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Our Patches of Green - 10 Years Later

  • Subject: [cg] Our Patches of Green - 10 Years Later
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2003 11:26:43 EST

Sometimes, when I used to work as a temp at various jobs at the World Trade 
Center in the early nineties,  I'd pay the five bucks and go up to  the roof 
observation deck during my lunch hour on clear days.  After hours of poring 
over documents or checking computer records in a windowless cube, the idea of 
being able to see all the sky in the world - even on cold days, was better 
than eating lunch. 

Once there up there,  with a roll of dimes (that's what 5 minutes cost, until 
they raised it to a quarter)  I'd look through the timed, automatic binocular 
stands they had all over the roof.  Sometimes I'd look at the great green 
rectangle of Central Park north of 59th Street.  Othertimes, I'd look for 
places where I had lived or worked, the silver eagles of the Chrysler 
Building, tug boats in the harbor, or community gardens on the nearby lower 
east side of Manhattan. 

While it was great to see that great green rectangle of Central Park, 
especially in full bloom or covered with snow, like a giant, magical ice 
palace,  it was always a pleasure to look through the terrible tenements of 
the Lower East Side and get a glimpse, from 110 storeys above the ground, of 
the little patches of green created by folks like me in  burnt out lots. 

 At that time, there were more gardens left in the Lower East Side than there 
are now, and it was fun trying to see them all.  I remember a suspicious  
security guard asking me what I was looking at down there, and when I told 
him, "gardens", he wouldn't believe me until I showed him. "Well, I'll be 
damned - I thought you were checking out roofs to break into over there.  The 
cops got one guy who cased places from here last week." Takes all kinds, I 
guess. And I told him about the gardens which he never knew existed.

Well, ten years ago today in 1993, it was snowy so I didn't go up to the WTC 
roof observatory from where I was working, a law firm then called Brown & 
Wood ( now Sidley, Brown & Wood, LLP).  I was walking with a sandwich to the 
employee cafeteria near the Word Processing Center, which was on the 54th or 
55th floor when I felt the floor shake beneath my feet.  Now, the World Trade 
Center was so tall, sometimes you would feel the building move because it was 
engineered to flex, ever so slightly in the wind.  But an alarm went off, and 
soon  a security guy said something  about a fire in Tower 2 ( we were in 
tower 1).  So I went back to the word processing center, called my agency and 
told them that we were evacuating the offices and got the supervisor to sign 
my time sheet for the morning.  There was a rush to the elevators - but they 
had been shut down.  I had a very scared, very heavy woman from the word 
processing center next to me - her fingers moved 90 words a minute, but the 
rest of her didn't move fast.  We'd have to walk, and it was 55 floors down.  
Stairway A & C were jammed, but stairway B was a little wider and we pushed 
ourselved into the stream of folks coming down the stairs.  Smoke was coming 
up, and I wet a hankerchief that I had with a can of Coca Cola that I had 
bought to go with my lunch.  Others had hankies and soon the coke can was 

It was very crowded on the staircase.  And there were firemen on the 
landings, helping people out, lending  a mask for a whiff of oxygen to some, 
encouraging others, growling at others - whatever worked at getting folks 
down the stairs.  Because of the mass of people pushing into the stairways at 
each landing , it took us about 90 minutes to get out of the building.  My 
walk partner was taken into an ambulance for a combination of exhaustion and 
smoke inhalation, but I, while coughing felt like walking and walking. 

At the base of the towers was a Greenmarket ( a farmer's market) and while 
most of the truck farmers had evacuated, there was one good samaritan  who 
was handing out cups of hot cider - in the smoke and snow, to people as they 

I got to a phone and called my wife who was working at a hospital in Midtown. 
She asked me if I had heard what had happened at the WTC...I coughed and told 
her that this was where I had gone to work today and that our son was doing 
afterschool today and I'd pick him up at 5:30.  Yes...I'd call when I got 
home.  The subway entrances were jammed, so I kept walking, and coughing and 
walking until I ended up on the lower east side on the corner of 1st Avenue & 
East Houston.  Amazingly, someone had opened the gate to the Liz Christy 
garden - I think to get a snow shovel for the walk -  and I walked inside, as 
the snow was powdering  the trees. My coke covered handkerchief had dried,  I 
put it in my pocket and I looked back downtown and saw the stream of smoke 
coming up.  

I still had my sandwich in my pocket, so I ate my salami on rye, on a bench 
in Liz Christy Community Garden, one of the 50,000 people who got out, ten 
years ago on February 26, 1993. When I finished,  I walked a block east to 
the subway, got to my temp agency, dropped off my time sheet, picked up my 
son, and spent the next two weeks coughing out dark colored crap.  Six folks 
died that day because of the truck bomb in the basemement, and as you know, 
they came back later to finish the job 8 years later. 

As I finished off the salami sandwich in the Liz Christy Garden - one of the 
patches of green that I saw from the roof on the WTC -  I promised myself 
that I'd spend more days eating my lunch in community gardens. 

Now, luck  being what it is,  I returned to the WTC and worked there on 
several jobs - but it was fate that got me a job in a company about a half of 
a mile south of it on 9/11.  

When I saw the buildings collapse on 9/11, on  that perfect, sunny September 
Tuesday, my mind was in stairway B, going down at a snail's pace, with that 
scared, large lady on my arm, with the firemen encouraging us on our way.  
30,000 got out on 9/11 and we lost about 3,000 including 450 firemen, cops, 
EMTs, Port Authority and rescue personnel. 

There was nothing for it, at the end of 9/11, after I had gotten back up 
town, but to take a walk to the Clinton Community Garden around 11 PM  ( 
after we had fed all of my son's friends who were stranded in Manhattan) to 
water and to lock up.  The garden was still filled at this time with folks 
who were trying to come to terms with the day, but it was dark and we didn't 
want anyone tripping over anything and hurting themselves.   

Even in the dark, our quiet patch of green on West 48th street, like so many 
other community gardens in our city and all over our country, continued to 
welcome and comfort,  for folks resting while looking for their loved ones,  
as make-shift shrines ...filled with candles, as sites for benefit concerts, 
memorial services, places to talk,  and as places for the shaken, like me, to 
steady their hands while deadheading dahlias and taking out the garbage.   

Adam Honigman


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