America at Last – Part 4
By Parson Thru
On Monday morning, I rang my mam back in York to report that we had arrived safe and well. That was when I heard for the first time what most of the world already knew. American troops had cornered and killed Osama bin Laden in a compound in Pakistan. Unbelievably, they had probably done it while we were wandering around the WTC site. The coincidence nearly knocked me off my feet. I emailed Rod, now living back in the States, and bought a New York Times, which we read over breakfast at Ray’s.
Lunchtime saw us in the Greyhound booking office, located in the concrete cavern that is the Port Authority bus terminal. We were helped by Anna, who checked through the route and bus times and sold us the Discovery Pass. I stood absent-mindedly as they worked everything out. I still don’t know how that pass worked. We pretty much had all our connections down before leaving New York but tickets were to be bought prior to boarding buses, giving us a fair amount of freedom between rides. Anna is one of those hard working people upon whom great companies exist. She couldn’t do enough for us and all with a genuine friendliness and humanity. It’s a shame the corporate chiefs don’t recognise what people like Anna give. Shame their own behaviour doesn’t even come close.
We decided to celebrate in Times Square, which isn’t a square at all as far as I could see, but a grid-pattern monument to retail and entertainment. We dived into a bar opposite the Naked Cowboy, where we drank a Manhattan in Manhattan. Coming out, a pigeon shat “square” in the crown of Natasha’s hair, which we took to be a good omen. As we walked through the rainbow-glow of electronic advertising hoardings, images of Osama bin Laden were everywhere. I had a feeling that something was going to happen at the WTC. We caught the Subway south. This time, I screwed up the changes and we ended up in Brooklyn. We switched trains and eventually surfaced across the street from the site.
Sure enough, as night began to fall, people came from their jobs to congregate spontaneously at Ground Zero. We mingled with the crowd, walking past news-crews shining bright lights into startled and bemused faces. Outside O’Hara’s, across from the Firehouse, a green-clad pipe band formed up in the street, urged on by the appreciative gathering. The atmosphere was electric. The news-crews cottoned on and squeezed into the fray. A familiar face was standing in front of the band delivering a well-practised line into the camera. Suddenly, at a shout from the pipe major, the pipes and drums announced their intent and the band moved off, pursued by an excited crowd jostling the talking head.
We dived into O’Hara’s and ordered Coors Light. The bar was lined with the badges and emblems of police and fire departments from across the USA and the world. It was a poignant message of solidarity and brotherhood. The New York Yankees were playing on the TV, watched by a new fresh-faced generation of firefighters – some of them possibly the sons of those who died only yards away under the collapsing towers. The band, having played a full circuit of the site, was welcomed back into the bar with cheers and freshly-poured beers. The time came for us to leave them to it.
That evening, we took the elevator to the top of the Empire State. The lobby is the finest Art Deco, preserved in monumental marble meaning. We spent as much time as we could out on the 86th floor observation deck in the bitter wind, soaking in this incredibly resilient city and enjoying the light show. Back in 1998, Natasha had done this at the WTC, telephoning me from the roof-top of New York City. You never know what a new day might bring.