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33rd:   They that are in dignity or in office have in all places precedency; but whilst they are young, they ought to respect those that are their equals in birth or other qualities, though they have no public charge.


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GROUND ZERO

26 September 2004

I didn't think I really wanted to see Ground Zero. It seemed too much like...I don't know...voyeurism. So I hadn't suggested that we travel down by the site of the World Trade Center.

Instead we decided to take a 2 hour bus tour of downtown Manhattan. The two hours didn't include the hour plus standing in line waiting to get on a bus after we'd paid our $70+ for tickets. At one point an ambulance pulled up by the sidewalk and we joked with the people in line that someone had collapsed after waiting so long...and then it turned out that someone had collapsed. This fragile elderly woman was on the ground with paramedics over her. They carted her off to the hospital and the people behind her moved up a space.

NY-Empire.jpg (41165 bytes)Taking the tour bus was a good idea. For one thing, we could see a lot without walking. Actually that was the main thing. We could see a lot without walking. New York has such a diversity of architecture and neighborhoods and my camera got a workout.

The one thing you learn about New York in taking a bus tour is that it has always fought to have the biggest, the tallest, and whatever-est in the world.  I lost count of the number of buildings that were "the tallest in the world" until someone else came and built a building a little higher.  Macy*s is the largest store in the world--by 3 square feet (they added 3 square feet when Japan built the store that was bigger than Macy*s). 

As we approached Ground Zero, the guide noted that it could be seen off in the distance for the next 4 blocks. Suddenly I recognized the route we had walked with my friend Ron in 1999, when he took us to the top of the World Trade Center, and then I knew I had to go there after all.

NY-purses.jpg (94373 bytes)We got off at Battery park and wended our way through the sellers of bargain Rolex watches and the endless array of "designer" handbags.  I got the distinct impression that some expatriot immigrants from several African nations are supporting themselves in New York entirely by selling purses and "Rolex" watches.

We finally got to where we could see the Statue of Liberty. They were announcing that there were no more tickets available for the statue that day--and it was only noon. The line to get on a ferry stretched longer than the line to get on our tour bus, and it was obvious that it would be several hours before some of those ticket holders would ever set foot on a ferry.  I was glad that we had been to see Lady Liberty in the 1960s.

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We stopped at a vending cart and bought hot dogs (a New York thing, right?) and then headed off to see Ground Zero.

We walked along the water's edge, taking pictures and taking in the scenery until time to turn inland to go to the site. There it was. A big hole in the ground. A BIG hole in the ground. We walked across the bridge that goes from the water side to the building site and I was a little upset when we were coming down the stairs at the site itself when I saw all sorts of pictures to my right--looking like someone had set up a stand to sell post cards and magnets and other souvenirs.

But when I got there, I realized it wasn't souvenirs at all. It was messages of condolence that had been left by visitors. A little shrine. Lots of lanyards with messages on the cards attached to them. Painfully poignant.

Then we ran into the ladies selling souvenir books with TRAGEDY! spelled loudly across the cover. I told them all "no" in firm tone, feeling they had somehow defiled this ground.

I didn't even want to take photos. Somehow it was like taking pictures of the eternal flame at Kennedy's grave. Just too...sacred...to defile.   The only photo I took of the actual site was to show the number of people who were filing by to see it...and the cross that was made out of metal crossbars.

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We stopped at St. Paul's church nearby and saw the display there of their role in helping the families of the victims, and helping the city to begin to heal. I went inside the church, which was lined with banners and pictures and discreetly placed boxes of Kleenex. It hit me very forcibly how very much this was like visiting the AIDS quilt. The enormity of the tragedy, the visible signs of the human suffering caused, the people trying to make sense of it and move on.

Then we went to get back on the bus again. But by now it was late in the day. The line was very long and the buses were very full and we waited a very long time. I kept thinking of Paul, age 5, at his first time in Disneyland. We had, unfortunately, gone to the park on a very busy day and by the end of the day, as we went to board the submarine ride, Paul saw the line and screamed: "OH NO...NOT ANOTHER LINE!" That's really how I felt.

It took four buses--and close to an hour--before we finally could get on, but then we were able to complete the loop of our trip.

NY-Toys.jpg (78791 bytes)After we got off the bus, we stopped in the enormous Toys "R" Us store in Times Square.  I had no intention of shopping (and didn't) but I just wanted to see what it was like.  Like everything else in New York, it is huge, overblown, way over the top.  For example, in the middle of the place is a small ferris wheel, with each car decorated as a game sold by the store--like the characters from Toy Story, the Potatohead family, and Monopoly.

We stopped at the tourist information center in Time Square so I could go to the bathroom, and it was locked. The "unisex" bathroom had a sign saying to get the key from the Information booth. So I stood in yet ANOTHER line, 12 people long, while the only clerk working looked up ticket prices, showed people how to get places on the map and looked up phone numbers in the phone book. By the time it was finally my turn, the guy who was cleaning the ladies' bathroom was finished and I didn't need the key after all.

I suggested to Walt that he go off on his own and find a show for us to see tonight and I would just sit in the information center and wait for him. We were both much happier with that arrangement. I took a mini nap sitting in a theatre seat and he was running around town and came back, triumphantly holding tickets for "Forbidden Broadway," a show recommended by my friend Michael, in his hands.

We had time for a quick dinner, which we had at Howard Johnson's (or "HoJo's," I discovered) in Time Square. They tell me it's a landmark. The food was good, the service not so good, and the manager and owner were both dressed in suits at least 3 sizes too big for them.

After dinner we walked from 7th and 47th to 10th and 42nd and got there with 15 minutes to spare.

The show was hilarious and the perfect choice (thanks, Michael).

There were no cabs to be had, so we hopped a bus and came back here to the hotel. Now I'm about to crash yet again and hope that my luck holds and I'll get yet another good night of sleep in this place.

Tomorrow we are probably going to have lunch in Greenwich Village and then head out to the airport. Lord only knows when I'll write the next entry, but it will be from Davis.

It's been a quick trip, but we've done a lot and enjoyed most of it. Still, it will be good to get home...and see what Sheila chewed up in our absence.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

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The crowd walking past Ground Zero

 

 


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