Armchair Road Trip Day 3: 9/11 Museum

September 1, 2020 — Leave a comment
World Trade Center tower in New York

I think the WTC tower is uninspired — a lost opportunity.

 

On our second day in New York, we drove from our hotel to Hoboken, where I parked for the day in a garage for $12. I was in shock, given that Boston parking is about 12 bucks a minute. I could live in my car there!

We walked to the PATH station, first taking some photos of the skyline. You can’t go wrong with that view from Jersey!

New York skyline Hudson Yards

Mtuseni loved the Hudson Yards complex. He says it looks like Tony Stark (aka Ironman) lives there. 

 

wtc train

Not much opportunity for Mtuseni to take trains back home. The last time was taking Gautrain to the airport with me in Joburg in 2012!

 

Got off at World Trade Center stop, in the belly of the Oculus, where we grabbed breakfast and got lost. (Second time!) We weren’t really lost, we just couldn’t find what we wanted. The maps don’t help when walking inside an austere, multi-level fish skeleton where every surface is white. Still, it is impressive. 

 

Interior of Oculus, New York

“Where the hell is Pret a Manger?”

 

I’d seen the outdoor 9/11 Memorial before — and Mtuseni and I had spent a little time there the previous day — but I hadn’t been to the museum. It’s hard to put into words. It’s really well-done in terms of capturing both the physical and emotional scale of that day. From the moment you descend the escalator among massive pieces of debris, you’re in the surreal experience of 9/11. It’s heavy and sad. And it brings everything back, all that has faded away with time. 

I was surprised how little Mtuseni knew about 9/11. Then again he wasn’t even nine years old when it happened, in a house with no TV or electricity. I’m often surprised how little he knows about past events in America, which we all presume is the eternal center of global attention. Then again, aside from Nelson Mandela and apartheid, I knew little about South Africa until I met Mtuseni.

I tried to explain it all to him… How life here has never been the same since. What a beautiful morning it was in the Northeast. How a good friend — gone now — who worked in the towers likely survived only because he went to vote that morning. The numbness and shock and sadness. It didn’t really sink in for him, even as my voice trembled and cracked telling it.

 

blue sky

Anyone who was in the Northeast that day will remember how stunningly bright and crisp and blue the sky was on that perfect September morning.

 

Virgil quote inside 9/11 memorial says: No day shall erase you from the memory of time.

These 2,983 watercolors are artists’ impressions of how the sky looked in New York that morning. And the quote… sigh.

 

Mtuseni was fascinated by the large artifacts. The lobby staircase that survivors ran down. The crushed fire truck. The twisted trident beams. The power of these is inescapable.

 

New Work World Trade Center tower trident girders

The iconic trident girders that defined the lower level of the twin towers.

 

graffiti girder and slurry

 

fire truck

 

graffiti girder solo

 

But it was a volunteer, a woman from Queens with a heavy New Yawk accent, who got to him. We were looking at another twisted beam, and I was ready to move on to the detailed timeline exhibits.

She came over and explained the energy necessary to contort that steel, where it was in the building and what happened when the plane hit. She went on to describe the day, where she was, what it was like to be in New York. Mtuseni was mesmerized, asking all sorts of questions. He’s usually pretty silent in museums, and most other places. She talked for almost half an hour, until another couple came up and we peeled away.

As we walked deeper into the museum, Mtuseni said he was impressed by the woman’s commitment and openness. And how brave she is to tell her story to people every day. And he said all he’d known about 9/11 was that buildings fell down — but now he gets it. 

 

docent girder

Mtuseni had to have a photo of the beam after the volunteer’s story. The impact of it all seems to show in his face. 

 

New York World Trade Center Ground Zero worker quote says: We came in as individuals. And we'll walk out together.

    A good quote for our lives today, in all circumstances.

 

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