I live in lower Manhattan, a mile and a half north of the World Trade Center.
From the almost floor to ceiling window in my kitchen, I have a fabulous view – unobstructed- south east, south, south west. From that window, in 1971, I watched the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center go up. On September 11, 2001, I watched them collapse.
That morning, I was at my computer, trying to sort out which of the many NYC mayoral candidates to vote for in that day’s primary, when a low flying aircraft—sounding very much like a roaring demon set free from the underworld—flew directly overhead, shaking the foundation of my one hundred year old apartment building. I thought it was some idiot helicopter pilot showing off. It was not. And that plane, the first of four we’d be seeing in the news that day, didn’t just shake my building—it shook the world. The war was in my backyard.
While the horror and chaos of Ground Zero unfolded, we New Yorkers poured out of our apartments and began to do what we could to set things right. I have lots of stories about all that. Here is one.
The day after the attack, I went over toward the Hudson River, a few blocks to the west of me. The road along it, West Street, had become a major highway for rescue and recovery vehicles. I found myself at the corner of Christopher and West. That corner is iconic. Decades ago, it was the old water front… replete with gangs, including the notorious Hudson Dusters; then it became..and still is… the destination of the enormous Gay Pride Parade, Christopher Street having been a center of Gay culture for years. But in the aftermath of the attack, the open spaces on either side of West Street became a bustling center for sorting and distributing food, drink, medical supplies, clothing, and other needed items for the rescue, recovery and clean up crews. And the street was the main artery downtown.
As I walked down Christopher toward the River, I heard cheering and whistling, and clapping. When I got to West Street, I discovered several dozen of the local folks standing at the corner, cheering on the workers going to …and coming from Ground Zero. Some of them had signs: “Thank you! ” “God Bless You!” “We love you!” So, I joined them.
Shortly after I got there, I watched a National Guard unit roll by. I stood cheering with my Greenwich Village neighbors as the army made its way down West Street to Ground Zero. To be cheering the army as it rolled into NYC was odd enough; but to be standing at that iconic corner, which in the old days had been known for its “leather bars” and less than straight prostitution, to be standing there, cheering the US Army…was mind blowing.
And then this vision: rolling south was the biggest piece of heavy machinery I’d ever seen. Not a tank, but a huge earth mover. And who was driving this down West Street? A young African American soldier, a woman, her hair in intricate cornrows. And with a free hand she gave a thumbs up to all of us who stood cheering and clapping. This small woman in army fatigues, driving this enormous bull dozer. I never cross that street at that corner without remembering that moment and that soldier.
For weeks and months, people stood at the corner of Christopher and West….cheering the fire trucks, police, military vehicles, sanitation trucks, all the vehicles going up and down the highway. There was only one piece of business at the south end of that road: the “Pit,” the Trade Center site, Ground Zero. And since then, each year on 9/11, a group of people stand on the median strip of that road, holding thank-you signs and waving flags and clapping. And still the police, fire, sanitation and anyone who understands what those folks are doing there, honk in response. The corner was officially designated by the City as Point Thank You. There is a sign there for the tourists to read.
As for me….When I am in NYC on the morning of 9/11, I go out to the end of the Christopher Street pier and sit quietly. I look at the river and harbor, I look at the Statue of Liberty, I look at the empty slot in the sky line….now with its new tower filling some of that gap. And I breathe. Then I join the group at Point Thank You and wave and clap and cry. It is a good thing to do.