New York City ~ October 2001

With more than a little apprehension, we headed south from Salem, Mass to NYC about one month after 9/11/01 when most other travelers were avoiding it.

Imagine there’s no heaven

It isn’t hard to do

It was scary leading a Family to this place in time.

No hell below us

Above us only sky

However ~ it doesn’t take long to hammer through some states in the Northeast ~ anyone ever drive through Texas? Bettin’ you could put 20 some odd northeast states inside Texas.

Really makes these road signs less impressive when they are less than an hour away from each other. Oh well.

Imagine all the people

Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Somewhere around Pennsylvania we started experiencing heavy traffic on the interstate so the parkway seemed like a good idea ~ ‘no commercial vehicles‘ ~ should’ve been no oversized / overheight vehicles. At first it was pleasant. A bunch of cars but no trucks ~ all moving steady and seemingly over friendly as they were all waving to us ~ turns out they were trying to wave us OFF the parkway!

The first bridge wasn’t that bad at 13′ clearance although being arched made us wonder if that measurement was taken in the middle or shoulder?!? At the time we figured we were about 10-11 feet high.

So traffic is moving a steady 60mph and is thick. We’re cruising along in the slow lane waving to all the friendly people as they’re trying to warn us to get off the parkway ya stupid westerners (Washington state plates… high bridges… parkways mean something different…).

The next few arched bridges started dropping in clearance ~ 12′ 9″… 12′ 4″… 11′ 10″… starting to get a little creepy, but surely we’re okay. Right? Jeez the northeast drivers sure are friendly.

Our hearts stopped coming over the hill around 60mph with heavy auto only traffic, no place to get into the middle lane where the arched bridge was the highest… too dangerous to slam on the brakes… just hold your breath bringing what we later measured as 11′ coming under the 9′ some odd arched bridge in the right lane at 60mph (thank God we didn’t have the rooftop carrier at the time).

Not sure how we cleared, but there was no loud noises, no crunching. Just cardiac arrest for a couple of ignorant parents. DO NOT take your RV on parkways in the northeast. Very freaky.

Then… we came from the parkway to the toll plaza to cross the Washington bridge in New York City where the toll booth attendants came OUT OF THEIR BOOTHS ~ yes, plural ~ ‘attendants’ ~ several of them ~ all angry that these idiots in an RV are coming off the parkway and will never fit through the narrow toll booth. Nowhere to go around but through. Nowhere to exit, nowhere but through with massive traffic stacking up behind us and honking because of the slow down. Not so friendly anymore ~ shaking their fists at us for holding them up at the toll booth in full on traffic. Toll booth attendants determined only to get us out of the way with no regard to how the RV (our home) will come out the other side. Our outside mirrors pushing the nerf like protectors on the steel poles out of the way as we squeeeeeeezzzzeee through, barely ~ with toll attendants screaming “WATCH ME!!!” to guide Greg through and Greg totally ignoring them to assure the RV / home survives while Jenn tries to watch one side and the kids are yelling “WHAT’S GOING ON!!!” and commuters are standing on their horns, shaking their fists, and yelling out their windows not being so friendly anymore.

But the parkway was a pleasant and beautiful, semi truck free drive for about an hour up to the 9′ bridge. We made it intact except for our pride and headed for the New Jersey shoreline where we soon got lost, and looked lost. Let’s just say thanks to the unidentified man in the delivery truck who pulled up to us, gave us his map, told us to follow him, and went out of his way for at least thirty minutes or more to lead us to where we needed to go.  Did we mention the crappy roads we were driving on?  So thanks a million to the generous man, thank you!   We made it to a spot where we parked on asphalt for $55/night for 10 nights. Ouch.

We started a New York page years ago and never finished or published any of it. It was too sad and weird being so close to 9/11. Only recently have we revisited some of our pictures and we share these now as a part of our life experience.

We arrived in New Jersey in the early evening across the Hudson river from lower Manhattan. It was immediately obvious where the recovery efforts were taking place ~ there were large spotlights and a steady smoke plume and glow rising over where the WTC buildings were only a month before. Random areas were lit as cutting torches worked their way in and around. Many of the high rise buildings around the site were covered in a red material from top to bottom. Occasionally we would smell dust similar to an old basement… and a burning smell that included jet fuel. There was a hole in the New York skyline.

