Thursday, September 11, 2008

The news from New York/ Date: Sat, 15 September 2001...

Note: The following was origionally posted exactly two years ago.

I was there. I was working as a bike messenger during this time. The photo here is a visitor's pass they used to issue. Possibly in a box in New York there is another of these dated September 7th, the last time I was in the WTC. I wrote this a few days after the event and used the text for one of the original drafts of the book "BEING HAD" and I am reprinting that here today.

I guess when I think of the most profound moments of life, the four greatest catastrophes I have lived through were the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, my divorce, September 11th in New York and May 15th 2002 in Warsaw Poland. And in some ways, the only one I seem to have gotten over completely was the first one. But then again, that one was the only act of G-d of the four.

Here is the reprint from the first Draft of the book "BEING HAD":

Date: Sat, 15 September 2001
From: Adam Goodman
Subject: the news from New York

To start with, I am as you know a courier here in New York. And being a New York courier is a pretty compelling thing and I take pride in what I do. The work is hard and the hours are long and the ware and tare on your body and mind can be great. I guess they say the actual career of a rider is, on the average, one year. I have passed that mark. But it is a struggle each day to do the job. I have no regrets at all that I have done this job here.

I was at work on Tuesday, September 11th at 8:00am as usual. I got a call to pick up five packages from 1501 Broadway, at times square and to make drops from the mid forties on the east side up to 89th street. I was making my first drop when the elevator operator told me a plane had hit the Twin Towers. I went into the lunch room of that company and watched on TV as the second plane crashed into the second tower. The lunch room was stunned. The lady next to me was in tears. I guess I could have stayed there, or gone to my company’s offices, but I only stayed in the lunchroom a few minutes before I felt compelled to get back on my bike. I mean, in my mind I had to. There is gravity to my job. Like I said it is compelling, both physically and financially. What I mean is; when you are doing the job, which is so fast and dangerous and tiring and you have to be so in tune with what you are doing, you lose yourself in the doing of the job. I know this sounds crazy, but simply I really had to go back to work. Maybe I was in shock, or denial, I don't know, but all I was thinking of was that I just had to finish my deliveries.

As I moved through the streets, the world was grinding to a halt as news of the attack was spreading around town. Some people were saying that they were attacking Boston and Chicago as well. It was like war of the worlds out there. I made my last drop at 89th street at the offices of Canal+ and rode down 5th avenue back towards the city. Ahead in the distance, I could see the towers burning.

I called in empty to my office and asked what was going on. I was told that we were going to shut down for the day. It was at this moment that what was going on finally got to me because I suddenly found myself with nothing to do. To be frank, I am now, looking back, a bit ashamed that I couldn't really think at the time. I guess I feared that they might drop a big one or two on us and I calculated the distance from the Empire State Building and wondered if I was far enough away. Coming down 5th avenue, I met another courier from my company and we talked as we rode. We laughed at the fact that all we could think about was delivering the packages. I guess we found it funny how wrapped up in it all we were. It’s a crazy job.

We stopped at the CBS news building on 59th Street and watched on the monitors the events transpire. We could see the buildings burn and eventually fall by looking down 5th avenue. My friend left and went down to the office. I stayed and watched the news for a while. It was all so crazy.

We knew then that it was terrorism. We heard that they had crashed a plane into the Pentagon. We were still hearing rumors about the White House being hit. I felt really helpless. We all did. We didn't even know how or when or where or from whom we were getting attacked. I moved around a bit by bike checking out the scene. I rode down town and met some friends who were also bikers. One of them said he had made his first drop of the day to WTC1 and had just gotten out when he heard the explosion from the first plane. He said he watched the second plane hit from Church Street, about fifteen blocks away. I rode downtown to try and get a closer look, but was turned away by police at about Canal Street. I went to my office for a minute or two, saw that there was nothing to do there and then went back to CBS and watched the news some more. I heard then about the crash near Camp David. People around me were crying.

