Sounds of a city

On the morning of 9/11, my Uber driver Chris said last night, he was on his way to an interview at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. But traffic was so bad he had to cancel the meeting.

I immediately thought of Delwar Khondoker, a Bangladeshi immigrant I interviewed five years ago who had been a server at Windows on the World the evening of September 10, 2001.

Then there’s the three individuals of Rich Swingle’s play Five Bells for 9/11: Lana Ho Shing, a mutual funds specialist at Morgan Stanley, Franciscan priest Brian Jordan and Squad 41 firefighter Bruce Van Hine.

Manhattan has been unusually quiet in the past few days. Rather than a chattering buzz on the streets, there’s a hush over the sidewalks. Revisiting tales of traumatic loss and great heroism is sobering.

Urban planners and theorists speak of the importance of sound for a city’s life — the right mix of industrial noise, sounds of nature and human activity. We need to work on finding the tools and ways to encourage more sounds of nature for architects and planners to want to use them, university of Sheffield professor Östen Axelsson said last fall at The Royal Society in London.

Sometimes the natural sound cities use is water. Certainly it’s a major element at the 9/11 memorial.

But to me, the true sound of a city is the people. The quiet on the streets this weekend may be people avoiding the city on the 15th anniversary, or remembering it in their own way.

Down the block, the firehouse has a window display remembering those who died that day. This morning their community of firefighters, policemen, family and friends gathered in the street.

Van Hine died saving lives, as did hundreds of others, Swingle’s one-man show grippingly tells. But every time the play is performed, those heroic lives are recounted with four sets of five bell rings in the traditional firehouse code 5-5-5-5 signaling a firefighter’s death.

Never. Forget.

Khondoker told me of the post-9/11 shock of losing his colleagues, struggle to find work (he was on unemployment for about a year), and jobs at Colors in NoHo and a Hyatt hotel in New Jersey. I wonder where he is today.

But besides somber memory is recovery. Freedom Tower stands complete and its spire has lit up several times in the last year for other tragedies around the world. The white wings of the Oculus transit hub splay out like nothing else on the island. So many people work daily to keep these places safe and running, while the shoppers still shop, the partiers still party and the honking outside my window never stops.

Trained in Italy, Chris opened two Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, and was a chef at The Princeton Club before retiring and becoming an Uber driver, he said. He drives three nights a week, mostly 12-hour shifts on weekends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s