Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Half an Hour in the Life

by Ken Houghton

Hubris is still followed by ate, and the exception proves the rule:

Ca. 5:55 pm: The sound of rocks hitting a window is distracting in the best of times. When the rocks are coming up and hitting a seventh floor window, distraction is the least of the possible worries.

Ca. 5:56 pm: The dust is coming higher as well. The sixty-some people who are on the floor are all headed for the fire exit. The one that goes onto the street. I suggest this is not the best of all ideas as I grab the laptop and follow the crowd.

Ca. 5:58 pm: We are outside, with hundreds of others dong the same. The building is presumably North and East of us. I move South and West.

Interlude: When I walked into work on 11 Sep 2001 (a Disaster Recovery project started the day before), my cohorts said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. A B-25 once hit the Empire State Building. Once is an accident.

Ca. 6:01 pm – I’m walked several blocks away; others doing the same. There is a large cloud of dust obscuring the Pan Am Building.* Otherwise, the rain has cleared the air fairly well. The dust is white.

My mobile finally gets a signal through. I tell Shira to turn on the television to find out what is happening. Four channels of news later (CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox), there is nothing being reported but the earlier flooding. This is reassuring. Fire trucks are moving up Park Avenue.

The woman next to me on the street is covered with dust and dirt.

Ca. 6:03 pm By coincidence, I meet two others from my building, from higher floors. None of us is inclined to go back; the smoke frames our building, and several people on the street have said that they assumed it was our building that had the problem.

Interlude: I presume our building is very safe. Not only was it recently built, but the owner of the property lives on the two floors above. I don’t know if his pool is directly above my head, but it could be.

Ca. 6:05pm: Another block or two. A man with a Blackberry has found out that it was a transformer and a gas explosion. We understand why the smoke is white.

Ca. 6:06 pm. Shira calls to tell me what I have just found out. I think she says something about having scared them, but there are a lot of people and noise and cameras and fire trucks, so I’m probably wrong.

6:15ish, walking across 32nd Street. Young woman on her mobile, talking to someone, clearly Very Worried. At her third panic, two of us interrupt her to reassure her that it was Con Edison- not al Queda, related.

6:22 Greeley Square. A man with a microphone is asking passers-by, “Are you ready to meet G-d?” Clearly, it is a canned schpiel. He wants to talk fire and brimstone; I’m thinking more about asbestos.

6:25: Almost at Penn Station. Stop to ask the Q32 bus driver if he is still taking the bus's regular route, up Madison Avenue from 32nd to the mid-50s. He clearly knows what has happened, and confirms that everything is normal as far as the MTA is concerned.



I end up on the 6:43 train, by coincidence sitting next to John Schwartz, a Science writer for the NYT. By the time I get off the train (having left the car keys at the office, along with my coat), I have been interviewed, edited, and quoted.

From the comfort of home, it is much easier to read:
The authorities have established a “frozen zone” between 40th and 43rd Streets, from Vanderbilt to Third Avenues.**
and wonder whether it will be possible to enter the building tomorrow, face mask and all.

Tom's PPS: Big Media Ken is quoted here. As glad as I am to read that this was apparently an accident, I'm not sure how reassuring Michael Bloomberg is in saying (per the NYT), “There is no reason to believe this is anything other than a failure of our infrastructure.”

*All right, it's now the MetLife, building (200 Park). But it's still best known as the home of Quetlzalcoatl.

**Vanderbilt, of course, starts on 42nd Street. But I suspect it means that the Pershing Square Restaurant so beloved by Little Blue PD will be closed for a while.

Labels: , ,

Whew - glad you're okay, Ken! Julia (Sisyphus Shrugged) was around the same area as well, and says most people seemed to be very calm and taking it in stride. Having been in Manhattan for both 9-11 and the blackout, I can only say... dang, I miss working in Manhattan.
Yes, glad you're all right. Working 11 blocks south and 2 east, I heard and felt not a thing. And my walk west on 28th Street was so unremarkable that if a woman hadn't told me about it, I probably wouldn't have known until I got home. The MTA announced that the Lex line and shuttle weren't running, but that's it.

And speaking of Pershing Square, some former colleagues and I were supposed to have lunch there tomorrow. I guess we'll have to change our plans.
Er, make that 2 blocks west. Clearly I'm not sufficiently caffeinated yet.
One of the things I was trying to make clear--and probably did not--is how calm everyone was (even, as noted, the woman who was covered with dirt from the explosion itself). By half an hour in, the information was disseminated and the bus schedules were not changing. Lots of people standing and taking pictures; more like Rockefeller Center than a "war zone."

I guess we do not have a long way to go before we are Anbar.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?