9/11: A Remembrance
I originally wrote this in the days after I returned from my assignment at Ground Zero as a cameraman for CBS News. It was published in The Nyack Villager in November 2001. I have slightly edited the version below. I present it as a remembrance of that fateful day. Exclusive photographs, some never seen publicly before, that I made during my assignment will follow in a separate entry.
WITNESS TO DISASTER
September 12 through 21, 2001
I finally broke down and cried this morning. The magnitude of what I had seen and done crashed over me like a tidal wave.
The tears finally came. I had spent the last eight days using all of my skills as a producer/journalist/cameraman to document what had become my generation’s defining moment: the attack on the World Trade Center.
I had watched the television, transfixed, with the rest of a stunned nation as one airplane and then another slammed in the World Trade Center. I thought this is some special effects clip from a new movie, until I realized that it was all too real.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV screen. Once the initial horror and shock had passed, the thought hit me: I was a mere 25 miles from an event that was changing the course of history and I couldn’t think of anything that I could do to help. My stepson, who is 20, was eager for us to volunteer. He urged us to do something! But those in charge of the rescue/recovery efforts said that they had all the volunteers that they could use. Not wanting to get in the way of the rescue people, we just continued to watched the horror unfold.
My years as a journalist/producer told me that the news stations must have been going mad trying to cover the story. And, on a personal level, I had an overwhelming need to document this story of Biblical proportions. My press credentials were in order, but, as a freelancer, I had no direct affiliation with any network. Whom should I call? Damn! It was unfolding before my very eyes and I was wasting time — the story of the century, and I was sitting on my duff watching it. I should have been telling it!
Then I remembered my friend, Steve Besner. He is a producer/director for the CBS Evening News based in New York. I called and left him a message offering my services in any capacity — in the studio, in the field — whatever, wherever! I had my own professional video camera and he could have that, too. He returned my call within a half hour and said that I would be receiving another call from CBS News Executive Producer, Bill Felling. When Bill called, he asked if I could find another cameraman, make at least a week’s full commitment, work 24 hours a day under any weather conditions, and be willing to shoot from a rooftop high above Ground Zero, then I could have the gig. I think that I said yes before he finished his sentence!
I immediately called John Geisler, and excellent cameraman that I had known for a few years. By a twist of fate, John, who lived very near Battery Park City, had survived the devastation. At the time of the attack, he was not at his apartment in the City but was actually on location working another gig just down the road from where I was living! I reached him on his cell phone and he immediately said, “yes” he would join me. I threw a few things into a suitcase, picked John up on my way into the City and sped to the CBS Broadcast Center on W57th St. — all within an hour.
Chaos in The Newsroom
You can’t imagine the chaos we walked into at the CBS Broadcast Center on W57th St. People were scrambling around everywhere. Camera crews were running out the door. Graphic artists banged away at their computers. Half-hysterical producers were screaming into telephones. CBS Evening News anchor, Dan Rather, supremely calm and composed, was conducting a live interview in the middle of it all. Bill Felling, the producer who had hired us, seemed apprehensive about John and I. He had never worked with us before and this was a story of enormous importance. But with all other crews maxed out and exhausted, he had little choice. We would just have to do.
Our assignment was to find our way through the dazed and damaged city to the CBS News crew’s position near Ground Zero. CBS was trying to get us special credentials giving us access to secure areas but there was no guarantee that we would get them in time, or at all. Until (and if) we did get them, we would have to use our own guile and ingenuity to get through the intense security check points. A little New York chutzpah would prove to be essential!
We hitched a ride on a CBS truck that was to deliver provisions for the crew that was already there. The truck could only take us far at 14th Street. The NYPD was not allowing any vehicles south of that point. We would have to travel the rest of the way on foot. Now, John and I are not delicate, but that’s a long way to walk with nearly 100 lbs. of camera gear. But, running on pure adrenalin, we could have hauled twice as much.
From the very beginning, we had trouble clearing security. The NYPD was uptight for obvious reasons. Further complicating matters, John could not even get to his apartment downtown (it was near Ground Zero and, so, off limits) to get whatever press credentials he had. In fact, he didn’t even have a photo ID. He only had the clothes on his back. We tried using one of my ID’s for him. The problem is, he doesn’t look like me! It almost got us both arrested.
