John E Morris (New York, Wednesday 12 September 2001)
New Yorkers take perverse pride in their ability to deal with the plagues of everyday life in Gotham with a shrug, a smirk or a wisecrack.
Their collective self-identity consists in their affection for the city combined with a shared sense that they are all long-suffering because of it. But Tuesday's attacks were a different story. For once, there was no shrug, no smirk and no wisecracks. On Tuesday morning, I had to walk much of the way to my Midtown office from the Upper West Side. I made my way down a carless Broadway from 59th Street to 30th against the tide of office workers streaming uptown on foot, away from Wall Street and the carnage. The crowds, too, were strangely subdued. Orderly is probably the best word. And shocked. There was no rowdiness, no pushing; none of the brashness that makes up New York. At the office, people were huddled around the television watching CNN. I left after an hour - hours of television blather would only rub salt in the wound - and walked the 60 blocks back home. Back on the Upper West Side, there were lines for tables at sidewalk cafés, and the sidewalks were packed with pedestrians. But it was quiet. What else was there to do but stroll and be with friends and family? At dusk, I walked through Central Park with friends, where we could see the smoke from Downtown over the skyscrapers of Midtown. By the evening, Manhattan had largely emptied of cars and trucks, which were allowed to leave but not return. For a city where the constant din of diesel motors, screeching brakes, horns and sirens is part of the urban experience, the quiet was unsettling. In the still, you could hear the fighters circling overhead, as they had since noon. It was Wednesday before the reality began to sink in. Friends began to tell of people they knew who barely got out in time, and they began to run down the list of those they knew who worked in the World Trade Center towers. Sidley Austin Brown & Wood and Thacher Proffitt & Wood had offices there, not to mention Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and a slew of other financial institutions. I don't believe I knew anyone there, but other friends began to mumble about friends and acquaintances who were unaccounted for. New Yorkers will not have to reach to the proverbial seventh degree of separation to find a victim. One ugly statistic made that clear and stuck in my mind: only around 350 injury victims had been admitted to St Vincents Hospital, the closest to the site, and many of those were rescue workers fighting the fire caused by the first plane. There is no shortage of doctors, just a shortage of injured office workers. The television pundits ask whether New York - and America - will ever be the same. Probably. After all, the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, an event almost as shocking at the time, and with a bomb that could easily have levelled the building if it had been laid in a slightly different location. And Bishopsgate and Canary Wharf in London bustle today despite the terrible blasts there. But for the moment, and until the awful toll is tallied, New York will be anything but its normal crazy self. John E Morris is an assistant managing editor at The Daily Deal, and formerly editor at large at The American Lawyer magazine. He moved back to New York three weeks ago after spending two years in London.