By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
(Tuesday, September 11, 2001) Im not good at this.
Photo taken by Bruce Eisenberg, AIA, at 6th Ave and W.
4th St in the East Village a little after 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.
We just witnessed the
greatest tragedy in our nations history.
Its a little after noon as I sit down
to try to put my thoughts and the mornings experiences in perspective.
I arrived at the office at 8:35 a.m. and
chatted with Tamara. We reviewed Primary Day coverage and she shared with me her
experiences and choices while voting earlier in the morning.
We continued our morning ritual as she gave
me the campaign literature that arrived at her house the previous day in this case
21 pieces of mail (giving you the exact count by candidate and office and description of
each seems meaningless at the moment). Last night I had received calls about a piece of
literature from Public Advocate candidate Steve DiBrienza describing the use of a quote
from this column in the company of one from the New York Times and one from Crains
New York Business as well as another piece with the Tribune logo along
with the New York Times and the Jewish Press logos heralding our endorsement
of Carol Gresser on her last campaign mailing. Tamara and I spent a few moments on those
pieces which are pictured on this page.
Then, I did my quick look at all the
pieces. I was surprised to see addressed to white prime Democratic voters in conservative
Democratic Whitestone, what appeared to be a Helen Marshall, targeted-African American
mailing. It named 12 black and only one white elected official proclaiming, "Use the
power! Make Helen Marshall the first African-American Borough President in Queens
History!" To reemphasize the intended targeted black audience, there was the Amsterdam
News logo. Later, I found the same mailing was sent to Hollis Hills.
The morning started with a review of campaign literature
delivered Monday making reference to the Trib. (Gresser, left & DiBrienza.)
The thoughts of the moment
(back then) of this political observer were that it was clearly an error. Either the mail
house or print trafficker committed as bad a blunder as political consulting operations,
at this level, are capable of.
Dont get me wrong; Im not
yelling racism is at work in politics. You just dont name 12 blacks from southeast
Queens and mail their endorsements to whites in northeast Queens especially when
you have more than enough white elected officials from the area to use.
Well add that for one of our primary
campaign awards that was originally slated to run in this space, we thought The
Campaign Mailing Goof Award.
At 8:50 a.m. Lianne, our art director,
called us from the Verrazano Bridge. Hers was the first eerie description of something
gone wrong. She explained that she could see smoke coming out of the top of one of the
towers of the World Trade Center. TV and radios went on as I prepared to pack up for my 10
a.m. meeting in midtown Manhattan.
You all heard the early news accounts
nothing was clear an airplane hit one of the Towers of the Trade Center. And
terrorism wasnt clear back at 9 in the morning.
And as I left the office for my Manhattan
meeting and the staff was in the parking lot surrounding the coffee truck, someone
mentioned a second plane crashing into the other Tower. I shrugged in disbelief and headed
And as I got onto the L.I.E., I put on the
radio and the chaos became clearer. There were two planes and both towers were hit and
although the radio had not said it yet, terrorism was clearly responsible. Our City, our
country, was under attack.
And the reports continued of hijacked
planes elsewhere the number wasnt clear from several airports and at
some point on my trip came the then unconfirmed report of a third plane hitting the
Pentagon in D.C.
Perhaps at this point, my timetable becomes
uncertain, I wasnt reporting on a story; I was trying to get to a meeting.
As I came through Forest Hills on the
L.I.E., I saw it. There was the World Trade Center, the dominant force on our skyline,
billowing out a trail of smoke all the way to Queens and Brooklyn. The sky was filled with
a solid cloud across Manhattan. That view, at that moment, moved it for me out of the
arena of film, tape and news into real cold hard shivers. It was awful and awesome. The
effect of the impact and the flames and damage were clear all the way to Forest Hills.
I was immediately hit with thoughts of
turning around and canceling my meeting. There were emergency vehicles dominating the left
hand lane of the expressway and traffic was moving very slowly. I tried to use my cell
phone couldnt get service. By the time I got to Woodhaven Boulevard, the LIE
was badly backed up and I got off figuring Id find a quick way back eastbound on the
L.I.E. and cancel my meeting.
