****updated to add this link to a publication that describes the Corps response****
So, ten years. That is a long time, and yet, not long at all. I was thinking about reposting some writing I did way back then, but I decided not to; it's not my best work. That would DEFINITELY be this piece on boogers, which garnered me much acclaim from my many readers. Especially my mother; she LOVED it, and you won't hear her say any different, now will you? I considered reworking my original ground zero essay but decided not to because it was true to me then and I didn't want to monkey with it. Besides, I don't even like reading it; it's a little too melodramatic. It's still there, somewhere, in the archives at Stories from Korea, if you want to see it. Instead, I decided to just start over from scratch and share some pictures.
Ten years ago I was working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle. On that Tuesday morning, I was teaching a class on emergency construction. A few days later, I was standing on the West Side Highway, looking at the reeking, burning pile that used to be the World Trade Center. It was night, and the bright beams from the light plants shone through the rising, curling smoke. I will never, ever forget my first look at it. Surreal.
Gradually, though, the place became home-ish. It was just like you'd imagine a post-apocalypse city, with everything repurposed. The lower Manhattan Brooks Brothers store, for example, was now a morgue, while the Burger King was a medical clinic. The best restaurant in town was called the Green Tarp Restaurant, for the green tarp that covered the entrance, pictured below. Celebrities would come in and serve up the grub, which was catered by the fanciest chefs around. Seriously, it was good stuff. I gained at least fifteen pounds while I was there because of the free food on every corner and the McDonald's people that came around every afternoon with quarter pounders.
I was on a logistics team (I am MULTI-TALENTED, y'all!), and we worked out of the Corps' DTOS (Deployable Tactical Operations System) units. You can see one in one of the pictures. They are portable offices with satellite communications, and we had them set up on all four corners of the site for us, FEMA and FDNY. We had nice neighbors; there were rows and rows of tents and trailers set up for all kinds of organizations: search and rescue teams from all over the world, NYPD, EPA, FBI, Justice Department, ATF, utility companies, you name it, and they were there.
Anything you can think of that a regular city would have was there, in that tightly enclosed 16 acre site: offices, food, medical services, vets for the search dogs, places to sleep, masseuses, clothes, supplies of every kind, counselors, and all free and available for whomever had a need. It would have been a happy little commune if it hadn't been dreary beyond words, and reminds me of a book I recommended not too long ago, called 'A Paradise Built in Hell', by Rebecca Solnit. Everyone should read it; it will completely change your perspective on disaster response and human behavior.
You may be noticing that I'm not saying anything about loss, grief, terrorism, war, retaliation, or politics. All I can do is reflect on my own little piece of paradise in hell and hope that it never happens again, to anyone, anywhere.
photos courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers