I've been to New York City only once (so far). I had purchased tickets to visit my friend, Jennie Tonic, in 2001.... As it turned out, 10 days after the Twin Towers were hit. I contemplated canceling the trip, but decided security would never be tighter, and I went.
I was there just for a long weekend, and though Jennie gave me a hell of a whirlwind tour, I'm sure that my next NYC experience will be a different one. Traffic was still eerily quiet when I was there; no horns honking or brakes screeching. Subway queues were calm and organized, and people around me helped others with packages and doors. I remember asking Jennie several times, "is this normal?"—especially when I inadvertently stepped out into the street against a light, and forced a cabbie to hit the brakes. I waited for a barrage of profanity, but he smiled and waved me across, telling me "no problem." "Not normal," she assured me.
I had my camera with me then, too, and though I felt an urge to document everything I saw, there were so many pictures I could not bear to take. Weeping people searching for loved ones on billboards at St. Vincents. Dusty firefighters taking a break on the sidewalk; oh please, can I just take a picture of a real live hero? The urge is there to ask, and not of disrespectful spirit. But no. This is not Disney World. These people are exhausted and lost, and I will not impose on them to be a part of my *vacation* pictures.
I still came home with a lot of photographs: Photos of letters and photos of photos. Photos of flowers and candles, and sidewalks covered with candle-wax. Of intersections and playgrounds and posters and shop windows, and of trucks hauling twisted metal from Ground Zero.
But none of people. None of hope and fear and broken hearts.
Union Square (I believe it was) was filled with a park-sized memorial. Unimaginable piles of flowers, and burning candles. Cameras everywhere, professional cameras, and personal cameras, lined up forever. Look at them all, I thought. Are they fascinated tourists, or cheesy paparazzi? I had to take a picture of these people taking pictures.
Below is my Surprise Photo-within-a-photo, #2. It aches me.