New York, New York – dream’s and nightmares
reflections on a visit from October 18 to 23, 2001

I thought the cab might have a problem finding the Duane Street restaurant in Tribeca. Uptown drivers often get lost in the narrow, unnumbered streets of lower Manhattan. Not this guy. He simply drove south on West Broadway until he reached the barricade.

Duane Street borders the restricted zone that surrounds Ground Zero and what was once the World Trade Center complex. On the north side of the street, expensive trendy restaurants operate, much as they did before that terrible day. Except now, no one waits for a table. Across the street, where the white halogen lights create an artificial daylight that silhouettes the police and military neighborhood guardians, a restaurant that was still under construction the day the Towers fell has been converted for an unintended purpose.

It was once a place that specialized in fancy baked goods. Instead of catering to wealthy diners, the kitchen turns out gourmet meals packaged in plastic and transported to the workers and firefighters who are slowly removing the still smoldering wreckage, searching for remains. Trained chefs, service personnel and just plain folks from all over the neighborhood volunteer their time providing the labor that allows the restaurant’s owner to supply quality food. He started out paying for everything himself. Now the Red Cross supplies the groceries, but he still loses lots of money. It doesn’t matter. He wants the workers to eat right. This is one snapshot of New York in October, six weeks after the outrage of September 11th.

This was my neighborhood before I came to live in the Upper Midwest. I worked high in a building that overlooked the Trade Center complex and heard the bomb go off in 1993. I watched the smoke pouring from the manhole covers as police and firemen evacuated all 220 floors. That was the first the terrorists tried to bring the buildings down. But this time the television pictures were beyond reason, a computer graphic in a bad disaster movie. We had to see for ourselves. On October 18th, my wife and I made a "pilgrimage" to New York City.

There are a hundred stories to tell. We could talk endlessly about the tears in the eyes of tourists at Ground Zero, watching young girls hang flowers on the fences, studying the closed streets and shuttered businesses where I once shared lunches with coworkers. We could describe how terrifyingly empty the sky is where the buildings once blocked even the sun, and how everyone in the crowd still holds their breath every time an airliner passes where the towers used to stand. We could report how profoundly sad we felt as we read the fading taped paper posters seeking the missing. We might tell you about the very taste and smell of the ever-present concrete dust that covers the sidewalks, how they hire men with hoses to wash it away, and how it always comes back. And, of course, the horrible, black and gray pile of rubble, more massive than anyone can ever know from a TV screen.

Our friend Ellen provided the microcosm of what’s really going on in New York. Ellen is a businesswoman and a baker. She earns her living by creating and baking thousand dollar cakes for the rich and famous. Ellen had picked the Duane Street restaurant where we’d met for dinner. After a lovely and expensive meal, she walked across the street, threading her way through piled crates and past a 40 foot refrigerated truck marked with the symbol of the Red Cross to volunteer for several more shifts to help prepare the finest food for people doing the hardest job in the whole city. - marty gallanter

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