Ghosts of the Twin Towers
After somehow managing to clear the first security zone at 14th St., we entered an eerie no-man’s land. This part of the city was completely closed and off-limits to everyone except the police, rescue workers, and the media. There were no unauthorized personnel to be found. Nothing was open. No shops. No restaurants. No airplanes overhead. No Traffic. And virtually no people — just a few dazed stragglers, trying to make their way north and away from the carnage. It was so quiet, like a scene out of a science fiction movie. It was almost unnerving. We walked in total silence, our eyes wide open, our mouths agape.
When we reached Canal St., it struck me for the first time. When I looked up, where the World Trade Center towers once proudly stood, two enormous columns of smoke had taken their place. My god, they’re the ghosts of the Towers that once stood there, I thought to myself in shocked silence. A specter of what once was. Spirits of the dead, their bodies trapped in the rubble, rising to the heavens. It was both real and surreal at the same time. I was afraid that when my ability to speak actually returned, the only think that I would be able to blurt out was, Holy Shit! They’re gone. They’re really gone. I had the first of many attacks of the goose bumps.
Using the previously mentioned chutzpah, miraculously, John and I managed to talk our way through all of the check points and make our way to the CBS site located on the edge of Ground Zero. After reporting in, we were assigned to the roof of 40 Harrison Street, 40 floors above, and about a half mile north of where the World Trade Center towers once stood. We would be manning the high-angle camera, using a powerful zoom lens to document the rescue efforts. Live. 24 hours a day. 12 hours on. 12 hours off. Until further notice. It was Thursday, 9/13/01 at 4 pm.
I took the first shift. It was dusk, around 6:30 pm. The glow of the rescuers’ lights illuminated the angry column of gray smoke rising from the wreckage of what had been two of the world’s tallest buildings. Like an unearthly beam, it stabbed the sky. But I was not yet in a position to see the site in any great detail. I grabbed my video camera and its accessories, my trusty ol’ 35 mm Minolta SLR camera, a jug of water, some warm clothes and headed for my perch on the rooftop at 40 Harrison.
When I finally got to the roof, 40 stories above the fuming pit that came to known as Ground Zero, it was already packed with news crews; NBC, ABC, CNN, FOX, the AP, REUTERS, all of them, from everywhere. There were news crews from every corner of the planet. Reporters from Japan, Australia, France, Italy, and the BBC made that roof sound like the Tower of Babel. Photographers from every news agency in the world, using long lenses as big as bazookas, were zeroing in on “The Pit”. The light of their TV monitors and that plume of eerily glowing gray smoke silhouetted them. The entire rooftop was buzzing with activity. Each network was paying the owners of the building, which had been evacuated, $1,500 for use of a vacated apartment where they could store gear and provide bathroom facilities, and a spot on the roof. It struck me that this was typical of New York. Even in times of intense crisis, the City is still all about doing business!
An apartment right in front of us partially blocked our view so that we could not shoot directly down into the crater. This forced us to set up our cameras at the corners of the building. Looking south, the left corner was directly above Greenwich St. Looking down Greenwich, we could see the rubble that was created by the collapse of #7 World Trade and that it was where most of the smoke was rising. Below the right corner was West Street, where we could clearly see the heavily damaged American Express World Headquarters building, and Ground Zero. Most of the rescue activity was centered here, so it made sense to begin our operations there.
That night, the smoke was terrible. Earlier in the day, the prevailing wind had shifted from north to south and was, therefore, blowing the smoke directly into our faces. We were advised to wear masks. But it was so warm that night that I found it difficult to keep it on. I felt like it was suffocating me. Certainly, breathing what must have been toxic smoke was not a pleasing alternative to wearing the mask. However, at least I could breathe. After a short period of time, I stopped wearing it and took my chances with the smoke. It would make what had already been a long day, an even longer night. I assembled my camera between crews from ABC and NBC. They had already been there all day and would work well into the night before any relief would come. There is no rest for the wicked in the news business!
We all had our cameras equipped with long lenses, allowing us to get as close to the action as possible. My lens could magnify an image up to 66X. Some were as powerful as 160X. We would use our long lenses to get what the industry, and in this case, ironically, calls the “beauty shot” or the “money shot” — something visually remarkable. For us, this usually meant zooming out from a group of rescuers to an extremely wide shot revealing the scope of the devastation.
And devastation is what we saw and what we documented.
