Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Final Chapter

I’ve had known for over a year that I’d be making the trek back to New York, this time at the invitation of the 911 Memorial Organization to record my story from September, 2001. I knew it was something I had to do, if only to finish a chapter in my life and move on to the next.

I’ve said it before, but anyone who knows me, knows I’ll travel nearly anywhere at the drop of a hat. I love the preparation, the research, booking the tickets, and I even love the smell of jet fuel. Yes, my addiction is that serious! This trip though felt different and I couldn’t recognize why. People kept asking if I was really looking forward to it, and honestly, I had to think about it.

I’ve been to NYC three times now. The first time was in September, 2001. Of course that ended up being the most dramatic and surprising of all of my travels past and likely to come. Second time was in March, 2006, for a few days while my wife was attending a conference in the Times Square area. This last trip was to be my third time. It’s such a fantastic city to explore – people get the misconception that it’s so huge and a challenge to get around, but really it’s like walking through a series of connected neighborhoods, each with their own personality and charm. This time though I had my appointment to meet with two of the folks who work at the Memorial Museum, Alex Drakakis of the museum collections, and Jenny Pachucki of the oral history recording department. I had chatted with them many times over the past few months via email, and I was looking forward to a face-to-face meeting. For me, this was the purpose of my visit, and I had built in some time afterwards to explore and enjoy the city some more.

When I arrived at the World Trade Center site, I met with both Alex and Jenny, and they gave me a great tour of their offices, including a great view of the construction at the WTC site from the 20th floor. It was so good to meet in person, and to also see the incredible amount of resources behind such a great project. Soon after I found myself sitting in a quiet and softly lit room with a microphone in front of me, and Jenny sitting across the table from me, ready to record. For the next 45 minutes or so, in a question and answer format, I spoke about everything I could remember about my time in NYC on my first visit. Having written in this blog for the previous couple of weeks before coming, so many details came to my head easily. Jenny did a fantastic job of letting me release these details, and thus bringing something of an official end to this chapter of my life.

After a few pictures with the girls and a good-bye, I then found myself back out on the streets of Manhattan having completed my task. It felt weird. It felt kind of sad. But it felt good. I imagined what it was like for the hundreds of people before me who had come and done the same thing, and wondered if they felt the same.

It’s a strange connection to have with a place. One friend, who was also in New York during the attacks on the World Trade Center recently referred to us as ‘honorary New Yorkers.’ I had never thought about that, and even though a declaration like that I feel I could never self-prescribe, I think she’s right. Here’s why.

I spent the next 2 days wandering around parts of NYC I had visited before, and parts I had never visited before. And even with this time spent wandering the city, there’s so much I have yet to see. This time though, I concentrated less on the famous physical structures, and more on the people – anyone from residents of the neighborhoods I was walking through to people working in shops and restaurants to people like me, visiting and getting to know one of the world’s most famous places. Anyone I saw was there had the appearance of someone who wanted to belong. There’s so much to attract people there, between the work culture, the sites and architecture, the food, the nightlife, the water, the history, and even the potential that a city like New York can hold. Growing up I had always wanted to visit New York because it is such a popular part of our culture – in movies and television - that I just had to experience it for myself. Before my visit in 2001 I had never expected to be so connected, but now I know that I am. Through my experiences I’ve been more than a visitor, like it or not. But I do like it.

So I think that’s why it felt strange or anxious to be heading back for another visit and why it didn’t instantly feel like a holiday. It wasn’t the meetings at the Memorial/Museum, and it wasn’t the challenge of the oral recording that I knew would put me through a roller coaster of emotions. In a way, this trip was like heading home, or to a second home I suppose. It’s a big place with great places to eat, great places to see sightsee, and with so much going on. It’s beautiful and sad all at the same time with its spectacular building and its run down buildings as well. Now I’m not so sure I could or would ever move here and try to afford a decently sized apartment with a any kind of view overlooking Central Park, but even if it means visiting every few years or so and staying in a hotel, I’ll always consider it to be a special place.