Posts tagged ‘Times Square’

Evening of September 11, 2001

I've already told the story of being in Manhattan on 9/11.  Through the day, vehicles could leave the city, but they could not come back (even taxis).  That evening, most people who could leave Manhattan had done so.  We were stuck until the next day.   We ended up finding a restaurant for dinner in Times Square that was open.

Times Square was just totally bizarre.  There were no cars at all.  Perhaps one car would pass every five minutes.  A couple of guys were roller skating around the streets, I supposed just because they could.

I was reminded of this experience by this photograph by Lucie and Simon, who take pictures of cities and digitally remove the cars and people.

 

 

Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago, for the first and only time in my life, I invited my wife to come along on a business trip from Seattle to New York.

On 9/11, I was sitting in the restaurant at the W hotel in Midtown Manhattan having breakfast with some bankers. I had recently been hired to see if I could make something out of a startup that was trying to manage aircraft parts sales and inventories over the web. My incredibly ill-timed pitch to the bankers was that the commercial aviation business, which had been somewhat in the doldrums, was on the verge of a turnaround. Oops.

My wife came down to breakfast to tell us something funny was going on in the news. We ended up going to one of the banker's hotel rooms -- he had a penthouse suite with a balcony from which we watched the now-famous and horrible events play out.

The rest of the day was odd to say the least. People on the street flinched whenever a plane flew over. The entire island emptied out, such that in the evening, we walked through Times Square and not a single care came through in 5 minutes. Someone was skateboarding in lazy circles, I suppose just because he could.

For us, 9/11 fortunately was only a hassle. We scrambled to find someone to watch our kids in Seattle, and found the last rent car in the city and ended up driving all the way back to Seattle from New York. We still made it back before air travel resumed.

Many of our friends were not so lucky. As both my wife and I were grads of the Harvard Business School, we knew scores of people who worked in the WTC. Over the coming weeks, word floated in of friends that had died that day, including our friend Steve who did not work there but got talked into going to a training session he really did not want to be at. I actually think of him many times, when I am asked to do tedious business trips I see not value in. I have learned to skip a lot of them. Life is too short.

Why I Love America

Today I was in Times Square and, unsurprisingly, was approached on the street by a young huckster attempting to get me to check out his establishment.  However, I was floored to see what was in the building.  In an attempt to meet a strong public need (the city of New York has been debating the lack of public restrooms for years to no effect) and to gain some marketing exposure, P&G has leased out storefront space in Times Square to open a Charmin-branded public restroom.  It is truly an odd experience, a cross between a bathroom and a Disney attraction.  There are games and entertainers and a gift shop, and, of course, twenty very nice private bathrooms that are cleaned by the staff after each use.  All my son and I could think to say when we were done was "We love America."

Here is more on the bathrooms and the promotion, open just for the holidays.

Someone has also posted a Youtube video of the entire experience:


Update: 
After visiting again, I can't shake the parallel (despite the fact that these bathrooms are free) to the public restroom company in Snow Crash.  I know there are a lot of folks who rebel against the cyberpunk genre, and I have always been more of a space-opera traditionalist (Foundation, Mote in Gods Eye, Louis McMaster Bujold, Hyperion, etc.) but over time Snow Crash may well become my favorite Sci-fi book.

Five Years Ago

Five years ago today, I was in Manhattan on a business trip with my wife.  I almost never take my wife on business trips, but we had been living in Seattle for several years, and my wife, who had lived in NYC for years, wanted to go back and visit.

About 7:30 AM, I went down to breakfast in the W Hotel, where I was staying.  I was working at the time for an aviation startup, and in one of the great moments of bad timing, I was in New York that day to make presentations to investors, the theme of which was that commercial aviation was in the midst of a recovery, and the time was right to invest in a commercial aviation venture. 

Part way into breakfast, my wife came down to find me, and tell us we needed to see what was on TV.  We went up to one of my investor's rooms.  He had a terraced penthouse (its good to be the king) from which we watched the disaster unfold, with CNN on in the background.

The next 24 hours were among the weirdest of my life.  For a while, we actually tried to hold our scheduled meetings, but a number of attendees had friends and family who worked in the WTC, and we called it off.  I wandered the streets of Manhattan, where bizarre rumors were flying at every street corner.  People ducked in fear every time an airplane rushed over, by this time all air force fighter planes.  By noon, dust-covered people walking up from downtown got to our area, and streamed past for the rest of the day.  Strangely, I actually ran into a friend of mine who had the last Hertz rent-a-car in the city, and we made plans to drive out of the city the next day.

Phone and cell service were spotty, but we eventually got through to the person taking care of our kids back in Seattle as well as our parents.  I had not told my mom we were in NYC, so she began our call by saying "I'm so glad all my kids are no where near NY" and I had to tell her, "Uhh, mom..."

That night was like a scene out of some Charlton Heston post-apocalypse movie.  Police were only letting cars out of the island, not back onto it, so by nightfall the city was empty and dead quiet.  We finally found a restaurant in Times Square open, and the Square was empty.  There was maybe one car driving through every few minutes.  A few roller bladers where skating around Times Square, just because they could.

The next day we played find the exit from Manhattan.  We knew from various reports that there was at least one bridge off the island open, but from either confusion or misplaced security concerns, no one seemed to know which bridge.  We began to circumnavigate Manhattan, looking for an exit.  Finally, a police officer told us the only way out was to drive all the way north through Harlem on the surface streets and get on what I think was the GW bridge.  Anyway, that is what we did (finding out in the process that Harlem was not the hell-hole that gets portrayed in movies, at least the part we saw).  I have never, ever been so happy to get to New Jersey.  I wanted to kiss the ground.  Of course, we still had a short drive to Seattle ahead of us, but that was anti-climactic.

It was only later I began learning how many people I knew died in those buildings that day.  I guess I should have thought about it, given the schools I attended.  The death toll for Harvard Business School graduates alone was staggering.  Five years later, watching the retrospectives, nothing about that day seems any less horrible.  Time, at least for me, has not softened the magnitude of this disaster. 

The only silver lining I can come up with is that we have gone five years without a major terrorist attack on this country, though other's have been attacked.  Walking around on September 12, we were all sure that this was just the front-end of a wave of massive attacks.  So far, whether through luck or skill, we have avoided this fate. 

One thing I will say is that we always prepare for the last attack.  We have spent a lot of time making sure no terrorists can take over a plane with toenail clippers and fly it into another building.   But that kind of attack was obsolete 20 minutes after the second plane hit the WTC -- It didn't even work on United 93.