The heavyweight guide to Ukraine
I woke up Wednesday after a rough night’s sleep. I started walking in Manhattan and my feet sorta led me south to the financial district. I could see what looked like a big off-white cloud in an otherwise crystal-clear day. As I passed Fourteenth Street I notice the businesses were mostly closed. The small delis had signs saying ‘Sorry no newspapers being sold today’.
When I got close to the World Trade Center the police were turning people away. A man on a bike told me I could volunteer to help out at the Jacob Javits center on 34th. I started walking up the West Side Highway which is usually packed with cars, but today was empty.
I came to a stop light and looked over at two guys wearing heavy metal t-shirts in an old car. I said “Hey you headed up town”. They said “Jump in”. Turns out they were two guys from the Electrical Union and they were headed downtown to volunteer as well.
We go to the center for volunteers and there were several hundred people lined up. They were taking names and addressed and having you sign a different sheet if you had a skill like EMT (Emergency Medical Treatment) or Engineer.
I signed up and listened as the nice lady told people to go home and come back later when they needed more people.
Apparently they had 44,000 people come to volunteer. Two dump trucks showed up and asked for laborers. I was not quick enough to get on them but I heeded the point. Soon as the next two Ryder moving trucks showed up I jumped in one. They were full of Evian water.
A huge fashion show had been cancelled at the center and two Jamaican stage technicians were donating the water to the rescue effort. Five of us at the back started forming a human chain to deliver the water quickly.
We got to the early rescue site and began unloading. People just popped out of nowhere to help and the work went quick.
The Salvation Army had a large support area and I started making sandwiches and getting them ready to be moved down to the front-line people.
We loaded up a pick-up with water and food and headed down to “Ground Zero”.
As we passed anyone in a uniform from military to police to Fire Department or anyone covered in dust we tossed them cold water. Once we got to the main area we unloaded at a makeshift cafeteria consisting of two tables, which was being run by the curator of the local service building.
A guy came by asking for ice for the triage unit and morgue in the building next to the WTC. They had converted the next door Merrill Lynch lobby into the area where they were bringing bodies in.
I loaded ice and headed there with him. When we got there the lobby was a combination of medical teams, food volunteers and hundreds of firefighters and other rescue personnel.
They were breaking the remaining glass out of huge windows in order to make the area safer. Amidst shattering glass and construction equipment sawing at the wreckage we fed everyone who came by.
The day wore on. It was 90 degrees. The stench of smoke turned to the stench of thousands of bodies at the end.
We considered moving the food stations but there was really nowhere that had lights. Twice in the day parts of the building we were in collapsed. We grabbed injured and fled like crazy in case the entire 80 stories went. The only bathrooms were on the third floor. This was freaky as there were no lights and long escalators. When you got there it was pitch black. I had a pen light from a convention that was scheduled to have taken place the lobby. I made a wrong turn and walked into a conference room which had the eerie look of a place where people were about to return. The bathrooms had heavy fire doors so they stank terribly, as there was no running water.
Wave after wave of food came in from the docks. I have never seen so much. By 2am I found that I was the only person manning 15 tables piled high with every conceivable food item from McDonalds cheeseburgers to Gumdrops, to exotic vegetarian cuisine.
About that time I was getting pretty dead on my feet so I ask another volunteer to take over. I had serious sunburn. I ached from moving cases of water and standing on marble for 18 hours. The smoke was starting to make it hard to see and breathe. I wandered out and started walking north. I walked 40 blocks till I got a cab. There were a group of yahoos at the police line with signs and t-shirts cheering vehicles as they left the area. One even waved his shirt to me as I walked by.
Before going home I stopped for a beer at an Irish bar which stays open late. I started talking to a guy next to me who had not heard from several of his friends in the building.
I turned to look at the TV. When I turned back this guy had broken down in tears at the bar. I held his shoulders and though I didn’t really believe it I told him everything will be all right.