Circumnavigating the frozen zone
Five fortnights walking the perimeter
Tuesday, 2 October: The city has stopped
reeling. Nobody would claim on this three-week
anniversary that NYC's back to normal, but it's
behaving normally. The energetic restoration
campaign is in full swing.
25 September to 8 October
copyright © 2001-2005 Diane Fisher,
except photos copyright © 2001-2005 by the respective
If you stand in Sixth Avenue at Prince Street, the
Millennium Hotel (whoops--the owner spells it Millenium)
and 1 Liberty Plaza--to my surprise--are prominent
in the view south
Like the Cortlandt Street side
of the Century 21 building and others nearby, their
WTC sides are draped from roof to street in protective
international orange mesh--presumably steel, presumably
confines falling glass and debris.
The smoke from the fires at their bases has subsided
noticeably, the mob has been accused of looting WTC
dump sites, and con artists have started trying to
scam victims' families; somehow the Internet has
been implicated. Streets west of Broadway are
scheduled to open down to Park Place.
The phone company building at Walker
Street has interesting Buck Rogers-ish new antennae
on the roof instead of the usual microwave dishes.
But I see no signs my favorite FM station will
ever be back on the air, and two network tv local
affiliates still broadcast a signal that doesn't
reach downtown Manhattan. I have yet to set up
the new equipment I bought to compensate.
I feel somewhat reassured by signs that the
administration seems to have caught on that
leveling Kabul might not be the smartest way
to prevent future variations on 11 September.
Although alarm in other capitals at the initial
war mongering must have had some effect, no heads
have rolled in Washington, leaving me feeling as
vulnerable as on the night of 11 September. Now,
panel suggests revamping intelligence"
Panel Calls for 'Cultural Revolution' in F.B.I. and C.I.A.")?
"Pentagon says homeland defense is top priority"?
Hijackings Offered Signals That Were Missed"
(NYTimes, 3 October 2001):
"This is a whole new world for us," Jane F. Garvey,
the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said
in testimony before a House subcommittee on Sept. 20.
But the record shows that for her and others, there were
numerous warnings. [... T]he 2000 edition of the F.A.A.'s
annual report on Criminal Acts Against Aviation, published
this year, said that although Osama bin Laden "is not
known to have attacked civil aviation, he has both the
motivation and the wherewithal to do so," adding,
"Bin Laden's anti-Western and anti-American attitudes
make him and his followers a significant threat to civil
aviation, particularly to U.S. civil aviation." The
previous year's edition of that report said that an exiled
Islamic leader in Britain proclaimed in August 1998 that
Mr. bin Laden would "bring down an airliner, or hijack
an airliner to humiliate the United States."
But farmers' markets are operating and I, by
nature a recluse, want to sit in sidewalk cafes and
not cafe gardens all the time now with my few friends
who haven't moved upstate or to the West Coast, or
alone in proximity to strangers chatting with each
other. I've never seen sidewalk cafes in my neighborhood
busier. The friend who charmed that audience at 5WTC
tells me that Jeannie's CNN interview of me, which
I'd just assumed was scrapped, in fact aired; he saw it in
California. Behold, I've achieved triple-A status. That's
what Daily News reporters used to--maybe still do--call
those assignments: ask any asshole. I never want to travel
farther than Hoboken--and then briefly. But that's not
for fear of hijackers; I was flying-phobic long before
the KKK of Islam attacked America. I'm so glad I live
in this city. If the new auto regulations continue, if
we have a new mayor who endorses the Bill of Rights and
dismantles the decency squad, and if the winter is mild
I'll still feel the same way at the beginning of March.
Friday, 5 October: By announcing that he won't try
to extend his term, in my view Rudy straightened the new
halo he'd knocked askew. I'm even willing to entertain
the possibility that his motives in raising the issue
were unselfish and not about locking the city into
contracts with his supporters. On the day after the attack,
when I reluctantly said to a friend that Rudy was turning
out to be terrific in a crisis, Rod said, "Maybe
that's why he turns everything into a crisis." But
for the City of New York the attack's fallout will be
an open-ended crisis. I hope that one of the candidates
who remain will discover a voice--none have so far--as
reassuring as the transformed Rudy's.
Some sacrificial heads have rolled at the F.A.A.,
which doesn't come close to getting at the intelligence
and oversight failures that let the attack happen.
Well, at least the grownups seem to have taken charge:
The uncertainty of what irrational thing Washington
might do next no longer terrifies me.
