Telephone kiosks in the city are becoming covered with color flyers, each one carrying a color photo and asking if anyone has seen the pictured person. The people are uniformly good-looking, athletic, and in their twenties, thirties, and forties. The flyers are well-put-together, the work of educated people who have access to scanners and inkjet printers, people who have money to spend on hundreds of color copies. It’s horrifying. One of the worst things about it is that it makes you realize that the tragedy is just unfolding now; that the incident wasn’t over when the buildings collapsed. I have a friend who staffed the phone banks for the Red Cross last night; she said that she spent the entire day fielding questions about missing people without a single identified match. Everyone who’s missing, it seems, is gone.
I’m walking home from the Red Cross building, where I spent the day out front answering questions about blood donations, volunteer opportunities, etc. It was tiring but enjoyable. It’s really nice to have had something to do besides watch the news all day.
I spent the morning in a Disaster Relief Training session, where a Red Cross Air Incident Response team member spent four hours putting four hundred people through three courses that usually take eighteen hours: Introduction to Disaster Assistance, Shelter Operations, and Mass Care. I was surprised to learn that the Red cross normally responds to eight to fifteen incidents per day in the New York City area, all with a small staff and just six hundred volunteers. I also got the feeling that the Red Cross is grateful to the thousands of people filling out Spontaneous Volunteer applications, but that we weren’t really that useful — we’ll help the most by coming back several weeks or several months from now and doing unglamorous work after the rubble has been cleared. The Red Cross is being remarkably non-passive-aggressive about it, but I get the feeling that they don’t want to waste too much time training hundreds of people that will only be available to help for a few days. Even though I’ve volunteered for them for two days, I still kind of feel that they’ve invested more in me than I’ve given back, and I plan on sticking around and helping out later on until the balance is at least equal.
Today, the competition for jobs was intense. Out of an auditorium holding four hundred volunteers, there were requests for 24 standby workers for shelter shifts. John McGee, the volunteer coordinator, started to cut down on the number of hands for spots by calling for volunteers only born in randomly chosen months. That worked for about ten seconds, until all the type “A” advertising executives and marketers in the room started looking around shiftily and getting to their feet. “Sure, I was born in October! Sign me up!” On the way out, I spotted a woman with a clipboard looking for people to answer questions, and insinuated myself into the line.
The cops on Broadway and Houston weren’t gonna let me home last night. There are cordons across 14th street, and another more aggressive one across Houston. The cops are only supposed to let through area residents; you have to show your drivers’ license to get past them. New Yorkers never, ever, get their drivers’ licenses updated, though, when they move from wherever it was they lived last, so most people still have their California or Montana licences from fifteen years ago. Lots of folks are showing utility bills or paystubs instead.
When I got to Broadway and Houston on Tuesday night, the cops were agitated, swapping hostile-civilian stories.
“So this one lady holds up her cell phone and says to me, ‘…Tell Channel Two News that you won’t let me home!'”
“…So what did you tell her?”
“I took the phone and I said, ‘She can’t go home!”
I walked up to them and I asked if I could cross. They told me I couldn’t, that the city below Houston was under martial law, that the concrete dust would damage my cornea. So I walked to Mulberry street and the cops there checked my license and let me through. My apartment was just fine, though there’s an acrid, plasticy smell in the air from the huge fires.
Funnily enough, the roadblocks have created a macabre downtown velvet-rope party. The few people on the streets are looking at each other, thinking “okay, so you actually live here, and you live here…” Funnily enough, the people still around aren’t the beutiful ones. All the lean, seven-foot-tall fashion mutants that you see all the time on Spring street are not in evidence. They must have come from Jersey.
Mulberry street was supposed to host the Feast of San Genarro this week. There are decorations stretched across the street, and carnival trucks parked in ranks from Canal street to Houston, but every one of them is shuttered, and the street is empty.
Oh, by the way, please give blood, especially if you don’t live in New York City. The blood centers here are swamped, and other cities are flying in blood as fast as they can.
I just walked back to my desk from the Red Cross in Lincoln Center. The streets have very few cars in them. In Times Square, vendors are selling paper easels holding two pictures of the Twin Towers — first the towers on fire, then the smoke plume left after they collapsed. Other vendors are selling out of oil paintings of the (now old) New York City skyline. In a bizarre touch, there’s confetting raining down on the Square from some deposit left over on top of some building, caught in the breeze.
I interviewed about fifty people today, helping them fill out their applications to volunteer for the Red Cross. They ranged from the helpful and non-freaky to the, well, freaky. And, it’s true, the Red Cross is inundated with bags of useless clothes after every disaster. An important part of the job, it seems, was thanking everyone nicely so that they’d still be interested in volunteering tomorrow, or next week.
