How a bicycle is the most poignant memory of that day for me.
The 10th anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone. 9/11 has about as much relevance to today’s kids in grade school as World War 11 had to my generation — something that happened before we were born that people were still talking about. Realizing that makes the WWII experience and how it affected my parent’s generation much more vivid to me.
I experienced the day like most Americans did — glued to the TV set watching it unfold. Although for someone in the world today will be the equivalent of their personal 9/11, what made this so profound was the shared enormity of it, watching a major building collapse live with 100s of millions of other people somehow made it much greater that having your door kicked in and your male family members disappear forever.
Over a ten year period from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, I spent a total of about 3 years in New York City involved in various business ventures. Especially in the mid 80s, Advaita and I had seen that the over reliance of New Vrindaban on what passed for “sankirtan” was a huge potential problem, as was borne out by the FBI raid in 1987. So we were trying to come up with an alternative.
Prior to the raid we had spent time in New York city trying to make a business and preaching center happen. We started as street peddlers, expanded that operation, then got into wholesale to supply our own vendors and eventually other vendors as well.
As such I spent the latter part of 1985 and all of 1986 working in NYC. I still considered myself living in NV as my fanily was there but I was spending most of my time in NYC.
We would travel over the mountains as regularly as we could to visit the holy dhama and despite People’s Airline flights of $19 one way, most times we drove. We always knew when we were getting close to the end of the return journey as coming up through New Jersey we would see the Twin Towers looming over the Hudson, and it was like a beacon drawing us into the city.
Traveling around New York often took the form of taking the subway. Many times I would come up at a station I was unfamiliar with and routine procedure on hitting the streets was to get my bearings by looking around and seeing the Twin Towers as I then knew where South was.
I never went up in the Towers although there was a subway stop I used to get off of occasionally that was in the basement of one of them, so I had been inside on numerous occasions.
I used to run with a group of street skaters (real skates, before roller blades, not skate boards). If occasionally we would find ourselves in the neighborhood we would go into the Plaza at the base of the Towers and take a few turns around. We couldn’t hang out there because a security guard would invariably come out and chase us away and we weren’t looking for trouble but we could always get in a few minutes.
Point of the above was that I did have a personal relationship to the buildings so when they went down it was meaningful to me. Any visit to NYC after that the sky seemed empty.
My first visit to NYC after 9/11 was a few months later. I had been recently diagnosed with Hepatitis C and the then currently available treatment was nasty, being basically having the flu for one year with a 10% chance of going undetectable.
I didn’t care for that so I studied what novel medications were in the experimental pipeline and referred myself into a study that was being conducted in NYC so it required me to travel there. This meant a series of trips in later November/December into the city. (After going through all the preliminaries, the study got scrubbed because a monkey went blind so I never did take the medicine).
At that time no one knew but what another attack could happen at any time, so being in NYC as a resident or visitor did provide a heightened sense of of one’s mortality.
I made the obligatory trip to the Ground Zero and that was a whole experience. I was pretty numb through most of it as the vibe in the area was incredible and turning down receptors was the only way to make it through.
While that visit itself could be a whole chapter in the book I will never write, one thing did strike me pretty hard.
That was within a block of the viewing platform all the visitors took turns walking up to look down into the hole there was a bicycle U locked to a street sign. It was still grey with dust the rains hadn’t washed off yet.
Someone had locked up their bicycle and gone into a building, never to return to unlock it, becoming one of the casualties of that day.
To me that was the spirit of New Yorkers, that that bike had been allowed to stay there. Not stolen or removed as abandoned but a mute and understated memorial to the sheer personal tragedy of the day. All around the buildings and streets had been cleaned and washed up except for that bike, left to the rain.
That bike affected me more than anything else. I can still see it — waiting, waiting, waiting, for a rider who will never return.
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