I started off 2020 by taking a few hours with family to visit the iconic city of New York, scene of a thousand movies and television programs, and home to 8.55 million residents.
The average South African would find the regular sight of homeless people familiar.
The unquestionable highlight was the 9/11 memorial in downtown Manhattan. I distinctly remember where I was when I heard about September 11 on the news and when President Bush made remarks later that morning (afternoon for us in South Africa) to the effect that the United States was going to ‘go after the folks’ who committed those acts, I felt a flood of righteous indignation towards the perpetrators.
In a way, and it wasn’t only me but many people the world over, I had an instant kinship with the people of New York and indeed the Unites States.
The 9/11 memorial site was busy and lines snaking into the museum would have taken hours which we didn’t have.
I saw names on the memorial panels that I knew from reading hundreds of articles. People I’d never met but knew something about their lives. Fire chief Pfeifer, Franciscan friar, Fr. Mychal Judge, Lauren Grandcolas and her unborn child.
It was surreal. As we wandered through the site, air traffic directed the attention skywards, helicopters every few minutes, commuter jets as well as light aircraft from nearby JFK, or possibly La Guardia.
Police were everywhere, NYPD and PAPD. Hundreds of police, reportedly 38 thousand NYPD with another 10 thousand or so auxiliary, around 2 thousand PAPD officers spread over New York and New Jersey.
I thought of the people whose names I knew but I lingered on Kevin Cosgrove. I’m 46 now, the same age as Kevin Cosgrove on 11 September 2001. He was an executive working for the Aon Corporation in the South Tower.
He was on a 911 call when the tower collapsed, his cries immortalised in sound.
A short walk away was Trinity Church. In the middle of a bustling city and a short distance from Wall Street is a cemetery with gravestones hundreds of years old, almost quiet and intimate. I thought of my sister.
While looking for Wall Street and the infamous ‘charging bull’ we came across ‘The Trump Building’ at 40 Wall Street, a surreal experience illustrating Trump’s link to New York.
Later, coming up out of the subway at Columbus circle we spotted the ‘Trump International Hotel and Tower’ on Central Park West. I suppose New Yorkers are used to seeing President Trump’s name around like its normal.
New York is busy, teeming with people. It was quite an experience and utterly iconic but I’m glad I don’t live in a city that huge.