It was almost as though I’d forgotten about it. I had watched the television yesterday; it was almost 7PM and I’d seen the same loop that all the networks had chosen to rerun over and over: “Huge plumes of steam and smoke!” “Five alarm fire department response!” It took only a brief surmising of what was going on to understand that this was more spectacle than anything else. There must’ve just been some breakdown somewhere along the line. That was what all the ‘guest experts’ were saying; though to David Shuster in Washington DC it was a different story. In order to heighten the drama and keep people watching MSNBC as long as possible he was teasing out every potential element; dragging out all the drama that was inherent in such a disastrous situation (after all; everything kept happening over and over in exactly the same manner! The same guy in a grey shirt, smiling and covered in dirt kept emerging and re-emerging in their ‘real time report’)
“So,” he said to the retired NYC Fire commissioner guest, “what would you say is the difference between the four alarm fire and the FIVE ALARM fire which was just announced.”
Patiently, the gentleman attempted his best bit of candor without wanting to belittle the question. “Well,” he replied, “it’s really just the amount of people who have been called to the scene. In fact there doesn’t even look like there is any fire there at all.”
“Huh,” said Mr. Shuster, “well apparently there are the huge plumes of smoke and ash and steam that are rising up above with The Empire State Building in the background”-
His producers wouldn’t let him get away with this glaring misstatement.
“And apparently I’m being told that that is not the Empire State Building but the Chrysler Building in the background.” While this is a fair enough misstatement for those unfamiliar with the New York City skyscape, it was still enough for me to shut off the TV the rest of the evening and fall away to a dreamy early evenings sleep.
–I woke up the next day and it was as though it never happened. I didn’t turn on any morning news (a change of routine I highly recommend for those who, like me, are addicted and do so every day) and I stepped out into the early morning (9AM) summer morning and just began wandering. I did have a destination but as I neared the east side of midtown, things began coming back to me and it was clear to me, at that point, that my whole day was going to take a turn.
I was on 39th & 5th and I began hearing whisperings; the morning gridlock for this area of town at this time of day was unusually high. People were asking other people how to “get around.”
“Well you can go over on 43rd, so go ahead up now.”
Oh right! There was that thing! Why don’t I check it out? I was able to make it over to the corner of 39th & Park; around where the actual steam pipe burst and no further. There was one thing I did notice that was markedly different though from the last time one of these events had taken place; the yellow tape was up and people were keeping their relative distance; some were office workers, some where shopkeepers; some were pedestrians who lived on the 2nd ave or 3rd ave.
However the biggest difference between this and that huge September day years ago was the police presence. I had been down to the former site of the Twin Towers maybe a week or two after it had happened. A friend of mine and I began walking and talking and while neither of us said anything much about our intentions, we were both curious as heck and we both wanted to see what was going on. One foot into the next and this place was horrific; there were people still pulling out dead bodies and the recklessness with which the police had acted and were acting was unsettling and sad.
But this; this new event was like nothing! There were somewhere along the lines of ten cops standing on either side of the street barricading people’s impediment and they all wore brand spanking new gas masks to prevent any inhalation trauma. It was very orderly, tame, almost mundane.
But there were still the hero’s in the house. One guy who was talking to anyone and everyone approached me as I stood there and said, “Hey, hey!” “Hey,” I replied. “See that? See that over there?” “Yeah, pretty nuts!” I enthused. “Yeah, I was in that building; that one right over there, like ten minutes before!” “Wow. You alright?” “Man, I tell you what, ten minutes,” he repeated. I whistled, “Yeah, well, thank God, eh?”
He turned to me with a sneer and just walked away to someone else standing alongside the sidewalk, “Hey, you see that building?”
After that exchange I decided to head away from the site. I wasn’t really in the mood for the attempted con or much else that people had to say. I began daydreaming about the response from elected officials. I imagined Mike Bloomberg, New York City’s billionaire mayor and his undoubted nonchalance in the whole matter. He’d probably say something like, “The City’s a dangerous place to live and we should just all be grateful that more people weren’t injured.” While responding to questions about the utter disrepair that the steam pipers were in a state of at the time of the accident there’d probably be an even more curt answer: “Well, Bloomberg LLC didn’t build them.”
I imagined Chuck Schumer and his cries for federal funding; millions, billions to fix these very local problems. I imagined Hillary Clinton turning this into a, “more rhetoric by this Republican administration,” platform for her Presidential bid. I thought of George W. Bush saying something like, “What?” when asked about it in a press conference.
People on the scene were inconvenienced; one person died and people mourn for this loss. A few people were injured. Not to play it down but it seems to be like just another day in the Big Apple.