he city changed forever yesterday. No one, no matter how
far from Lower Manhattan, could step on a New York sidewalk
untouched by concussions.
The day began in the brilliance of a late summer morning, then
was obscured in gray balls of dust and smoke that seemed to touch
everyone. The city had become an empire of the stricken.
Erin Dubin, 26 and an aspiring Broadway dancer from Minnesota,
had started the day with an audition for "Footloose," hoping for her
big break. At midmorning, tears rolling down her face and a cell
phone dangling from her limp hand, she stood stock still on 43rd
Street at Seventh Avenue, staring but barely taking in the news
ticker across the street. Her boyfriend worked at Lehman
Brothers in the
World Trade Center as a Web page designer.
Normally he arrived at work at 9 a.m. and Ms. Dubin fervently
hoped he had been delayed. But she could not reach him.
"I hope he was late," she said, frozen in place as the words
scrolled endlessly across the buildings at Times Square. "I don't
know exactly what I should be doing. Where should I go?"
New Yorkers were members of a tribe in shock, tied in knots and
easily moved to sudden tears and swift kindnesses. People moved
through Midtown without the ordinary get- out-of-my way pace. They
listened to radios. They grabbed one- minute updates from strangers.
They spoke urgently into cell phones. They waited quietly in long
lines — no shoving, no impatient words — at the pay phones on street
corners. The hundreds who sat or stood under outdoor jumbo
electronic television screens were virtually silent; it was no time
for small talk.
Further uptown on Eighth Avenue, a crowd stood around a delivery
van, listening to radio reports.
By midmorning, when the news had filtered out to just about
everybody and the great cloud of black smoke at the southern end of
Manhattan had become a permanent blot on the horizon, businesses
began to close down and bars began to fill up. Smokers who had quit
decided to take it up again, at least for the day. A bus would stop,
going uptown, and people rushed to get on, no matter what its
"Will someone ask the driver where this bus is going?" shouted a
woman as she propelled herself toward an M2 limited bus on Madison
Avenue. "Just get on or you'll never get out of Manhattan," called
back a teenager near the front.
But getting places was out of the question for most people. The
only way to go was north, or east, away from the fires and
destruction. And for most, the only way to go was on foot. They
found bridges closed and highways open to pedestrians and subways
Jim Speziale, driving a bread delivery truck, took pity. He
stopped his truck on Park Avenue at 33rd Street, opened the door and
invited people in. "I'm going up as far as 59th Street," he shouted
to the crowds on the sidewalks. They climbed in by the dozens.
People who made it across the Manhattan Bridge were met by
workers from Long Island College Hospital and Brooklyn Hospital
Center. They were handing out water and fruit juice to those
beginning to trudge down Flatbush Avenue.
"Water and medical attention here!" shouted Claudine Rose,
normally a clerical worker at the Brooklyn Hospital Center. "You can
call your families across the street and let people know that you're
It was almost as if the city had turned tender, as if people
wanted to tip-toe around each other so as not to cause any upset.
Normal reactions — irritation at stalled traffic, peevishness at
pedestrians who stopped in the middle of the sidewalk — were
There were refugees everywhere: a long, slow motion flight from
the core of the city, great strings of people putting their feet on
the ground, in hopes that it, unlike the sky, was safe. And because
they would be putting down their feet many times, some women stopped
on Canal Street to buy $8 flip-flops, a small advantage over
high-heeled shoes for such a journey.
As those brushed by the attacks drifted away from the
neighborhood around ground zero, they were met with acts of grace,
large and small. Keith Vance reported that he found himself a few
blocks away from the collapse, in front of a Chinese delicatessen.
The proprietor came out with bottles of water. Then a man in a
hardware store handed out dust masks used by plasterers.
The numbers of walkers grew as the devastating news took hold.
Maria Thomas, at work in Macy's when she heard about the explosions,
decided not to stay. "Look, Macy's is a landmark building, you
know," she explained from 10 blocks away. As she left, customers
were streaming into the store, apparently unaware of what was
happening in Lower Manhattan. "It's believable and at the same time
it's not believable," said Ms. Thomas.
That was the mental line many people walked: how could this
horror, which would not be credible on a movie screen, be actual, be
real, be flesh and blood?
For some of those who had been downtown, the horror of the moment
emerged as they walked miles toward home, carried along on waves of
shock and contemplation. Ed Lamm, who works at J.P. Morgan in New
York Plaza, said he could not escape the image.
"It's devastating, just looking back at that scene," said Mr.
Lamm, 53, of Mineola, as he crossed the Manhattan Bridge. "The
smoke, the darkness. It's like the day stood still.
"You're aware what's in the sky, checking for planes, seeing
F-15's in the sky. But we're the lucky ones, we're alive."
Carole Kitrosser, a financial planner who normally works a few
blocks from the World Trade Center, was seeing clients uptown
yesterday. Her country would never feel the same. "If they can stop
New York City from functioning, what happens next?" Ms. Kitrosser
"But I felt violated, that my safety was violated and that this
country has got to do something to protect us," Ms. Kitrosser said.
"I don't think I can ever go downtown to work again. I don't think I
can look at the rubble. Our schools are closed. Our financial
district is closed. We're not safe anywhere."