This is a daytime picture similar to the skyline we saw that first night. The light smoke plume cannot be seen but existed the entire time we were there rising around the red buildings. As obsessive shutterbugs and videographers, we found ourselves photogenically conservative at the site of what seemed analogous to an awful car wreck. We have no pictures or video of our first evening there.

Later that  night we went to pick up Dad at the Jersey airport as he came in from Texas to help as a Police Chaplain from Austin, TX. Several of the emergency workers that we met throughout the week thought George W. himself sent Dad up there to them ~ we didn’t burst their bubble and just went with it. Dad does have a cool letter from the Austin Police Chief though…

The first day, we jumped on the subway and just toured around with Dad to see parts of NYC together for the first time.  Dad is wearing his his Red Cross ID lanyard that gives him access to Ground Zero and an official ‘Police Chaplain’ jacket.  Throughout the day we talked with so many people about where they were and their experience that day.  Some were still in shock, some lost people they knew, some saw the planes.  People just had to tell you their stories about that day and some people really needed a hug.  We hugged lots of people who were complete strangers but were fellow human beings that had seen something so awful.  Our entire stay here was all that.

We stayed opposite Manhattan (ground zero) that first day and saw Times Square…This is also one of the only normal pictures Dad has taken.

Dropped in and said hi to the NYPD…We stayed outside while Dad went in to pray with the police chief and the officers.  The windows were filled with cards and pictures from people around the world.  This was the scene on so many windows everywhere in New York City.  This city had literally been transformed with humankinds best qualities ~ compassion and art.

Found out Dave wasn’t doing any shows…

And met Rupert.

And some fruity guy at the Theatre selling roses and programs.

And this guy that claimed to be Marc Anthony’s cousin (think he was invited to the wedding with J. LO?).

We also stumbled into this historic church where all kinds of cool things happened with all kinds of famous people ~ thinking John F. Kennedy got married here?!? Maybe.

Nothing to kill or die for

and no religion to

These guys got married here. And we saw it, so we know they did, we just don’t know who they are. Wedding crashers. Yeah baby.  We had been walking around for hours and this was a nice two hour break… and the whole ceremony was in Spanish. Jenn kinda knows spanglish but doesn’t speak it except for the occasional ah dios mios.

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace

We went to the NBC Studios to find out if we could get into a taping of Saturday Night Live.  We learned that they were on break due to September 11th, so Greg and Dad started chatting with the reception guy.  They talked about where this guy was during September 11th and his experience. While they were all talking, Jenn was looking at a memo on his desk that told the employees the anthrax was almost cleaned out of the building’s ventilation system.  It also said that there was still traces of spores on the second floor.  As Jenn read this she remembered that this was one of the news places that had received anthrax letters.  She pulled Greg, Dad, and the kids out of the building as fast as she could and didn’t bother explaining why till they were out the door.  As  we continued walking around the city we started noticing the effects of the anthrax scare everywhere.  We walked past mail carriers that were wearing gas masks and gloves to deliver the mail on neighborhood streets.

New York City really wiped us out. We were there about 10 days and found that we’d go in one day, then take a day off and stay home to recover. Even with the public transportation passes, NYC is a walking city and is VERY HUGE. We ended up in Central Park several times during our visits there just to recuperate and relax. It really is an Oasis in the fast pace of the city. The first day we went to Central Park, Dad insisted on taking us on the horse drawn carriage ~ turns out there is a five person limit but the driver was hard up for a ride and took the six of us. Funny thing was, he was hauling butt! We were zipping by other carriages and one of them knocked off the six people and threatened to turn the driver in ~ it was actually exciting and hilarious as the driver was rushing through the tour and talking really fast in a foreign accent, we didn’t understand much of what he was saying and we wonder if he knew why we were laughing all the way, on a one horse open sleigh…

As we walked around New York city we visited many firehouses and police stations with Dad that had worked at the Trade Centers the morning of September 11th and afterwards.  Dad walked in and prayed with so many firefighters and police workers all over the city.  As he would visit with every police and fire chief we were always entertained by all the fire and police people at every location.  We sat and talked with them about that day, where they were, what is was like to be there that morning, and about their friends and family that were lost.  These big New York guys were so heartfelt and genuine when they talked to you.  Listening to them was amazing.  They were almost like kids telling you a story.  They hugged us, they hugged Dad, they hugged the kids and gave them stuffed animals, candy, and their love.  We made a friend in each and every one of them.

