On September 11, 2001, I stood in a luxury suite in the Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George in Staten Island and watched the twin towers fall in front of me on a clear Tuesday morning. I was surrounded by my colleagues at the Staten Island Yankees, including my father, who’d been on the last ferry across NY Harbor before the planes hit the towers.
We sat in front of a television set for two days over there—the City had shut down and we were stranded in the ballpark. We didn’t know what the extent of the destruction was going to be, or how long New York City would be paralyzed. The Stock Exchange had shut down. People were not walking around with the usual purpose of a New York day, but rather were shambling almost aimlessly. The fear of the Unknown, of an enemy we were at best peripherally aware of, was excruciating.
Last night I sat in my apartment on the Upper West Side with my family, hearing the wind of Hurricane Sandy tear down Columbus Avenue toward the Museum of Natural History, where it knocked over three very old trees like toothpicks. When we looked downtown we could see the silhouette of the skyscraper on 57th Street, where a crane had started to blow over, 80 stories above Midtown. On the TV we had on in our living room, we could see closer shots of the tower, and saw replays of the crane blow up, hesitate, then fall over.
Last night, like that night in the ballpark, I found myself watching versions of the same report over and over, whether from a tiny young woman reporting from a flood zone, looking like she was going to be swept away; or my old friend Maurice DuBois on CBS, who was at the anchor desk for eight straight hours introducing shots of Brooklyn, South Ferry, Asbury Park, Cape May, Hoboken. I was thinking about my office in Soho, and whether the Storm Surge (who knew?) was going to fry my desktop; and about my car parked in a cheap outdoor lot on 11th Avenue. I thought of my friend Jon in Hoboken, who was supposed to meet me for dinner tomorrow night but who might be more concerned with being dry. I thought of an agent friend, Yishai Seidman, with his wife and baby on the Lower East Side, and wondered whether their street was under water. I spoke to my sister-in-law on Houston Street who was drinking wine. We drank some wine, then watched some TV. Eventually the kids came in and wanted to watch Madagascar 3, and we did that, and as the wind howled and New York Harbor flooded the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, we had Family night.
This morning, before we went outside in a surprisingly fresh and lovely day, and bought groceries at the least crowded Fairway any of us could remember, I went onto Facebook. I saw updates—mostly relieved it wasn’t worse, even for those who had trees fall down or lost power—from many friends, and posted my own yes-we’re-fine update. By the time we got home with vegetables and ice cream, I’d had nineteen comments that were variations on glad-you’re-OK from 14 states, as well as Israel, New Zealand and England. Pretty remarkable.
Make no mistake, my experience was a lucky one, and ultimately with minimal discomfort. Yes, it will be days before I’ll be able to go back to my office, but my job can be reasonably virtual (as much as I miss my HSG colleagues). My home, unlike the ones in Point Pleasant or Battery Park City, was neither battered nor flooded. I’m inconvenienced by the lack of mass transit and saddened by the losses of property, businesses, and in thirty-something cases, lives. Unlike the days after 9/11, however, I feel none of the sense of foreboding and potential future disaster. The enemy was strong but fleeting, and past us. And, ultimately, natural.
By the way, I’d thought I was going to spend this blog post talking about the loss of civility in politics, given the time of year. But as ever in a case of disaster here, for a short time at least New Yorkers set aside their social, political and religious differences and were simply kind and supportive to each other. Politics withdrew for a day at least. It’ll be back tomorrow, I’d guess, and it’ll be just as depressing. But for a little while, anyway, it was good to remember what it was like to be One in adversity, working together to help each other.