I saw huge fire engines smashed so flat that you could only recognize them by what was left of their wheels. A 20-ton steel I-beam from one of the Towers hit West St. with such force that it penetrated the earth to a depth of 15 feet. I saw huge cranes lift what was left of the ambulances that had rushed to the scene only to be engulfed by it. And I saw the bright orange body bags: one after the other being delivered to The Pit. And, unfortunately, I had only seen the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
On The Job
The rooftop became a home of sorts for all the news crews. We would spend so much time huddled together that we couldn’t help to get know one another. For the first few days, we all did 24 hours shifts. Though not on duty for the entire time, we had to be available at a moments notice to report back to our camera positions. So, with the exception of eventually trying to get a few hours sleep in a nearby hotel, for the first few days we never strayed very far from our positions. We ate there. We socialized there. We read there. I even managed to complete a syllabus for a course I was teaching at Ramapo College in New Jersey. And, when possible, we slept there. I laid out a piece of cardboard behind my post to grab a few winks whenever I could. I kept a two-way radio near me so that I could be reached if needed. Some lucky crews managed to secure blankets and sleeping bags. One cameraman had a little lantern that he hung from his tripod. We all did our best to create whatever little comfort we could incorporate into a difficult situation. And some got pretty good at it, too. One producer for FOX slept so soundly through the night that we had a hard time walking her up in the morning.
We were also very lucky with the weather. It had been beautiful on the day of the attacks, and, with the exception of two nights when we had thunderstorms, continued throughout the week. Even the thunderstorm was spectacular to observe. I watched the angry, dark clouds approach from the west, rolling over New Jersey, heading right for us. The lightening strikes illuminated the canyons between the buildings across the river in Jersey City and Hoboken. They got so close I could actually smell the seared ozone from one of their strikes. The thunder was cracking fiercely over the Hudson. Fearing more casualties, it was the only time they actually let us leave the roof.
Our vantage point from above the 40th floor provided spectacular, panoramic views of the entire City and beyond. I could see all the way north, well past the Empire State Building to the Harlem Heights and even Rockland and Westchester Counties. I could see west nearly all of the way to the verdant hills of Jersey. I could see east to Brooklyn, over the East River bridges, all the way to Long Island. And, of course, I could see south to New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty in the distance, and the carnage directly below. The contrast between these iconic views and the destruction I was witnessing right below me was startling. This irony was not lost on me: people would pay BIG money to secure such of view of the greatest skyline in the world. Witnessing sunrises from that vantage were nothing short of breathtaking. And the brilliant, late summer sunsets would change that evil plume of smoke from an ugly grey to vibrant orange and purple. I almost felt guilty thinking how beautiful it all was. What a paradox: a spectacular city view with Hell on Earth just a few blocks away.
If our demanding schedule had its challenges, it also had its privileges. The rooftop could be smoky and windy. The nights were long and chilly. Bathroom visits were limited. Sleep was scarce. But we also had a unique opportunity to not only see what was happening but to feel it as well. Our 40th floor perch gave us a unique perspective. In a sense, we were there and, at the same time, not. We were detached from the actual site but, with our long lenses, we also had the ability to get very close. Watching all of the time, 24/7, we felt like voyeurs. Through our lenses, and in the course of hours of close observation, we could sense when the mood of the rescuers working in the wreckage below would change. There was a rhythm to their work, a steadiness. However, that routine was often punctuated by what seemed to be a particular sense of urgency. It usually meant a body had been discovered. Everyone converged on a particular area to help retrieve the remains, which were then lifted out on a gurney, covered in orange plastic, and gently carried away to be processed. Whenever this happened out instructions from master control were always the same: There it is — the orange bag — zoom in — quickly! Get the body. Pull back. Slowly. Hold on the long shot.
The President Visits
High excitement was building for President Bush’s visit to Ground Zero, scheduled for Friday, 9/14. The tremendous thunderstorm I wrote of previously had nailed us, and it rained heavily the night before. We had hoped that the rain might diminish the heavy smoke but, quite to the contrary, it seemed to have made it worse. And the dawn broke to reveal a cloudy morning sky. But as the morning wore on and we waited for the President’s arrival, the sky started to clear. However, visibility was still limited. Because of the low ceiling, we heard the roar of the jet engines before we could see them. Two, F-16 jets came in low, shrieking over NY Harbor, almost directly over Lady Liberty. Tearing through the clouds they buzzed the site, and in an awesome display or power, afterburners booming, they climbed high into the sky above us. After the F-16’s came the helicopters: first the Hueys and then, like angry bees, the Apaches. Marine One, the President’s chopper, followed them and finally landed near the Battery in lower Manhattan. It was a well orchestrated and impressive demonstration of America’s military might.
