September 11, 2008

Manhattan, two and a half weeks after Sept. 11

(Part I of the video documentary series Manhattan Moments, written, edited and produced Sept. 2001)

As the car gets closer to Manhattan’s Midtown Tunnel, we can’t miss the writing on the wall, across. It’s a red, white and blue United We Stand, on top of a black and white Gap sign, that gives a new meaning to this contemporary all-American billboard campaign.

It’s more gray skies at the other end of the tunnel, and a skyline that seems to have shrunk somewhat, and a tangle of balloons, tied to a street bench, flashes stars and stripes in red, white and blue into the cold air.

Endless rows of Missing notes, posted one by one, crowded onto storefront windows, walls and light poles, create a moving collage in the light wind. The rain smudges the printed messages of love and hope, and rolls down the scanned smiles in the photos, making them smile and cry at the same time.

Further down the street, the powerful scent of lilies and a dizzying medley of flowers in white plastic buckets, lend a surreal “farm stand in spring time” look to the Precinct 1 fire station. There, the trucks are gleaming in Fire Truck Red, but the heavy boots and gloves that rest along the wall, are still covered in gray dust. A lone firefighter hardtop, on a shelf, has a red, white and blue bandana tied around it, and a shiny American flag sticker on front. And some of that gray dust that settled all over the city on September 11th. The candles on the sidewalk, in front of the fire station, are half burnt, and the flags and colorful mementos are all wet with rain now. But they seem to bring to life the hundreds of tiny photo squares of fallen firefighters on the wall above them.

Also by the entrance, a glass jar labled LOVE, filled with tiny origami paper cranes, crowded on top of each other, as if waiting for the lid to be taken off and set them free. Just down another block from there, a metal crane bowing rhythmically up and down as it digs into the rubble. It is dwarfed by the buildings around, and by the rubble of the buildings that once were.

Most streets are blocked, and policemen direct pedestrians and drivers around the blockades. There aren’t many people on the street, nor are there many cars. It could have been just another rainy, Sunday afternoon, anywhere else, any other time. Except, it’s New York City, Downtown Manhattan, two and a half weeks after.

A white police cruiser, its red and blue lights flashing silently, makes way to 2 dump trucks. The trucks are filled with mangled, torn, blackened debris. The trucks are coming from the far end of the narrow street, where light smoke still billows above the rubble.

As we walk back to the car, in the rain, a giant sign wrapped around a tall building, offers clear blue skies and a few white powdery clouds. It calls passers by to “Experience Tribeca from New Heights – the Heights of Tower 270”. On the sidewalk below, next to a trash can, is an empty paper cup in the familiar Coca Cola red and white logo, prompting us all to “Enjoy Coca Cola”. These signs and logos, in their all too familiar red, white and blue, still seem to hit a little to close to home, I think.

And then, we drive uptown and turn back for one last look, and we notice the huge Donna Karan mural on the building behind. The city’s skyline is painted into the logo’s D.K.N.Y. The twin towers are still there, tall and dark, on the upper left corner of the N, and in our collective memory.


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