Saturday, December 11, 2004

On December 4th, my mom and I went on a bus trip to New York City. Her church arranges a chartered bus trip each year for $50 to and from Baltimore, so we went. And no, people weren't singing revivals about being saved by Jesus on the way or bible thumping. It was just organized by the church and anyone could go. Even better, the pick up was at the church, one block from my house and one from my mom's. You can't beat that for convenience. Once you get to New York, it's your oyster for about eight hours until you all meet up again to get on the bus home.

The bus left at 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday. I was so proud of myself that I was able to get up in time enough to make coffee and put on makeup. I'd been worried about the trip the night before, mainly because I wasn't sure how I would take being on a bus for four hours, nor how I would react to being in New York again. The reason being, I hadn't been back since before September 11th, 2001, so I had not seen it without the towers. But, it was something I had to face and I've had countless dreams about visiting Ground Zero. Mostly flying dreams, where I flew like Superman over the wreckage, viewing the destruction from the air.

When my mom asked me what I wanted to do in New York, the first thing out of my mouth was that I wanted to see Ground Zero. I had to take it out of my head and put it in front of my face. To stand there and face it. Not on television, but in reality with sights, sounds, smells, intercepted by my senses, and looked at through my eyes, the way I wanted to look at it. To have the shoes on my feet walk the place that for so long I've only experienced through pictures, sound bites, and video and accept that it really did happen.

My mom and I had somehow scored front seats on the bus, so our view was unencumbered. I got my first sight of the new skyline when we were driving through Secaucus, New Jersey. A woman in the seat behind us kept talking to my mom and to me. I could tell my mom wanted to look at the skyline in peace, since she hadn't seen it since before either, but was being polite. I glanced her way every now and then but was focused on the gaping hole in the cityscape. It was incredible how big a gap it was, as if a giant fist had punched out the two front teeth of the city and it now grinned at us with a broken, incomplete smile.

The bus dropped us off above Times Square, and after ducking into a chic hotel to go to the restroom and freshen up, we jumped on the subway and made it downtown. When we got off at the Charles Street stop, it was hard to navigate without the aid of the towers since the Wall Street area can be a bit confusing. I tried to orient myself, and did an okay job. Eventually, as things became familiar, I knew we were going in the right direction. After we'd walked a couple blocks I saw the massive barrier lined with people.

We had found Ground Zero.

We walked toward it, and once we got to the barrier, became quiet. I was finally facing the monster. It was huge, cavernous, and empty. Even more eerie was to look skyward and see the vacancy. There was nothing. Just nothing but air. And in that serene nothingness, so much horror had taken place. I wondered if the prayers of those trapped inside still echoed quietly in that space, or the shouts, screams, disbelief. As I looked up, I also realized I was looking at the flight path of the terrorists, and that those very planes had passed above where I was standing. Debris, people, had fallen where I quietly stood. I was suddenly thankful for my comfort, for my feet being firmly on the ground, and for my height being only 5'4. After all, I could survive a fall from five feet four inches.

My mom and I slowly walked the perimeter, stopping to look at the iron cross and take in the vastness of the hole in the ground. Unless you are there, I can't describe how huge it is. What on earth must it have been like to be around when two 110 story buildings crashed to the ground? Think about when you are in a restaurant, and the jolting noise that a waiter makes when he drops a tray of dishes. But two 110 story buildings? I can't even imagine. I'd stood in the observation tower on the top floor of one of the towers and leaned against the glass, looking down. The height was almost incomprehensible.

Hunger got to us, and along the perimeter we stopped at a delicatessen where I had the best chicken soup I ever tasted and a delicious turkey and cheese pita sandwich. So fresh, and just perfect. We were planning to shop maybe go to a museum for the rest of the day, so I knew I needed to fuel up. The people were very friendly, and the owner greeted everyone from behind the counter as they walked in. On the walls, they'd hung pictures of when the delicatessen had served as a first aid station and supply holding for the workers at Ground Zero. Shelved under signs that said Beverages, Snacks, Fruit, were sterile bandages, IV bags, masks, and every medical need one can imagine. In the photos, a hole where their entrance had been showed the destruction outside. The sign that said "First Aid Station" still hung in the restaurant as a reminder. The deli was right next to the 1 Bankers Trust building which is still draped in a black tarp, a huge rectangle monolith jutting toward the sky. Other buildings still had damage that was visible, many boarded up. Scaffolding and walkways were everywhere, along with stairs that took you over places too precarious to walk, or currently under construction.

Me at Ground Zero in one of the constructed walkways. You can see the cavernous holes in the background where the towers once stood, and that's just part of it.

I read before we went about visiting Ground Zero, and they asked for us to patronize the local establishments there. We would have anyway, but it was good to see that they were reminding people to do that. If you go, before hopping on the subway to eat at the restaurant du jour, think about having a bite at one of the local delicatessens by Ground Zero. Some of these people lost over 80% of their business after the towers fell. If you're not hungry, buy a Coke, or water. These are some of the people who were washing out the eyes of firemen and policemen, providing shelter, and giving away their goods to help in any way they could.

We walked the entire perimeter, which included going through the Financial Center, simply because it had stores and I needed to pick up film. This is the area that was captured in pictures showing dust, debris, and ash covered escalators. It was now lively but subdued, since it was a Saturday, but a Starbucks inside was bustling.

Mostly, my mom and I walked, locked in our own thoughts and pointing things out to each other. I was glad that I had her there with me and that when I said I wanted to go, she simply said, "ok." No explanation was necessary. I feel like I've put a period on the end of that sentence. A very long rambling sentence that used too many commas, contractions, dashes, and semicolons. One that would certainly be underscored in green in MS Word as a long sentence that I should consider revising.

But I'm not going to revise it.

I'm going to leave it the way it is and start a new one.

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