Using my long lens I was able to get a nice, tight shot of Marine One before it disappeared into the smoke and landed at the tip of the island. My job was to find and follow Mr. Bush as he reappeared to tour Ground Zero. We knew that he would be coming up to the site from the south, but had no idea of his actual route. My experience told me that whenever we saw a crush of people approaching the site, there was a good chance it would be the President and his entourage. But even with our big lenses, when people mass together, it’s very difficult to tell one from another. But, I reasoned, Mr. Bush would be the center of all that attention. Therefore, I would concentrate and focus my camera there, dead center. My hunch paid off and I found the President in the middle of a pack of people approaching the site. I managed to follow him with a close-up, as he was lead over the still smoldering rubble. With a megaphone in his hand, I captured a strong image of Mr. Bush in his role as Commander-in-Chief. The President was never more Presidential than at that moment. After a few minutes of hand shaking, observing, and speech making through the megaphone, the President was gone, whisked away in a black Suburban by the Secret Service. We returned to our regular pattern: zoom in. Slow zoom out — always keeping track of the small army of rescuers who appeared to me like ants working the cracks in a broken sidewalk.
The City That Never Sleeps
There is a rhythm to this City. New York has a pace that is unique in the entire world. It is a frenetic one that outsiders often misinterpret for callousness. True, New York does not suffer fools. It doesn’t have the time. But it also has a great heart. And, although wounded, that great heart was still beating. Catching a breathtaking sunrise, looking northeast from my camera position to Harlem, the sun appeared, creating a vast red blaze spreading behind the mighty Empire State Building. And I could see the long, narrow strip of Broadway coming alive with people and traffic. It was becoming a perfect, late summer’s day in The Big Apple. Clear and delightful, it was perfect for sightseeing. And, looking north, away from Ground Zero, it appeared as if nothing had happened! The activity on the streets increased with the growing daylight, eventually reaching New York’s legendary, manic pace. At night, red taillights traced the steady stream of traffic cruising uptown and through Times Square. The City simply DID NOT stop. If Rome is the Eternal City then New York is indeed the City That Never Sleeps, NEVER. Her people may have been bloodied but they would never be bowed.
After a few days of not really leaving the rooftop, we were finally allowed to go and get some “real” rest at a nearby hotel. So, when my shift was up, John took over and I walked to our hotel, The Soho Grand, near Canal and West Broadway for a shower and a little sleep. Because of the security perimeter, we had to walk along West St. (12th Ave.) to get in and out of the area. It was here that I got my first view of the City mobilizing for the rescue effort. Bulldozers, cranes, earth-movers, dump trucks, jack hammers, compressors, generators, ambulances, police vehicles, fire/rescue trucks, and just about every other essential vehicle were lining the street from Ground Zero all the way to the Javits Center on 34th St., waiting for their turn to enter The Pit. I also saw what amounted to an army of rescuers doing battle with the carnage. There were thousands; fresh responders moving in, exhausted ones moving out, all with grim determination in their eyes. It gave me goose bumps, again.
On the long walk up West St. and to Canal, the Red Cross workers and volunteers would run up to you with water, coffee, fruit, and sandwiches. They would try to provide you with whatever you needed. They were angels. At West and Canal, thousands of spectators had lined up to support and cheer the rescue workers. They waved American flags, honked horns, cheered and clapped for every single person who came up the street — even we lowly cameramen! This went on all day, every day and all night, every night. All along the checkpoints on Canal Street, residents had gathered to peer up at the smoke where their beloved Twins once stood. The reactions were usually some version of my initial reaction: they’re gone, they’re really gone. Many people simply stood there, staring up, weeping. Makeshift memorials had sprung up everywhere. Photos and descriptions of the missing were posted on fences, shops and restaurants the entire length of Canal and beyond: Mothers. Fathers. Brothers. Sisters. These were snapshots of ordinary lives, giving a face to this enormous tragedy. The sheer volume of photos and messages was staggering, emphasizing the enormity of the amount of lives affected. Tourists came, too, glancing hurriedly from map to street, gazing at the angry smoke and snapping photos from too far away. It seemed a little ghoulish to me at first. But I really couldn’t blame them. We were all voyeurs at this point. I just had a better vantage point and a bigger lens.
