A New Yorker's Plea To Visitors At Ground Zero
By Alicia Colon
December 3, 2001
When I used to work at the World Trade center, I walked from the Staten Island Ferry up Greenwich Street towards what was then known as the Vista Hotel. I took that same walk recently and as I looked up that street I noticed for the first time buildings in the distance that I could never see before. The massive Twin Towers had once obscured them and now there was all this space in front of me. The sunlight was shining on nearby buildings and the sky was a pale blue where I had once only seen metal and shadows.
It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm Sunday and I was headed uptown to see the annual Christmas show at Radio City but looking at that blank space turned this joyous trip into sudden heartache. I hadn't expected to still feel so stricken because I thought that time would have healed a bit of the ache. It hasn't.
All around Liberty and Cortlandt streets, an area once dwarfed by the Twin Towers, there are shocking gaps in the horizon. One can now stand on Broadway and look way too far west. It's unsettling to those of us who were in the habit of looking up in admiration at the gleaming skyscrapers blocking the view. It's all too bright somehow and I wonder how long it will take before I no longer feel that pang of sorrow in my heart at their absence.
Most of the WTC area is still blocked off and stockade fencing hides a lot of the work going on but on Broadway, the crowds gather to catch glimpses of the shattered remnants of what was once our city's tallest buildings. I can understand that many tourists are interested in this horrible but historic site and I think it is very important that all Americans witness what happened to us before it's all cleared away and sanitized. However I did not realize how much of a circus Ground Zero had turned into.
I had previously visited the area the week immediately following the attack and managed with my press pass to get close to the devastation and most of the people who were near the area were respectful and sorrowful. But that was then and now the site's turned into a popular tourist attraction and the effect is downright ghoulish and offensive.
I watched as a man told his friend excitedly, "that's all that's left of the hotel there, you see" and he pointed at the huge wreckage of a building that was visible across on Church Street. He spoke like a tour guide and said smugly, "People think that's the tower but it's really the Hotel." He and his friend were gawking like excited voyeurs at a car crash.
I screamed at him in my head, "You idiot. The hotel was on the other side on West Street and now it's gone. You moron. Stop acting like you know everything. You know nothing, nothing. I worked there and now it's not there anymore. It's all gone."
But, of course, I didn't say anything. I clenched my teeth and kept my mouth closed. I just kept walking, watching the people with their cameras, going ooh and aah, laughing and joking excitedly like tourists outside the Coliseum while the sidewalks teemed with vendors hawking patriotic paraphenalia for a buck or two.
"Look here's where you can see it best" says one enthusiastic teenager dragging his buddy towards Cortlandt Street for the best view of the twisted metal of the Towers standing thirty feet high like some monstrous sculpture. They are morbidly thrilled and impressed and are chatting in front of fences festooned with love messages from the families of those lost. The flowers are rotting away and the red, white and blue ribbons are dusty and frayed. I stop to read the fading notes but I can't concentrate on the words. My eyes are stinging with suppressed tears. I am getting angrier and angrier. I want to shout at them:
Stop it. Please. Have some respect. There are people all around you whose friends are still buried here. This is not like Oklahoma City where the bodies were recovered and laid to rest. My friend Donald Foreman is still in there along with thousands of other people and they will never be laid to rest. This is their tomb. So take your pictures but please don't laugh loudly or act like it's just an interesting stop for your tour bus. Please. Not yet. Not now, It's too soon. It's still too early. You're looking at a pile of crumpled steel and what's left of the World Trade Center but we New Yorkers are stunned by the emptiness. It's that void that haunts us. That awful, awful empty space.
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Copyright 2001 by Alicia Colon. Not to be reproduced in any fashion,
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