Wednesday, August 31, 2011

9/11 Parking Spots

An account of B. Viggiani after 9/11.  New York.

From "A Tribute to the Heroes of 9-11, 10 Year Memorial" calendar.

"Those first days of Autumn 2001 seem to wash away the lingering darkness of loss that hung over the city, like a bad dream.  The smells were nearly gone or perhaps we had just gotten used to them by then.  The skies were clearer that day than they had been in some time and I found I could look upward with less fear than I had in some time.  I forced myself to get back to my regular pre 9/11 NJ Transit schedule I had so routinely done in the past, sitting in the last car at the same window seat reading the sports pages.  It was important to get back to reality; the quicker the better.  New York City was too quiet for too long.  Even the notorious horn honkers, New York City taxi drivers, were more courteous with fewer blasts.  People actually said hello or at least made eye contact on the city's streets.  It was time for the city to 'get back to normal'!

And so it was that cool October evening heading home from another day at work.  The early autumn sun made black silhouettes of the lower city skyline slowly descending from behind.  As much as I tried not looking across the expanse of the Hudson River toward "that skyline", I found myself unable to keep from looking, drawn there everyday almost as if to somehow keep their spirits alive.  So I looked.  And the towers still weren't there.

Same train, same car, same window seat.  Returning home.  Losing myself in the back pages of the NY Post, my beer sitting atop the flat metal screen under the window.  For a good part of the ride, I rarely, if ever glance out the window.  In fact the first stop that I usually put aside the paper and look out, is at the train's longest stop, Ridgewood.  Sitting in the last car, one could look straight down Ridgewood Avenue.  As dusk settled in, the town's many storefronts became lit to greet the night ahead.

I was about to return to the sports pages as the train slowly left the station when I noticed something odd just outside my window.  As the main street began to disappear from view, I watched a row of several automobiles go by, parked in those most sought after spots along the front row closest to the train platform.  Those commuters were the ones who left earlier than most to get those coveted spots.  I often wondered what they did for a living to get up so early to head into the city.

The first car that attracted my attention was a large model Mercedes Benz.  How dirty it was; especially sitting in such an upscale town as Ridgewood.  Dirty cars were just something you never saw, either driven or parked.  The car next to the Mercedes was just as dirty as was the next until the train was moving to fast for me to see anything more than the disappearing station.  The train was barely out of Ridgewood when it hit me like a lightning bolt.  The dirty cars parked there along the front row closest to the station platform; those same cars that made me wonder what the owners did for a living, their owners had parked their cars and headed off to work as they did every morning only...this time they never came back.

Now I can only wonder who each of them were as people, as husbands, wives, sons or daughters, friends to so many.  I wondered about their routines that day, that morning as they headed to work.  Did they stop for coffee and a bagel across the street from the train station after parking in their VIP-ish spots?  Did they kiss their loved ones goodbye?  What unfinished work awaited them at their offices across the Hudson?

Pulling into Ridgewood station that next morning on my way back to work, I held my breath and could feel my heart pounding.  It was that same feeling of not wanting to look but needing to as the train came to a stop.  At first I thought I would not be able to see that far, perhaps being saved from what I knew I'd encounter.  Yet, there they were.  I could barely see the tops of the cars but they were still there.  Dirty, side-by-side waiting for the turn of the car key, one dustier than the other, lined up in their front row spots closest to the platform.  Only now in daylight did I allow it to hit me.  As if seeing them in daylight confirmed my thoughts.

On that beautiful clear blue sky day, each of the owners of those cars stepped onto their favorite train, sat in the same seat, sipping coffee and reading the papers.  Yet, they never came back.  Not to their cars parked in those front row spots.  Or home to waiting wives, husbands, children, or friends.  They never came back.  Ever.

Soon after that morning the cars were removed from the parking lot and from those coveted spots.  It did not take long for those spots to be filled with a new group of early commuters and I began to wonder all over again.  What did those people do for a living?

Dedicated to those we lost that day and those who live with their loss.  Never Forget."

-B. Viggiani, August 2009

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