After spending hours walking around and hearing all these people we ended up in Central Park with Dad.  It had been such an amazing day.  We all just sat around and watched the kids play on the playground while we talked.  Dad then noticed some teenagers hanging out on some swings.  These guys looked tough and so not approachable.  Let’s just say they came from the other side of the tracks.  Dad gets up and walks over to them just like he always does with people.  You see Dad is different than most.  He has always been a street minister, police chaplain, advocate for children and for the homeless.  He has never had a problem walking up to people on the street and offering them a conversation, a hug, or a prayer.  People just melt in his presence.  So as he approaches these kids they are looking at him like he is crazy.  Dad asks about them and eventually about their experience on September 11th.  Just like the kids they are, their toughness falls off and they all just start talking.  They are very animated and loud and love having someone to talk to.  Dad is just grinning and talking with them, it’s like they all knew each other.  At that moment I remember sitting in the warm sun, watching Dad work, and thinking this is my Dad.  He is beautiful and I think that is my proudest moment of him.  All this was just about ten minutes or so, but will last me a lifetime.  Think about how long it will last those kids form New York City.  So for those of you who thinks my Dad lives a challenging lifestyle, you don’t even know.  Boo ya.  Love, Jenn.

One night Dad offered to baby-sit the kids and let us go out for the night.  We got dressed up and went out to a great place to eat down the street.  We sat at the bar of this classy joint, which by the way a girl was totally macking on our Dad here the night before.  He loved it, she was twenty something.  Nothing like embarrassing your Preacher type Dad with stories about women and such.  He loves us!  Well, as we were sitting at this bar we met Scott who started talking with us.  We told him that we were visiting with our Dad who was working at Ground Zero and he started telling us about his experience that day.  He said he woke up that morning to get ready for work and turned on the TV.  He saw the first Trade Center on fire and was in shock.  You see, he lived in a Condo on the Jersey shoreline with a view of the Trade Centers.  He looked at the TV and looked out his window in complete awe.  He said that he just couldn’t believe it.  He kept looking outside at the destruction and saw the second plane hit the building.  We listened to his story and watched him as he never took his eyes of the place he focused on while telling us his story.  He worked downtown as well and had since lost his job because of September 11th.  After talking, he bought us a round of drinks and we headed off to the next location with him and his friend.  They told us about a local little hole in the wall bar they wanted to take us to, so off we were!  They drove into the heart of Jersey City, which if we were by ourselves would have NEVER ventured into.  We parked next to a Storage place and as we walked past it he told us this was the place where the terrorists built and stored the bomb for the first attack on the Trade Centers in the early 1990’s.

We walked into this little neighborhood bar filled with union and blue collar workers.  It was unreal, this is like the places you see in the movies!  We walked up to the bar and were introduced to all Scott’s friends there.  These were the kind of people that have known each other since they were kids.  And they welcomed us like we were one of their own.  The guy who owned the bar and doubled as the house band himself (think Bon Jovi owning a neighborhood bar) was about our age and very cool.  Our friend told everyone that we were here working with our Dad from Texas at Ground Zero, and with that everyone raised their drinks and made us feel right at home.  The owner kept referring to us all night by yelling ‘TEXAS‘ and opened a free bar tab for us.  He grabbed a guitar and sang U2 songs on stage for everyone.  It was the best feeling hanging out with guys in this time.  Everyone knew what had happened the morning of September 11th, but in true Jersey City style they knew the show must go on.  One of the best nights of our life.

After the first day off, Dad would go in and work on ‘the pile’ with the recovery efforts. He would bring home stories of his day from the rescue crews and share them with us. He told us this was good therapy for him to come home to his Family and be able to release the trauma of his day. He was working extremely long days and was emotionally drained.  We sat up on the couch for hours talking, crying, and praying for all these people.

It took us about a week before we even wanted to go near ground zero. The day that we decided to, we took the ferry to lower Manhattan and unloaded at the financial district. This fire station was just across the street off the ferry. Engine 15 was two minutes away that morning and was buried in debris but not destroyed. It’s entire crew was lost that day among the 14 total from this house. This fella had just gotten off his shift the morning of September 11th and was getting out of his gear when the call came in about the Trade Centers.  He told us as he got out of his gear the the next guy jumped into it and took off with the crew.  They were second on the scene and suffered the most loss of men at one firehouse.  The guy who got into his gear came back.

People from all around the world were sending gifts and cards to FDNY ~ they had crates and boxes full of stuff they didn’t know what to do with ~ they shared some of the gifts with our kids that will be treasured forever ~ the Panda, Firetruck, and Teddy bear here really mean something to us.

