under or on top of the
dust and sweeping them into his dustpan.
At Wall Street, I
stopped and gathered up a couple of film containers of dust. It's
surprisingly fluffy. Something in-between actual snow and the
stuff you find in a vacuum cleaner bag. Where the street sweepers
have past, its a slippery squishy muck.
I turned and went
up Wall Street to the Stock Exchange, where there was absolutely
no activity other than a police barricade. In front of the Federal
Reserve Bank, the statue of George Washington was still standing,
of course, but now coated in the dust of the World Trade Center
and everything that used to be in the World Trade Center. His
upturned hand is outstretched in front of him, as if he wants
to say, "Whats this?"
The National Guard
has set up a small camp in the otherwise empty Battery Park. The
Guardsmen were extremely touchy about photographs and told me
to stop taking pictures. At the north end, a few distraught pet
owners were allowed pass into the innermost area, (but not into
the collapse-danger area), with escort. I tried to piggyback with
them through the barricades but they turned me away.
A man walked by me
towards the water with what appeared to be a huge parrot. Shockingly
colorful and large. It actually turned out to be a huge parrot.
The man said he had to speak to a lot of people for a long time,
but eventually made it through to rescue his buddy.
"How long have
you been here?" I said.
He and I talked for
a while. He spoke about something he called, "visine"
which she said the emergency crews were spraying all over everything
ysterday and which made him puke, and he spoke about people running
from the explosions with "bricks on them." He was very
concerned about flying bricks. I cant blame him. Usually,
you don't have to worry too much about bricks. But nowadays it
doesnt sound so crazy.
Take care, friends. Mind the bricks.
© Kurt Opprecht, 2001