On edge, I took a train to City Hall where things still matter. I wanted to see whether the dusty streets rife with barricades and police were yet bustling with people in suits. In fact, no. Business is not as usual. The Fulton mall area (wall street's answer to 14th St; discount stores, cheap clothing and fast food) had about half the businesses shuttered. I asked two cops whether service vehicles could get in yet. They said yes, trucks of goods and food usually restocked the local service businesses in the early morning. The then told me it was more a question of having customers. "I seen maybe two people go in that hat shop all day." They seemed in a way to want to talk 'about it' as much as me. Did I work in the financial district? Had I been down that first week? Well, I'd never believe how much better it is now, how much better it is than anyone thought possible, all the rubble gone from surrounding streets. I told them that first week was one of the most intense periods I've lived though. They shook their heads in concurrment.
I walked south, several blocks east of the site perimeter, past the Stock Exchange. Traders in blue jackets leaned against police barricades with their cellphones. Almost every large building had yellow barricades blocking all entrances but one. Lobbies and plazas were deserted. The cordon from the crash site was pushed farther back that it was last weekend, I believe to prevent crowds of gawkers from obstructing the entrances of businesses already disrupted in every way. I passed those old-two-storey brick remnants of old NY, now tony restaurants and private clubs; they were open but not at all bustling. The streets seemed about a 2:1 ratio of tourists/curious and people in their workdays. So while it was about as crowded as the financial district usually is, the demographic and tone were entirely other. Verizon vans offer free phone calls; ganga of hard-hats and national guard roam around, buildings are inexplicably cordoned off. Even the expensively dressed businesspeople I saw moved slowly, seemed distracted, and were drawn to the streets with the most appalling views, there to stand still. Most overheard conversations would be things like "..but it was the second tower hit that fell first" and, between two clerical-seeming workers sharing a smoke-break at the foot of a fancy tower "..so you coping any better yet?" She shook her head briefly 'no' in reply.
I walked straight down to the water. East of the Staten Island Ferry building is blocked for a bit, but finally one road offers egress and I passed under the final off-spur of the FDR Drive (still closed to incoming traffic) and walked through a narrow parking strip to a harbor walkway. There, facing Brooklyn, directly to my right, were a line of flat boats with gigantic cranes mounted on them. Long flatbed trucks were lined up, and each would move into position and, in a laborious ten-minute procedure, the crane would locate, grapple, and lift gigantic twisted metal beams from the trucks and swing them on the barges. The truck drivers would pull up about 50 yards to right near me, jump out, and sweep loose debris off their truckbeds. A helicopter flew in between two barges and landed at a helipad there. The farther crane seemed to be loading smaller debris, because with every grapple and transfer, huge clouds of dust would rise in the air. It was a stunning day of dramatic light and clouds. The cranes formed such clearly etched lines on the horizon.
On my left was a pier from which ferries continually loaded and departed, returning commuters to Brooklyn, to Weehawken and points north in Jersey. I believe those are running indefinitely and are free. I walked north now, along the water's edge, and to my left, in neat rows perpendicular to the freeway passing overhead, were containers, gigantic generators. "Plug in to Cat Power" several boasted. (that's must be where she got her name) There were like 100 of these gigantic container truck generators, with logos and license plate from everywhere, just sitting there. Now I'm at the South Street Seaport. An octagonal ticket booth for Circle Line tours has a small sign "Tours are cancelled indefinitely because of the World Trade incident." Instead, another set of ferries departs from the pier. Police everywhere. The restaurants and clothing shops are open, but, despite the zillions of tourists and curiosity-seekers, empty, as is the promenade (the crowds press west, toward the rubble). At the farthest extension of the promenade, three suited men watch with great interest a tugboat, its sides encased in buffer tires, as it docks and then casts off in an unscrutable errand. Perhaps a dozen people sit in the sun, most with cameras, weary, one woman chronicling in her journal. I go up two levels to the wooden deck where more people sit in lounge chairs, more snap pictures in every direction. The restaurants at this level are almost empty.