At about this time I started getting some calls from friends and family wondering if I was alive. I got a call from Amy the girl I was with before I had moved back to New York asking if I was all right. I said I was. And she said that she was worried about me and some other words to the effect that maybe we should have not been so fast about breaking up. I agreed with her and he decided to keep talking. My grandmother called and said that she was worried. I asked if there were any family members that had any connection to south Manhattan and she said no and that she was glad I was Ok. Then I got a call from Paola from Italy. I had met her some years earlier while I was living in Canada and we had been writing to each other ever since. She had also seen the news and wanted to hear that I was ok.

By mid afternoon, it become apparent that the attack had ended but we were faced now with so much...information, to be frank; I didn't know what to do. They were not letting us downtown. I guess I was just sort of stunned. I started to make my way to where I am staying, uptown at the far north end of the island. As I rode through central park I saw that people were sun bathing, walking and cycling. It was a warm late summer day and people were taking it easy, as if it were nothing more then a little extra vacation time. There were thousands of people walking towards the 59th street Bridge and uptown all around us making their way on foot, due to the stoppage of public transportation. But in the park, everyone seemed to be sort of laughing at the situation; showing good humor at a trying inconvenience. It was mighty odd.

I rode for a bit in the park with a biker who wore his racing gear. I guess he was getting in some laps. "Pretty eventful day, don't you think?" I said to him. "Yea," he smiled back, "lots of things going on." when I got up the hill, my neighborhood was for the most part closed up. I didn't sleep very well that night, watching the news reports on the TV. Amy called again and we talked late that night. Finally I slept, but when the alarm went off at 6:00 the next morning, I got up and got on my bike determined to do whatever I could to help.

[Photo] You could smell the smoke from downtown for months after September 11th and the change in mood was everywhere. I, like everyone else at the time, was trying to be normal but it wasn’t easy.

We were all back at work by the following Monday but we could all see was that business everywhere was way, way down. In the first months of the year 2000 I could expect better than $1200 a week just for riding. In the first months of 2001, when there was only normal work to be done, working harder and smarter and needing to have built my own shop just to keep my bikes running, I could count on five to six hundred dollars a week from riding, as much as eight when I worked for a different company, with possibly one or two hundred extra from outside work doing tune-ups, building wheels or buying and selling bikes. But after the shock wore off I could see that post 9/11 life was all of this work just for food and shelter. And as far as my job was concerned it was not only the economics that went south, the actual doing of the job lost a lot of its appeal due to the new overzealous security systems. For about fifty days, riding downtown was an ordeal because of the cops, the check points and all the new rules as to where you could and couldn’t go. I got pretty good at getting through but I like to think that it was simply because the guys who were doing their job knew me and knew that I was working as well. But, in places where before I needed less then five minutes from locking to unlocking my bike after the drop, I was now sitting in waiting areas twenty minutes just for security approval. There were ID checks, bag checks, companies rerouting the deliveries to different locations around the buildings; everything slowed down. Some of the changes were reasonable but others were poorly thought out and one or two drops were so outrageously slow we charged automatic waiting time just for the call. There were some frictions and I have a few bad memories of security people who I thought enjoyed a little too much their newfound sense of power. But people generally accepted this little slice of martial law as a necessary thing and life went on but where before the job was about speed, now there were great periods of boredom that were not paid for by the grim paychecks at the end of the week.

And so this was my life in New York. I would be up at 6:00 and at the diner for potatoes and toast by 6:15. On the bike or the train to 42nd street and at the internet and calling in at 8:00. Generally my first call would be at 9:00 and I would be riding until about 5:00 in the evening. I didn’t like working late and liked to quit at about 5:00 but I thought that that was enough. I was pretty much a vegetarian at that time and so there was beans and rice for dinner, any bike work that needed to be done, a video and sleep and that was pretty much it. I did the crosswords, I worked on plays and I talked a lot of sports with friends. I loved that I was doing bikes but without the money, New York just isn’t the same.