I repeated this scenario for the next five days, following the rising and setting of the sun and the army of workers who toiled on that twisted pile of rubble. Every day they loaded massive trucks with ton upon ton of debris. Despite the large earth moving equipment, most of it was collected by hand in buckets and passed from one rescuer to another. And when they did use heavy equipment, I marveled at the skill of the operators. One minute they were using their powerful machines to a wrench out a huge, twisted girder, and in the next, take hold of a thin piece of tin and use it as a broom of sorts with which to sweep the ground free of debris.
Word eventually came that we would be pulled off the roof to take a position on Greenwich St., closer to Ground Zero. It was said that all of the people up there were damaging the roof and the buildings’ tenants wanted us gone. So, it was time to go. Despite the breathtaking vistas, I was glad to be getting back on terra firma. From our rooftop vantage point, I knew that I had a unique view of the situation but that we were only seeing a fraction of what was really happening in The Pit. And I needed to see more.
We broke down our little rooftop fortress and moved to our new position on Greenwich, near the corner of Duane. There, news gathering activity was even more intense then it had been on the roof! Not only were there hundreds of technicians and their gear, but also reporters from stations all over the country and world were giving “live” reports on almost a non-stop schedule. We were in position directly in front of and a few blocks north of the twisted, smoldering heap of what was left of #7 World Trade Center. There was less recovery and rescue activity here but the extent of the damage was readily apparent. The smoke had started to dissipate giving us a more complete view of the destruction. It provided us with a perfect backdrop for the reporters: jagged metal and smoldering ruins. We all concentrated on the job at hand, trying not to think of the fact that we were spending every waking hour starring into the tomb of over 3,000 souls.
While the rooftop may have been austere (spectacular views, few amenities), Greenwich St. was downright elegant. It lies in the heart of Tribeca, one of New York’s trendiest neighborhoods. Great, old iron buildings surrounded us. Chic cafes were on virtually every corner. At this point, residents were slowly being allowed to return to the neighborhood. Things actually started to open for business again, including some restaurants and cafes. Earlier we had to rely on the Red Cross with a Campbell’s soup truck and more McDonald’s then even a hungry teenager could eat for our meals. Now, some of the finest restaurants in the world were opening their doors to feed all of us — rescuers, journalists, and residents alike. Delicious pizza, trays of eggplant rollatini, sumptuous soups, and other gourmet fare was made available to us. During a break, I was even able to grab a beer at Yaffa’s, one of Tribeca’s trendiest spots. I was painfully aware of the irony of having a beer at a beautiful sidewalk café with the Yankee game on the bar TV AND a perfect view of one of the world’s greatest calamities as the backdrop. However, stories of what the searchers were uncovering kept me quite sober. The paradox was not lost on me: sublime beauty was mixed with unspeakable destruction. I got those damned goose bumps, again!
I thought that I had already seen a lot. That is until I actually got to the edge of The Pit — Ground Zero. My shift ended at 2 am on the morning of the 20th. Security had eased somewhat, making it possible to walk down lower Broadway all the way to the Battery and right past the worst of the destruction. I had spoken with some of the CBS crew that had entered the site with Dan Rather for a tour of the devastated area the night before. They were simply dumbfounded by what they had witnessed. I may have been near Ground Zero, but they had been in it. Hardened newsman said they could not even have imagined the extent of the carnage. I knew that, to complete my experience there, I would have to go there myself. So, instead of going back to the hotel to sleep, I grabbed my 35 mm camera and started walking down Broadway to Ground Zero. My mind was racing and my heart was pounding as I approached the site. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to witness. Even our powerful, long lenses could not capture the true extent of the damage.
Catastrophic seems too tame a word to describe it. The destruction of the Towers and surrounding area was TOTAL. From their extended ladders, firemen poured water continuously down on the smoldering mass of contorted steel, pulverized concrete, broken glass, and shattered lives. The only thing left as recognizable from one of the Towers was a small section of the facade that was still standing. It stood broken and stark, like the ribs of some animal killed by lions and left half-eaten on an African Savannah. It reminded me of the black and white images I had seen of Hiroshima. Huge floodlights, streams of water, and smoke blended together over the area, providing an un-earthly glow. It was so early in the morning that only essential personnel and a small gathering of onlookers were present. All stood in total silence. The only noise came from the sound of jackhammers continually attacking that mountain of rubble. A wave of anger came upon me. I thought: those bastards! They really did it. God help them. God help us all.
