Our connectivity has come back for now. Considering what the city has been going through, it's a miracle it's been up at all. The power continues to come from a generator operating near Ground Zero. We don't know when things will be back to normal technically. Things won't be back to normal in other ways for a very very long time.
I want to thank everyone who has expressed concern for our well being. Five days after the horror, I can say that we seem so far to have been very lucky. Our active staffmembers in New York have all been accounted for. Personally, I know one person who worked on the 91st floor of the first tower hit. He decided to come in late that day. And, even more luckily, all of his fellow workers somehow managed to get out. But I know I'll hear a lot of stories in the weeks and months ahead that didn't have such happy endings.
While we may have escaped ourselves, it is almost a certainty that everyone in our circle of friends wasn't as fortunate. Considering that the monthly New York City 2600 meetings draw up to 100 people and our conferences get thousands, it doesn't take a whole lot of number crunching to realize that we're not going to be exempted from the tragedy. For instance, Stuyvesant High School, a school for gifted kids where a lot of hackers seem to go, had a direct view of the carnage as it unfolded. Imagine what it's like to see people jumping to their deaths right before your eyes. And then to see the Twin Towers collapse, one after the other, in one instant snuffing out so many lives. Those are memories that never stop haunting.
Even though I knew it would be next to impossible, I was determined to make it to the WBAI studios last Tuesday evening for "Off The Hook." I left four hours earlier than usual from Long Island, knowing that I'd need every minute. At first, traffic seemed unusually light but that quickly changed as I got closer to the city. Eventually, I had to ditch my car and walk until I could find some means of public transportation. After getting past the police barricades that had gone up as far away as Queens, I found that buses were running and they were even free. That got me to the #7 train which, surprisingly, headed straight into the city, despite all the news reports saying nobody could get into Manhattan.
It was a horrendous thing to see the skyline as we approached the city, the missing buildings, the huge plume of smoke that, until now, had only been on my TV set. This was real. And yet, somehow people on the subway were unfazed. New York indeed.
By the time I got to Grand Central it became clear that this was as far south as I could get, at least by train. I met up with other "Off The Hookers" and began the long trek to Wall Street. It was obvious the city was in distress. Sirens wailed from all directions and emergency vehicles of all sorts sailed every which way. The people were few and far between. And all throughout you could see that terrible cloud. I think it was then that I started to feel the shock of losing such a familiar part of New York. I hadn't yet begun to grasp the massive loss of life.
I have to admit I was surprised by what seemed to be a lack of reaction in the street. I was expecting to see people openly sobbing or walking around in a daze. But what I did see was more subtle - people moving purposefully, no casual strolling around, eyes a bit more jaded. It was the apprehensiveness I'd seen so many times before on the news from cities in the middle of a war. And now it had come to MY city.
We lucked out and caught a bus that went all the way down to Avenue A and Houston - again, no money was being accepted. From there we had to move by foot through the thickening smoke. Not once did we get stopped except to occasionally be guided to a safer walking spot. There were cops, firemen, troopers - more than I had ever seen. And they all seemed so different. So human.
As we descended onto Wall Street, we began to pass sections that had been completely darkened. One high rise building had random emergency lights flashing spastically throughout its 40 or so stories. It looked like a scene from a science fiction movie. A procession of at least 10 ambulances raced by. The sound of aircraft - military since all others had been grounded - roared through the smoke from somewhere. It started to become hard to breathe. And all around us there was dust that had settled from the carnage. And it still just didn't seem real. How could it be?
We got to the front of the building and met up with some other radio producers. But the station had gone off the air since our voyage had begun. There was no power in the building and we couldn't even get upstairs. Nobody knew where everyone had gone. People had written messages to each other in the dust that had settled on cars. There were handwritten notes stuck on posts everywhere telling passersby what was needed and where to go. All of this a mere few feet from the financial center of the world.
Wearing bandanas to filter the dust, we slowly moved back uptown, away from this nightmarish scene that seemed somehow like a snowstorm in its eerie quiet and solitude. But this was no work of nature. Fellow humans had once again caused more pain than many could ever imagine. And I feel certain that it will get far worse before it gets any better. And we may never return to the way things were.
One of the first thoughts that went through my head after it became clear that this was the work of terrorists was that we would no longer be living in the same country as we were the day before. What little innocence we had left had been wiped away like a stain. From this point we would be hardened, suspicious, vengeful. How could it be any other way?
