NYC


2001年9月11日星期二

大约上午8点一刻我和丁琦坐PATH到达世贸中心地下站。她通过天桥从世贸一楼(北楼)过街走到世界金融中心的公司里,我转地铁到23街我们公司。

大约9点,我看到一则Yahoo Alert说飞机撞到了世贸中心。我们公司的秘书接到她姐姐的电话,说电视上在直播。我还以为是小事故,但也试图给丁琦的手机打电话,总也不通。

9点丁琦正在与其他几十个和她一样周一刚开始上班的新雇员接受培训,感受到了第二次撞机的震动。世界金融中心被疏散,她和几个新同事走到河边离WTC一个街区的地方站了一会儿看着WTC着火冒烟,看见有物体从被撞以上的楼层坠下来(后来知道是绝望的人)。她感到那里不安全,就和两个同事向北走,准备去我们公司。

大约9点半我和两个中国同事上街看“热闹”。我们沿着第五大道往南走,街上全是人。快到华盛顿广场的时候,一辆大卡车挡住了我们的视线。忽然周围的人开始大叫大嚷地往前跑。等卡车开走了,WTC二楼(南楼)已经只剩一股浓烟了。我心里开始发虚,但是想着要去找丁琦所以继续向downtown走。与此同时丁琦已经走开大约10个街区,听到了一声响回头正好看到WTC二楼坍塌的过程。她继续向 uptown走,幸运地打到了一辆出租车到了我们公司。

快10点时我们走到了大约Houston街与Canal街交界处,大概离WTC有不到20个街区的地方。路边有一家酒吧敞开着所有的门,里面放着电视直播。我们走得累了,我也想再打个电话试试,就进了酒吧。等电话的人有五六个,因为手机根本打不出去(我根本就把手机落在家里了)。排队的时候我看着电视,忽然一楼开始坍塌。我一心以为是在重播刚才二楼坍塌,播音员也在说“is this live??!!”(这是实况吗)。我跑到街上看,一楼已经没了,一片极浓的烟从地面迅速卷起,立刻把整个downtown 地区淹没了。我跑回酒吧里打电话,丁琦的手机还是不通。我又给公司打电话,我们秘书听到是我立刻大叫“your wife is here!!!”我跟丁琦说了几句话就往回走了。

中午和下午我们一直在公司上网看新闻。几乎所有连接曼哈顿与周围地方的桥与隧道都封锁了。我从广播里听到有些火车通了就准备走,后来一察发现只是新泽西部分的线路。我同事郭林峰的夫人在家里看电视看到有许多人从曼哈顿最北端的 George Washington桥上走到新泽西去,于是我们决定离开公司。

大约下午4点我们出门坐地铁。大约一半地铁已经恢复,但车次很少而且快车都改成慢车开了。终于到了177街GWB车站已经5点多了。桥上挤满了车,已经不许人走。警察叫着说可以排队坐公共汽车过桥到新泽西那边的汽车站,我们绕过整个汽车站才找到队尾,前面大概排了四五百人。等到快6点队伍一点没动过。我走到桥边去一问才知道桥上可能有炸弹,所有交通都中断了。这时等车的队伍已经绕了车站一圈,开始排到第二层。

大约快7点知道是虚惊一场,开始通车。公共汽车走得不慢,但排在外圈的人开始等不及,只要有车经过就会上前请求搭车。许多车上就挤满了人,也有不少司机把门锁住把窗摇起绝尘而去。我们终于等上了一辆公共汽车,慢慢地开过了桥。同时步行通道也开放了,有不少人还是象以色列人出埃及似的排队走过桥。汽车过了桥就把人都放下来了。许多人换上其他的汽车走了,其他人和我们一样在陌生的Fort Lee的路上等人来接。

这时大约快8点,天已经黑了。郭林峰家离Fort Lee大约有30英里,但是与曼哈顿相连的所有高速公路都封闭了,他夫人只能从城里的道路慢慢开过来,在Fort Lee的街上找到我们已经10点多了。他们把我们送回家,大概是11点。

进了家门看见电话上有31条留言。我和丁琦分别用家里的电话和两部手机又打又接,告诉大家我们安好。同时打开电视看各个台的新闻一直到快4点才抗不住睡觉了。

9月12日星期三

早上7点多有人打电话来问候。之后电话不断,我们也就起来继续看电视打电话。我的老板晚上打电话来说明天我自己决定去不去上班。新闻里报道帝国大厦和Penn Station都因假炸弹警报而被疏散。明天还是不去的好。丁琦的公司总机没有人接。

A friend of mine who’s been in America for a couple of years told me a funny experience. Once he was visiting NYC with a few fellow Chinese students. All of them were in Manhattan for the first time, so normally they felt frighteningly lost, especially in the subway. Whenever in a subway car, they always tried to find a corner and sardined themselves on the bench no matter how vacant the car was. My friend said that in those moments he felt completely identified with those “min2 gong1” in Beijing. I guess I would’ve acted the same under similar circumstances. But after 5 months of commute and a dozen visits around town, now I feel quite safe and unlostable above and under the streets of Manhattan. It’s said that every street, every park, and every subway train in New York can be dangerous at anytime except for a commuter.