Outside the firehouse was decorated with cards, letters, and pictures of those lost from this firehouse alone.

These troopers came up from Albany to pay their respects. This picture really affects me (Greg). I look at this and see the fireman in the background gazing at the family from Texas taking a picture with the troopers from Albany. He was a really nice guy to us, he talked openly and yet there was a deep sadness in him, in his eyes, his gaze as he looks at all these people coming to do something, anything… but he feels physical loss. He knows the men who died that morning. Knows that he could’ve easily been high in either building with just a different schedule.

You may say I’m a dreamer

but I’m not the only one

The fire chief of this same house was very welcoming to our Family and took us on a tour of the place. We found a picture of him later in a book from Time about 9/11.  Dad told us as they prayed in his office the chief just fell apart and cried with him.

Everywhere there were cards and letters posted on the walls. Each and everyone was appreciated and treasured.

As we walked into the financial district, we passed heavy security all through the streets and buildings. The Federal buildings and New York Stock Exchange was barricaded and streets in front of them were closed completely.  It was so quiet.

I hope someday you join us

and the world will be as one

As we walked up Broadway near ground zero, the smell of smoke, burn, and dust grew very intense and strong. This was several blocks away on a functioning street corner. The grates in the street were still filled with massive layers of dust. Look at the crosswalk signal grate… This scene was 6-8 blocks in every direction around the site while businesses were open and trying to function ‘normally‘.

We thought it was cool that someone wrote Seattle and Texas on this same column.

The streets into the pile were closed off for a couple of blocks away from the majority of the destruction. As we walked down Broadway, the damage scene would change at each new block. The half dome in the background was the entry way into the WTC.

You can see the standing buildings that remained were ripped apart.  This building was charred all the way through.

The gate around the perimeter of Ground Zero kept people out and also was protected by the National Guard.  The canopy of this business was several inches thick with dust as were most of the buildings.

What you see here is mostly smoke from the burning pile. The workers on the pile were melting a pair of their boots every day. They were trying to get the word out that boots were needed for donations. The coordination was immense.

The pile was ten stories high. There were holes in the pile up to 30 stories deep. They were putting out fires within the pile as fast as they could find them. The smell was intense and awful.

The gate around Ground Zero was filled with flowers, cards, prayers, and random crying.

Watching the debris come out was sad. When we arrived on the ferry, we saw them loading twisted I beams onto the boats to be taken to Kills Island where they would go through it. Near where we were staying in Jersey they were collecting and cataloging body parts and personal belongings. We saw several ice chests with the Red Cross sign on them outside the building.  Dad witnessed several recoveries of people and performed last rites (as a protestant) for his first time ~ he also prayed with other chaplains over them as they were taken out.  Anytime there was a person found or a body part everyone would stop for a moment of silence.

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

These guys are with the Jersey City Police Department.  We ran into them as they were patrolling the streets and they came over to meet us.  They were polite and hilarious.  They also told us many stories about September 11th and where they were.  We told them that our Dad was here from Texas working at Ground Zero and they said that must be Chaplain Jim!  They had actually met Dad that morning as he was heading to the Path into Manhattan.  Told you Dad has an amazing personality!  These guys treated us great and even arrested the kids and threw ’em in the paddy wagon. We missed them a little but chose for them to be released on their own recognizance instead of posting bail. We’re cheap that way…

No need for greed or hunger

a brotherhood of man

So after all these stories and experiences about September 11th we decided to try and resume our life as tourists.  We took the kids down to the waterfront and did some sightseeing.

Tourist picture with some boat.

Tourist picture with some street performers.

Very cool picture under the Brooklyn Bridge.  Kesley was pouting and we decided to make fun of her.

The Empire State Building was closed to tourists due to September 11th, so this is a close as we could get.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s apartment with the white shutters at the Dakota building where he was shot.  Right across the street is Strawberry Fields where there is a memorial to him.

Imagine all the people

sharing all the world

Tourists at a skyline in a park somewhere.

We visited the Museum of Natural History and loved it!  It was huge and we spent most of our day here.  Austin is standing in front of a meteorite that was found somewhere.  We never remember this kind of stuff.

You may say I’m a dreamer

but I’m not the only one

One of the few complete T-Rex skulls in the world.

Finally feeling more like a tourist again.

Live.  Love.  Play.  Have Fun.

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