A New York Kind of Weekend

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Friday, Oct. 19: My wife and I are on the Jersey Turnpike heading into the Holland Tunnel, a frequently mentioned target of Islamic terrorists, a 1.5-mile tube that runs under the Hudson River from New Jersey to Manhattan, and not exactly a fun ride even before we had these crazies around.

For the apprehensive, the Holland Tunnel’s history isn’t altogether calming or unjinxed. Digging began in 1920 under Chief Engineer Cliff Holland, a 36-year-old father of four from Brooklyn. Five years later, Holland died suddenly, of apparent’ exhaustion, on the eve of the day workers from the New York and New Jersey sides were to meet in the middle. Milton Freeman, the engineer of construction who succeeded Holland, was himself dead five months later. By opening day, the project had claimed the lives of 13 “sandhogs,” as the tunnel’s construction workers were called at the time.

Something big last happened inside the tunnel on May 13, 1949, when a chemical truck loaded with 80 drums of carbon disulfide caught fire during the morning rush hour. By the time it was over, ten trucks and cargoes were destroyed, 13 more were damaged, and wall and ceiling tiles were demolished for 600 feet. All told, the fire created 700 tons of debris (and zero deaths).

Today, cops are out in force at the tunnel’s entrance, and so, apparently, is racial profiling. Not looking much like commandoes for Allah, we’re waved right through. Off to the side, a driver who looks more Palestinian than British is pulled over, waiting for a cop with a mirror attached to a’ long pole to finish looking under his van.

Of course, with 100,000 cars coming through the tunnel per day, the checking can’t be more than hit-and-miss. As we exit the tunnel, WABC news is reporting that the FBI and NYPD are at the offices of the New York Post, checking for anthrax contamination.

It’s times like this that a good economist naturally thinks about costs and benefits, and wonders if coming to ground zero in Manhattan for The Concert for New York City is worth the price. My wife’s response: “If I’m going to die, I want to die at a rock concert. The suicide bombers have Allah. I’ll take Mick Jagger.”

Saturday, Oct. 20: A block from our hotel is a small fire station on 51st Street in Manhattan – Engine Company 8, Ladder Company 2, Battalion 8. On the wall outside are the

names and pictures of the ten firefighters from this station who died at the World Trade Center. The sidewalk is overflowing with flowers, the walls are covered with notes and drawings from young kids.

“They bring flowers every day,” explains firefighter Dave Offitto, “and drawings.” His favorite message from the kids? He points to a crayon drawing of the World Trade Center, fire coming out of the windows and a fire truck on the way .. . and these words: “Dear Firefighter, Thank you for going to those daindrose (dangerous) buildings. I felt so mad I wanted to join the war. I wanted to go over there and fight them. I was so angry I broke my toy. And I beat my big brother up. Love, Dennis.”

Another firefighter provides some details about Sept. 11: “The call came in during the shift change. Men going off duty came back and headed for the World Trade Center. At the command center, three of our guys were sent to the teens, the 13th and 14th floors, etc., and seven went to the 40s. We never heard from them ·again. Altogether, they had 15 kids. The youngest was 23 days old on Sept. 11.”

All told., 343 firefighters and 23 cops lost their lives at the World Trade Center. They ran into the buildings and up the stairs as everyone else was running out. A note posted outside the police station on 51st St.: “Do not stand at my grave and weep, for I am not there. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond’s gilt on snow. I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight, I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die.”

And the concert? At 7:00 p.m. in Madison Square Garden, it felt like New York City was never more loved, that cops and firefighters were never more appreciated. It was a night of old songs with new meanings – David Bowie’s “Heroes,” MickJagger’s “Miss You,” The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.” And a night for a firefighter’s 10-year-old son to get up on stage and say how much he missed his father, and a night for New York City to show that it didn’t die.

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