I would’ve been happier if the streets that I zigzag through everyday were 20 blocks more uptown–the real Midtown where all offices, restaurants, shops, and theatres are. The regions I tread upon is actually called Chelsea and Gramercy. Yes there’s the Empire State Building to the north and the Flat Iron Building to the south, but what lie in-between are mostly, and strangely, hundreds of small wholesale stores that sell everything from stuffed animals to Chinese medicine. Many owners are Chinese or Korean. I just can’t imagine how they survive by selling Made-in-China anonymously-branded items that you may not even find in Kmart. Maybe that’s exactly New York–everyone can survive and anything can happen.

There is one place in my commute route that I really love: the Madison Square Park. It’s one of the numerous angular-shaped parks created by Broadway cutting across the otherwise perfectly checker-boarded midtown streets. People know the Madison Square Garden much better from the Knicks and Rangers, the arena used to be right beside the park then it relocated a couple times and finally settled down right above Penn Station. Every day I start from the Garden and usually pass through the Park–sometimes deliberately. It’s literally an oasis in the heart of the city, and I’ve been witnessing its reincarnation for months. Fountains are cleaned, lawns replanted, and sculptures erected. Now there’re always all kinds of people in the park, some for a break, some for a book, some for the whole summer. Dogs bark merrily in the playground, or gaze curiously at the squirrels running around and up and down. Pigeons sleep with heads tucked under wings when I walk by in the morning, and lurk on the branches in the setting sun when I return. I feel refreshed by the scent of the grass and elevated by the facade of the Flat Iron Building every time in the park. Why? Well…

“I don’t have any reasons
I’ve left them all behind.
I’m in a New York state of mind.”
(Billy Joel, New York State of Mind, from his 1976 album “Turnstiles”)

It’s been more than 2 months since I become a commuter bound for New York City. I’ve been reading books on my train rides, a luxury that I hadn’t enjoyed for the past 3.5 years. It makes me think, and want to, as always, share some flickering thoughts with you.

My apartment is on 9th floor facing east. It would’ve been a cover-photo quality view of Manhattan skyline, if there weren’t a crowd of old, ugly, and unorganized buildings in Elizabeth downtown that stands right in the middle. Nevertheless, I can still watch the eternal confrontation of the Twin Towers of World Trade Center and the Empire State Building on a fine day or evening. Of course on a typical morning I don’t have the leisure of a scenic outlook. If I do look outside of the window, I’ll be checking if the trains are on time–the train station is also in my view. In most of the time the trains are very punctual, except once during a blizzard the electrical wire between Newark and New York broke down so not a single train could get across the Hudson River. Unfortunately there’s also the PATH train, which is more like a subway that feeds on its rails rather than hanging wires, so I still can and must go to work instead of enjoying the snow.

Elizabeth, the city where I live, is a bit south to Manhattan. The train crosses the River and arrives in Penn Station, which is at midtown 32nd St. So the train route from Elizabeth follows a curve with a constantly changing perspective of the City. When the Twin Towers merge into one, the train descends into the tunnel and stays in the underworld ever since. Just before entering Penn Station, there’s an open area as large as a whole city block, as if King Kong happened to step on this hollow block and trap its foot on the rails. I get a last glimpse of skylight, which looks so different than the same skylight on my shoulders after I take the stairs up to 7th Avenue from underground.

There’s always some Baroque or early Romantism chamber music that permeates slowly and indifferently in the hugh Penn Station, a rendezvous of all lines of New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road, PATH train, and several subways. People walk up and down frenzily and look all preoccupied. Sometimes, mostly on rainy days and Mondays, I feel that the City I ascend into is not somewhere I belong. It’s the Matrix. I’m injected into its grid together with three million people everyday in trains, subways, buses, ferries, and taxis, and tossed out in the evening like water in a tumbling washing machine. Life only seems real to me again when I see the shimmery houses sprawled across the land on the other side of the River–my side, where my vacant but cozy apartment hides in the darkness that guards it safely from the dazzling lights of Manhattan.

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