Interestingly (if not divinely) in the midst of this total devastation, one of New York’s oldest churches, St. Paul’s, stood virtually unscathed. It had been there for over 200 years and stood within yards of the massive destruction. The light was dim but there was enough for me to see that the church stood undamaged. There wasn’t even a single broken window! But for the dust created by the collapsing buildings that had blanketed everything, including the old burial ground, you would have never guessed that a monstrous calamity had occurred just a few yards away. Miraculous? Perhaps.
Later that morning, around rush hour, I returned with producer Mark Griffith, to scout for new shooting locations. I was amazed to find that amid this compelling scene of utter destruction, most people were just focusing on getting to their jobs. It was so New York! I couldn’t believe the pace. It was almost as if nothing had changed. People poured out of subway stations, heading for Wall St. and elsewhere in the financial district. A young man stood in front of the Helmsley Building, screaming passages from the bible. I couldn’t hear him clearly over the din of the jackhammers but it must have been something from Revelations. The NYPD and military police had the area secure and under control. In most ways, it was just another workday in the Big Apple.
As I left Ground Zero for the last time, I saw workmen using steam cleaners to erase the messages that people wrote in the thick layer of dust that covered everything in the area. It was if they hoped to wash away the horror of what had happened there. Besides, in the finest New York tradition, it was time to get back to work. We would NEVER forget but we WOULD move on.
And I would move on as well. After two days in the relative comfort of Greenwich St., CBS decided that it was time to cut back on its coverage and return to its normal, daily programming. My services would no longer be needed. It had been 8 days for me, running on pure adrenalin, with only 3 or 4 hours of sleep each day. But I had been an eyewitness to history and passed the test. I looked disaster in the eye and did not flinch. I did my job. Bill Felling told John and I that we could go home after our next shifts had ended. He told us he was pleased by, and grateful for our work.
Just when I thought that I would pass one last, relatively quiet night at the site, I was to have a totally unplanned challenge. That night, Thursday the 20th and into the early morning of the 21st, the NYPD decided that all press vehicles had to pull back to positions north of Canal St. Or so I was suddenly and rudely informed of by two of the most intimidating detectives imaginable. These refrigerators with heads got right in my face immediately. No greeting. No civility. No nonsense! So, in no uncertain terms, I was told we would move our operations and we would do so rapidly. To emphasize the point that they meant business, the biggest tow truck I’ve ever seen pulled up into the middle of Greenwich St. This was just in case we doubted their sincerity about having all of our trucks gone within the hour! So, at about 1a.m., producers, technicians, truck operators, and cameramen were all roused from their much deprived sleep, reported back to the site and got everything moved north of Canal — within the required hour. All in a driving rain. And, in my business, all in a night’s work.
The Press can get a bad rap, sometimes deservedly. But it’s also there, often at great personal peril to its members, doing a tough job and telling the world what it so desperately needs to know. This was certainly the case at the WTC. I met a lot of dedicated, talented people who worked under any condition, at all hours of the day and night, to tell a multitude of compelling stories. We all knew that this was more than just a job, it was our duty, and we all made personal sacrifices to be there.
On the morning of Friday, September 21st, I said my farewells to John Geisler and the other good people I had met, checked out of the hotel, and took a taxi uptown to retrieve my car on W57th St. As I road north in the back of the taxi, I finally had the time to begin to reflect on what I had seen and done. It occurred to me that, in just over a week, I bore witness to the worst and the best that the human race has to offer. I saw incredible beauty and terrifying devastation. I experienced boundless courage and dedication, as well as unfathomable hatred and destruction. And I had witnessed history. Now it was time to go home and try to sleep again.
I got in my car my and drove north on the West Side Highway, heading for the George Washington Bridge and, eventually home. Normally, when I cross the GWB, I take a quick glance over my shoulder to admire the view down the Hudson. From the height of the bridge, you have an unrestricted view of the entire island and the world’s most spectacular skyline. I have taken that route thousands of times and I still look quickly, virtually every time — but not this time. I just couldn’t turn my head to look for something I knew wasn’t there any more. It was all just too sad.
Turning off the Palisades Interstate Parkway at Exit 5, I decided to take the quieter back roads to get to my home in South Nyack, NY. Along the way, it occurred to me that I had changed, and that the WORLD had changed, too. Perhaps, in time, I’ll know just how much. It also struck me how paradoxical the whole situation was for me: I got my biggest professional opportunity from our Nation’s greatest sorrow. Maybe, someday, I’ll understand that, too. For now, I’ll settle for a good night’s sleep in my own bed. And I’ll never complain again about how quiet it is in Rockland County.