I’ve been to New York twice before. I remember it being hectic and fascinating.
My second visit was to attend my cousin Rachel’s wedding, and I had the pleasure of staying with her and her husband, Ian, for three nights last weekend.
Day 1: Rachel walked me from their loft in Red Hook (Brooklyn) to their local subway station, Smith-6th. The plan was to take the G Train towards Court Square, exit Nevin Street, transfer to the A C towards Manhattan, exit Chambers Street, and back track South on foot down Church Street to the 9/11 Memorial. However, The G Train was taking longer than usual (~15 minutes of waiting) so Rachel modified our route, and with saint-like patience explained that we would now take the F Train towards Queens, exit Jay Street, transfer to the A C towards Manhattan, and exit Chambers as originally planned. Rachel and I parted at the Jay Street transfer, and I was set free to roam the wildness.
Located on the original footprint of the twin towers, two square pools recede from street level to about 30′ below grade. The water flows into each pool from a waterfall feature around the perimeter. After collecting in the reflecting pool, the water cascades further into a smaller central square void where it disappears from view. The names of the victims are etched into black tiles around the pools. A subdued consistent roar emanated from the mist below and it struck me for how different it sounds from the irregular sloshing and pounding of natural waterfalls.
I like the design. It’s simple, well executed, and captivating.
The memorial is free. The museum requires a ticket ($18).
Inside the museum visitors descend down into what was the foundation of the original towers. The natural flow of foot traffic moves around the perimeter of one of the foundations. The path parallels the pilings which had extended up beyond street level to form the easily identifiable exterior columns of the towers. These pilings are now ruggedly plasma cut to two just inches high, barely poking out of the lowest level excavated by the demolition and clean up effort.
The beginning of the museum dedicates a large space to the individuals killed. Their portraits are displayed on the four walls, and short bios are available via touch screen podiums. In the center room a projector plays interviews of friends and family speaking on the deceased.
The half-dozen interviews I watched layered more reality onto mine.
The other main space in the museum focused on the artifacts and precise chronology of that morning.
We walked through a timeline hallway aided by news clips and air traffic controller recordings. It’s interesting how little I remember the confusion. The North Tower was struck, and there was decent consensus among news outlets and bystanders present in cell phone videos that there must have been a terrible mistake, a problem with the plane, or some sort of miscommunication that led to the crash. All that wishful thinking was discarded when the second plane struck the South Tower. Disgust mixed in with despair, and both were then shortly overwhelmed with resolve.
It’s hard to fight back against something left to chance – if the cause was a navigation error or mechanical issue – but once the intentional nature of the tragedy was understood, the intentful nature of Americans was revealed. It was collectively understood that we needed to hit back. For many, the only weapon available was comradery, and the only maneuver was damage control.
Americans, and New Yorkers in particular, rebelled against the situation forced on them by reducing loss of life. From looking at the exhibits it was clear, the work was gritty, heartbreaking, and beautiful. Yet to the world’s dismay, it wasn’t until after the second tower fell that an effective tourniquet could be applied.
I run most of my experiences through what I call the alien/caveman hypothetical: If an alien beamed down from space or a caveman thawed out of some glacier, what would they have to say. When they returned to their buddies what would follow their exclamation “You’re not going to believe this, but…”
No doubt the caveman and alien would have wildly differently interests, but I am confident that they would both share huge enthusiasm, manifested in curiosity or terror I can’t say, for the diversity of cultures represented in language and appearance. Add to that the nonchalant regard this phenomena garners from its participants, and I expect it would be absolutely confounding for both the alien and caveman alike.
No where in my travels across America is this spectrum of humanity shown more acutely than in the three packed decks of the ferry bound for Liberty Island.
What a treat, an honor, and most lasting – a responsibility.
That evening I wasn’t able to meet up with a friend like I was looking forward to. Lucky for me, my bourbon was available on late notice, and at his masterful persuasion I ventured out to meet the social scene of Red Hook with Yelp and its single “$” filter as my map and compass.
The next day was a lovely denial of the outside world. My hosts returned from their overnight trip to the Hamptons, and at the conclusion of my final movie for the day we all went to a perfect dinner. I left through Manhattan the next morning happy to know my cousins better and content to know New York in ways I didn’t before.
Thanks Ian and Rachel! You guys rock.
On a later note, every New Yorker I talked to said they hadn’t gone to the 9/11 Museum. It makes more sense to me now that I’ve had time to think about why that might be. Obviously, it’s a tough event to revisit, especially if it was such a personal experience, but I think there’s more to it than that. If it were me, I would be apprehensive to see how other people behaved.
Going to the museum will bring up emotional memories, and those emotions will be stirred around with the frustrations associated with tourists, who, by no fault of their own, will generally be a little more detached and a little less respectful of the site. Anyways, I recommend going to have a look, seeing the folded steel in person is impactful. Take your patience, don’t feel like you have to see absolutely everything, and try to get there early to avoid the crowd.