The forecast suggests that climatically this is the
last day of summer and I decide to retrace my steps
of 11 September. When I reach Varick and Canal streets
I realize that I must have been somewhat in shock from
the moment I saw the first image on the tube. While I
have no memory--either--of walking a block west from
my muffin place, SoHoMade Soup on Varick, to Hudson
Street, where the Canal Street Holland Tunnel entrance
is, I must have done that right there at Charlton. My
rush south--almost all of it--had to have been on Hudson,
not Varick and West Broadway as I'd thought. As I walk
down Hudson now, while I remember glancing eastward
that morning at the loft building on North Moore Street
where J.F.K. Jr. lived, and across Hudson at an old
haunt, Puffy's, I still can't retrieve where I cut
another block west, to Greenwich Street (like, it
matters?). The "deli" where I momentarily
considered stopping to pick up a container of coffee,
I see now was in fact ... a supermarket? I'm
not going to go back and edit those errors. I think
it's useful to leave that evidence of the shaky
reliability of eyewitness testimony.
Notices of neighborhood meetings on various recovery
issues with various city officials are posted all over
Tribeca. Residents can go home now on many if not most
streets without showing IDs at checkpoints. Battery Park
City is a different story. If I am sanguine about the
ongoing travails there, blame the BPCAuthority, which
abdicated its mission to build mixed-income housing;
residents of those luxury buildings have the wherewithal
to withstand hardship.
The phone company--whatever it calls itself these
days--took an awful hit. Service at first varied by
neighborhood. I didn't know anything was wrong with
mine--I had no trouble with local or NY state calls
coming or going--till Dick called from D.C. a week
and a half after the attack and said he'd been unable
to get through till then. Phones south of here still
are out. I'd planned to get cash from a branch of my
bank that's across the street from City Hall. It was
not to be. Absent electronic services, bank branches
south of the West Village are closed.
Although upscale restaurants that rely on uptown,
Westchester, and tourist trade have been on the radio
letting it be known that they're in a hurt, except in
the frozen zone signs of ongoing commercial recovery
are steady. The south side of Chambers and west side
of Broadway now are open to foot traffic, the Tribeca
farmers' market has moved to a different corner, stores
are sponsoring special promotions. The new J&R
Computer Outlet building has been vacuumed and the
boarded-up door reglazed
boxes are stacked high in
the audio/video outlet. Employees say J&R hopes
to reopen by the end of next week.
The smoke is bad today and again I regret not bringing
my mask. I heard later on the news that a big fire had
flared in the wreckage. I stopped carrying my SW/FM/AM
radio after the first week.
The writing on the walls has changed. Poetry is not
uncommon. A well-chosen Walt Whitman verse is posted
on the south side of Maiden Lane. Marc wrote a poignant,
unabashed obit for his friend since they were five, Joey,
and posted it on Broadway at Liberty Street. MISSING
notices are mostly gone except for new notices for the
M.D. Her practice was on Staten Island; she was last seen
leaving Century 21 at 7.18 p.m., Monday, 10 September. Hmmm.
What you see everywhere now are messages from
everywhere--thanks, tributes, and prayer support. On
the north side of Canal between Varick and Hudson are a
storefront relief station for rescue workers and supplies
for passersby to write terse personal messages, which
then are posted all along that block and around the
corner. Of the hundreds of thoughts, one stands out,
a message that says simply, "I'm so sorry."
On the perimeter of the frozen zone are messages from
schoolchildren nationwide. Cub Scout and Boy Scout
Troop 330 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, we hear you.
Mr. Laraway's and Mrs. Phe's kids at Silver Oak Elementary
School in San Jose, we hear you. Your sunny messages
are posted on building after building on Broadway.
We hear you, Long Island. Oak Hills Church in San
Antonio, we hear you. Murals hang from the wrought
iron fence around St. Paul's. A fire engine in front
of St. Paul's was plastered with messages. Thank you,
everybody, everywhere, thank you. You are heard.
You are here.
My brother keeps insisting that the nation grieves
with us. I can't seem to convince him that we fully
understand that. We really do.
I'm across Broadway from St. Paul's having coffee and
a chocolate chip cookie. Luisa sits down on the stool
next to mine, plunks a pizza box on the counter, and
asks me a question that suggests she doesn't know this
part of town at all. Indeed, as it turns out, she's
just arrived in town. Today is Friday; she's been
carrying the pizza since Tuesday, via D.C., from home,
Chicago: comfort food for an old friend who works on
Maiden Lane, her next stop. Luisa faked a business trip
to D.C. to get here. She doesn't know why. She just
needed to be here, she says.
Dey Street at Broadway is hardly more than
an alley, and I'd neglected to stop
and look carefully before. Or maybe wreckage
removal changed the perspective. The buildings
on each side now isolate the frame of one distinctive structure
A woman standing next to me asks what it was.
I answer sadly, the Winter Garden.