Looking back, south, at the cranes, they are more abstract heiroglyphics now, just bright yellow boy toys. Some of the views are so beautiful, the cranes with their glass-and-metal buildings backdrop, a view from between generator-containers straight up the canyonlike roads, framed in the distance by a suspended walk bridge. At one angle, improbable symbolism, stunning clouds and light backlit the pefect triangle a crane and its load make, perfectly framing, because of perspective and vantage, the statue of liberty.
I leave South Street Seaport on its service, ugly side, the north. A huge ship, "The Floating Hospital," is docked there, along with its vans and ambulences, but aside from several dockworkers, it is silent and empty. And then, to my right, is the Fulton Fish Market, and, across the street, all its businesses. Turning left to re-enter downtown, I'm in a brick-paved ye-aulde-ny broad alley of chi-chi restaurants and tech start-ups. I see one couple at a sidewalk table, no traffic, and many barricades where phone guys are workign to get service restored.
Now I'm on Pearl Street, lots of condos and terrace apartments as I walk north, just where the Brooklyn Bridge begins. lots and lots of flage on the balconies, and a bit of seige mentality, more trucks and sirens than buses, a verizon van with long lines of residents wanting to make phone calls. I take a left on Gold Street to get a bit more taste of financial district friday. A large building on my left displays a large sign "Yes, we're open, welcome back," but a large bulletin board just to the left is jammed with flyers for the missing. Then I see why; cattycorner to the right is NYU Downtown Hospital, many ambulences parked in front, and its entire ground-floor front facade papered with 'missing' posters. I read these. Some of the people look so damn nice. Some of the flyers have a name and number, others have place of work, last seen, last time spoken to, last seen wearing, close-ups of tattoos and jewelry. Two I found especially moving were side-by-side flyers of photocopies of identity cards and papers of two young Japanese colleagues. Clearly faxed, and more formal than the American flyers, the text was identical "Were supposed to be attending the Wolf Group Conference at Windows on the World with colleague." The flyers gave both an american contact and a Japanese address and number for their company. There were also several flyers for EMTs and ambulence drivers. One flyer said "Is this man among your hospital's unidentified males???"
I took a right then, moving west, and immediately passed a charming little firehouse on my right. The shrine was very compact, almost formal. I passed it, avoiding the gaze of the two firemen in front of the bay, and saw a simple notice up on the door. "Company # wants to thank the community for your love and support. Four of our men died on September 11. We have started a fund for their families, donations of any amount are welcome." I turned around and pulled out a crumpled $5 and handed it to one of the men. "Can I give you this? " I said. I mean, I'd been feeling in a way as though the firefighters' families have been receiving love, donations, and benefits out of proportion to several other groups of victims, but at that point I didn't care if the guy turned around and bought coffee and donuts with that money, I felt very emotional.
I walked back west, straight along Fulton to Broadway, where one of the most striking and disturbing vistas dominates the rising street. It's the entirely burnt-out shell of, I believe, WT4, black girders, a schematic monument to a building. South on Broadway and the businesses' glass is covered with thick dust, still. A J Crew was open, or its doors were, its displays apparently now a memorial; several sweaters on torso forms link sleeves, all covered with thick dust. A shoe store, still closed, its expensive shoes covered in silt like an archeological dig of a civilization of great luxury and excess. (I can imagine the 'nova' narrative about this civilization). John Street frames the other famous view; a stunning single facade lattice rising over huge huge smoking piles, and the chopped-off (wires protruding, form sliding from rectangular to organic) end of WT4. Now I looped back north, walking toward city hall again, glancing west every once in a while for the slide-show, partial views enframed by every cross-street. I was very tired and did not think I'd be back, and yet I wanted my eyes to record, my body to absorb, every nuance of this moment of history, to register.