I think one of the parts of this that bothered me the most was that so many of us didn't see it coming. I don't mean this specific action - we can second guess all we want but this terrorist act was well coordinated and planned; nothing other than insider knowledge would have prevented it from happening. We didn't see what was going on in the rest of the world because, quite frankly, we don't seem to give a rat's ass what goes on in the rest of the world. Only minutes before this saga began to unfold, I had been watching the morning news shows, looking for news. I found nothing save for endless reports of Michael Jordan's return to basketball, upcoming trials for the latest criminals, weather, more sports, business, recipes - ANYTHING but what the fuck is going on in the rest of the world! Had we been paying attention, had we cared enough to look at what was happening in other countries, we MIGHT have started to realize how such a hatred of our culture, our way of life, our very EXISTENCE could have begun to sprout. Isolation is a dangerous concept and, while we seem to be quite active in every corner of the globe, we also seem to close our eyes and ears when it becomes convenient. We closed ourselves to the hatred or, if we did choose to see it, we thought we could control it. But hatred this strong cannot be controlled or, as we so tragically saw, ignored. It has to be confronted and dealt with, one way or another.
And now we're going to deal with it. Acting decisively is not an option. It's essential. But so is acting intelligently. I fear our emotions may get the better of us and make this situation even worse. Right now we have to concentrate on getting help to those who need it and picking up the pieces of the city and the country. Instead I heard a religious leader on Friday call for the use of nuclear weapons against our enemies - as soon as we figure out who they are. This is not how we heal our wounds - this is how we ensure that they fester for generations to come.
It also bothers me to see all this talk of this being an "act of war." Tens of thousands of civilians died in a single day in Dresden, hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We justify these actions because we were in a war. Otherwise they would certainly be remembered as terrorist acts. By extending the blanket of "war" over last Tuesday's events, we actually help provide a form of justification for something that, at least to me, has absolutely none.
What happened Tuesday was more than an attack on the United States. It was an attack on all humanity and I think humanity as a whole may well be in an unprecedented position to move forward and deal with this once and for all. I hope we don't underestimate that power because it's probably the biggest weapon we have on our side.
At 2600, we've been getting all kinds of mail on the subject, as can be expected. A lot is the aforementioned "Are you guys OK?" mail. Then we get some that harbors a weird sense of smugness - "maybe now you'll trust the government" and words to that end. We cannot ever stop questioning policies or infringement of freedoms and in a time of crisis it's especially important to remain vigilant. It's entirely possible that the situation will be taken advantage of to our great detriment as a free society. We intend to keep our eyes open. And then there are the many pieces of mail that are coming in insisting that we DO something, as if we somehow had the power to make it all better. We've been informed numerous times that it's our patriotic duty to hack all Arab web sites, to find bin Laden's phone number, to take Afghanistan off the net, to lay down our swords and offer our services to the government. At best these are simplistic suggestions. At worst, they are really destructive. They're all based upon a faulty premise - that hackers somehow work miracles and can find out anything and accomplish any task as long as there's a computer or phone involved somehow. It just doesn't work like that, something we've been trying for years to tell the media and the movie producers. As always, we intend to be open and helpful with technology. And certainly, if we were to stumble upon something that would be useful in this investigation, I doubt any of us would hesitate to share it. But we do so as individuals, just as we do most everything else.
But I do understand the anger. I understand the flag waving. I even understand all the talk of war. But ultimately, we will win this fight by being rational and uniting with fellow citizens of the world. Or else we won't win at all.
We've already taken some tentative steps in the wrong direction. It was the height of journalistic sensationalism - and, unfortunately, I first saw it on the trusted BBC - to show a split screen of the burning towers next to a handful of cheering Palestinians. I couldn't figure out the point, except to foster even more hatred, something that has certainly been the result. Of course it was wrong, cold-hearted, and ignorant of these people to be celebrating, although we never got to see just what it was they were told. I doubt they really knew what was going on, except maybe that a country they have grown to hate had just suffered a serious injury. But such displays were very much the exception, even in those places that don't look upon the United States as a friend. Around the globe, once the true horror was realized, people felt the sickening outrage. The sympathy, compassion, and cooperation that are coming from places we consider enemy territory are what we should be focusing on and building upon.
It may not show right away, but I think a lot of us will be different from this point on. I think we'll realize how tentative our lives are, how nothing we've grown accustomed to is safe from destruction, and how much the people and things that comprise our everyday lives really mean to us. We'll wake up to the strange fact that nothing important really matters and every unimportant thing does. And I think ultimately this is a good thing.
Right now is primarily a time for healing. It will take a while and it will be pretty painful. And it's absolutely essential that we not put it off. Justice will be within our grasp with the help of our fellow world citizens. And rebuilding is inevitable, as it always is.