The Red Cross is an incredibly well-run organization, and it was a real privilege to feel like I had something useful to do all day. Tomorrow, I’m gonna go back for a four-hour training in something called Shelter Operations and Mass Care, then I’ll probably work in one of the shelters around the city. I figure that [My employer] won’t be back on track for a couple of days.
I’m volunteering at the Red Cross headquarters on 66th and Amsterdam, helping other volunteers fill out their paperwork. I don’t have any cell service right now, as all the circuits are swamped. I’m checking e-mail on my iPaq periodically, though. There are National Guardsmen with rifles in the streets. Everything is pretty calm right now, though.
I’m fine, though shaken. Everybody I know at [My employer] is fine, too. Right after I heard the first phone calls about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, I pulled up MSNBC, and saw the picture of the north tower on fire. I couldn’t believe it, pried open my 11th-floor window, and looked out around the side of the building. There was the disaster, just like it was pictured on the Web, large as life. By that time, both the towers were in flames, and a tremendous column of smoke was streaming out to the west. Frankly, it didn’t look real; it looked like a digital composite matted onto the blue sky above the buildings in the foreground. The traffic in the street was completely normal, the foot traffic on the sidewalk was normal, too.
I walked to the south side of the building, where we could see the towers clearly through the windows. We saw the hole where the first plane had hit, and we saw the fire slowly creeping down the sides of the towers. I turned around to walk back to my desk, heard gasps and screams, and spinned around in time to see the south tower collapse. That’s what made it real, I guess.
Steve Farrell, Kieran Downes, and I walked over to Bellvue hospital to see if we could give blood. By this time, everyone was on their cellphone, everyone was talking to each other about what was happening. “I know someone who works…” “I used to work…” “It’s the anniversary of the Camp David accord…” “They say the Pentagon…” All the NYU and Baruch students were out in the street, in their fire drill stations, smiling and laughing and talking on their phones.
We got to the hospital just as they were locking it down. We got in and asked about giving blood, but the donor room was still dark and locked. On the way back to the front desk, we were hustled out of the building by cops and administrators in orange armbands. That was cool; they obviously needed to get things under control first, so we walked back to [My employer] and learned that the second tower had collapsed.
I spent some time at my desk, trying to think of something to do. I really didn’t want to spend the day watching TV and seeing the same footage over and over again, and I’d feel stupid trying to work. My stepfather Robin, who’s an emergency coordinator, suggested that I call the Red Cross and offer to help out. To my surprise, they answered the phone and asked us to come up to Red Cross headquarters to give blood and maybe volunteer. At that time, it seemed like they wanted First Aid and CPR-certified volunteers. So I got a group of about eight people together and we walked up there. (I’m actually updating this post at the end of the day.)
The “Message my phone” input box from the “contact me” link above has been broken for longer that I care to admit, but it’s working now. At least, I *think* it is; now the Voicestream end of the bargain seems to be out of comission. So: if you need a baby delivered in a taxicab, or you need to convince the premier of Russia that the missiles are not really on the way, or if you need help talking a suicidal jumper off a ledge, you might not be able to get a hold of me.
King Geek For a Day
I’ve been trying to observe a seven-day wait period on expensive gadget purchases. Unfortunately, I have yet to observe it successfully. The latest breach of willpower: on Friday, I found out that the incredibly cool wireless Bluetooth headset was available in the US. The headset uses radio to talk to your cellphone, instead of wires, so if you’re wearing the headset and your phone rings, you can just casually reach up, tap the headset, and answer the call WITHOUT TOUCHING THE PHONE IN YOUR POCKET! Or, get this, if your Palm device has a Bluetooth card, you can tap “dial” in your contact list and start talking on your headset, again WITHOUT TOUCHING YOUR PHONE! Oh, this is great. So I found a tiny place on West 38th street where I could buy the new Bluetooth-enabled Ericsson T39 GSM mobile phone. With on-board Bluetooth, GPRS, and a bunch of other cool features, the T39 hasn’t been officially released in the US, which gives me lots of geek points. The phone doesn’t even come with a US charging adapter; it comes with a colossal three-pronged UK plug, and instructions on how to attach the charger to “the mains.” Ha! Then I ran to Penn Station to buy the headset kit and accept the adulation of the cell-phone vendors “Damn, is that the new T39? Can I touch it?” Then I rode to Philly on the train, talking importantly on the headset while the little flashing green light on the end of the microphone boom announces that I am the Uber-Geek, the King Megillah of wireless headphone users, the High Lalapazooza of tiny, expensive, easily breakable devices.