Everything was standing still.
Woodhaven Boulevard heading toward the
expressway was not moving. Cars were backed up for blocks. I headed southbound on
Woodhaven figuring Id weave my way west.
Cars with flashing red lights one
after another were coming straight at me northbound on the southbound side of
Woodhaven Boulevard shocking and scary.
After the initial surprise and quick
swerves to the right, I worked my way to the left and turned west on 63rd Road took
it to Queens Boulevard and down the block by Alexanders (yes, I still call it that)
and back to the expressway.
I was back at the office before 10 a.m. and
was briefed by Tamara concerning staff assignments in the field. We reviewed story ideas
and silently attempted to comfort each other.
Lil called. My niece Debbie works at
Goldman Sachs near the World Trade Center and Lil couldnt get in touch with her.
Moments after hanging up with Lil, Debbie
called. She was fine. I told her to keep in touch.
The TV was on and my office filled with
The first tower collapsed.
Other staff members were on the phone
trying to track down loved ones.
I called and canceled no surprise.
Gary, our sales manger left to be with his
wife. Their son, who was in the Trade Center, had called from the hospital. He was given
oxygen but appeared to be fine.
Story after story of friend or family
member at the building was shared.
People were coming and going from my
office. Reporters were going out on assignment while photographers were downloading their
digital images before going back out.
Debbie called again to reassure me, after
the second tower collapsed, that she was still okay.
I tracked down her dad and called my mom to
inform the family that Deb was safe. I imagined the thousands of other families engaged in
similar activities. Remembering the figure of 20,000 people per tower I dont
know from where I envisioned the mass communication nightmare made more frightening
by the lack of cell phone service.
Then there were the thousands who could not
locate their loved ones.
My office was our small command center. The
TV was being watched by a constantly changing group of staff members. Images reminiscent
of "Independence Day" and "Godzilla" were run and rerun, continuously.
Those with loved ones missing, or better yet found, came to give us updates. Tamara and I
continued to review story options.
Time seems to get hazy. Lil, who never
calls, called again perhaps for the third time. I stopped writing my column; I
guess I took some more calls, ate lunch and found myself still in my office watching TV
and reviewing the story.
Mike Nussbaum retreated to his office to
organize a prayer vigil at his temple.
We dispatched reporters: Nick headed to
LaGuardia for an update, he was later to go to Astoria to get a read on its Arab community
and their travails as a result of the act. When the Primary Election was cancelled, Angela
returned from her tour with Beep candidate Carol Gresser and was sent back to police
command at Shea Stadium. Liz was doing whatever Liz does with the cops. Michelle was
firming up arrangements for a 6 p.m. Flake Prayer Vigil at Allen A.M.E. Gary, with son
safe, was now emailing me photos of the view of the City taken from his Glendale roof.
Tamara was handling the hospitals trying to track down Claire Shulman as the former
nurse made the rounds lending her support. Stephen took the Board of Ed. Arlene was
working the street. I have no idea what Schack was doing. Trib friend and
contributor, architect Barbara Nadel emailed me the incredible photo taken by fellow
architect Bruce Eisenberg that you see on this page. Other images were emailed and offered
from friends and strangers some were put up for sale.
The historical references flew around the
office: Was this the greatest number of Americans killed in a day?
The quest for information continued: Define
Arab? How can we comfortably, easily get into a Queens mosque to talk?
Ira, our photo editor arrives back in the
office with two strangers he picked up who were stranded at the airport.
Tamara is busy arranging to tour the Queens
morgue at night. The expressway is closed westbound. Nicole cant get in from Nassau
County. Julie was crying. Angela couldnt locate her father. The other Angelas
boyfriend was in the building. Tamaras cousin was missing. Don, our classified
manager a Garden City Volunteer Fire Department Captain left to join his
unit to go assist. Lianne cant get home.
The TV drones on.
The calls, the tears, the worried faces
invaded my life as it did yours.
And this column, which had been previously
written, was to change.
And so will our lives from this moment
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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