Monday, September 24, 2012

9/17: New York City: Occupied; Part 1

9/17/12 7:00AM - 10:00AM

I woke in the tiniest room imaginable. Birds were chirping, a plus considering the past two mornings I'd woken to snores. Regardless of how harmonious or gentle birds were a nice change of pace. I'd heard a fellow UNregular staffer was on his way down, and last word put him on the Chinatown bus at 2:00AM. My ass needed to get across the bridge to meet him near the Chinatown stop.

I ate a fast breakfast, bolting my food and getting my pack together. I wasn't sure if I'd be back to the house that day so I had to hump my pack about with me.  Stopping by a street vendor I grabbed a cup of coffee and set myself up near a fountain to eat a granola bar and get my bearings. It was only two blocks to the nearest train station, so I shouldered my pack and headed North, stopping at a second street vendor for another cuppa.

Even with two cups of coffee under my belt, the swaying of the train was hypnotic, nearly putting me out. I shook myself awake at the announcement for Wall Street stop and against my better judgement got off the train. I came out of the station and stepped into pandemonium. Street medics I'd seen at the safe space were posted up on the corner, a wall of cops in front of me blockaded the New York Stock Exchange. With a building to my immediate right and a wall of cops and protesters to my left the only direction to go was South and away from the action. Police were checking work ID's at nearly every building entrance.

Private security forces lined the streets, a stark change from the quiet Burrough in which I'd spent the night. I stopped to check my direction, I was hoping South was a good route. Unbeknownst to me I'd stepped right into a wave of protesters and Wall Street suits that were making their way back North to the NYSE. I was carried forward, giving me a moment of panic as I once again neared the blockade line. Using the bulk of my pack and sheer brute force to shoulder and wobble my way to the edge of the crowd, I leaned my walking stick against a building and set up for a moment to catch my breath. A security officer took pity on me asking where I was trying to get to.

"The World Trade Center Memorial, I figure it's far enough away from this mess, and a hell of a lot better than trying to dodge protesters and cops all day." I replied.

Taken aback by my frank response, he pointed me down the street, offering the sage advice of going over then up, as there was no way I was getting North and West from this side of the NYSE. I thanked the gentleman and his partner and headed East two blocks, then rolled North once I was well out of the bustling center of the protests.

My UNregular buddy was non-comm by this point, so I headed to the WTC memorial to wait it out and see what floated up. My aunt was in DC when the planes hit, and last we'd heard she worked at the Pentagon. Tenuous though my family connections may be, we waited with baited breath until we heard from her the next day. I'd wanted to pay my respects, keeping whatever prayers in my heart for those that had died, and those who'd made sacrifices so that others may live.

When I arrived at the memorial it was still closed. My heart sunk when I saw that advanced reservations were required, and that you couldn't enter the premises with anything larger than a tissue box. High fences obstructed the view of the two infinity fountains that stood in place of the South and North Towers. Tears of frustration welled in my eyes as I walked away. I wandered a few blocks winding up on Greenwich Street.  At first staring without seeing the bronze plaque commemorating the lives of the fire fighters and police officers that had died in the effort to save lives. Ashamed at my frustration, knowing others had come farther for a whole lot less, I left my usual offering of two pennies. Taking one of the knots off of my wrist I leaned it up against the wall, wishing blessings on the survivors and the souls of those lost.

The brief excitement thus far along with the continued game of cat and mouse with protesters left me feeling winded like no 20 mile day on the road ever had so I headed West for what I knew to be the nearest green space.  I hit the river minutes after 9:00AM and rolled a spliff out of the care package my friend from Boston had brought down. Taking a long pull, I hoped that the professional dog walkers and cyclists frequenting the river walk would just leave me alone. I finished my smoke and sat back, still waiting on contact and wondering where I would find myself later in the day.


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