An island again


Today, hundreds of people lost their lives in the crash of a jet aircraft in New York. And today ALL New Yorkers felt the impact.

It wasn’t just that the neighborhood where the plane crashed had already lost many of its residents — both financial workers in the World Trade Center and emergency personnel. It wasn’t just that it was so remote from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan that the residents — some of them surfers — referred to our borough as the distant “city.” It wasn’t just that the plane was headed to the Dominican Republic, where many New Yorkers have relatives.

On the day I heard of the anthrax infection at NBC, I worked with a crew member who had just come from the contaminated building. She wasn’t scared. She was more annoyed. The disease was just another item for New Yorkers to deal with.

Anthrax, of course, isn’t the only thing we’ve dealt with over the years. New York has also had more than its share of air crashes.

Since September 1998, alone, seven commercial jets have crashed in, leaving, or coming to our metropolitan area. In the previous year, 1997, there were no passenger-jet crashes here, but there was a fatal crash of a corporate helicopter and a non-fatal but horrifying fiery crash of a jet freighter.

We’ve had all sorts of strange deadly air crashes in our city’s history. In 1945, a bomber crashed into the Empire State Building. In 1960, two commercial flights crashed into each other over Brooklyn. In 1969, a plane flipped over on takeoff. In 1977, a helicopter picking up passengers on a skyscraper’s rooftop heliport fell over; those inside were hardly injured, but the waiting passengers were killed, as was a pedestrian struck by a piece of the rotor 60 stories below. Over the course of less than 2-1/2 years, two jets operated by the same airline overshot a runway at LaGuardia airport and ended up partially submerged in the bay. In 1990, an international flight ran out of fuel on its approach to Kennedy Airport.

We’ve even had an amusing air crash. In 1993, a blimp sprung a leak and draped itself over an apartment building not far from ours. No one was killed.

Today’s crash, however, was different from all of the others. Today’s crash briefly reminded us that we don’t like isolation.

I’ve mentioned some of New York City’s agriculture before. We can get honey made by bees in our neighborhood. Many New Yorkers grow herbs or tomatoes; some grow corn. There’s even a fairly major hydroponics operation in Queens. But, by and large, all New Yorkers buy food imported from the rest of the United States or elsewhere in the world.

Within moments of today’s crash, all of New York’s airports were closed. The bridges and tunnels were closed, too. We were an island again, isolated from everyone else. No food could enter the city. No one could.

Even the bridges to Rockaway, the crash site, were closed, forcing reporters to take the subway. The stop before Rockaway is on an island in the middle of Jamaica Bay, a wildlife refuge. One can walk from the station to the National Park Service trails or rent a rowboat and float among the birds. I’ve done both and can recommend them highly. If you don’t want to fly here, know that the bridges and tunnels (except those to Rockaway) are open again.

A very large bird will figure prominently in many of our lives next week. Today I distributed the invitations to our Thanksgiving dinner. We invite everyone in our apartment building. If you’ve got nowhere else to go, you may come, too. Just let us know, so we can set a place for you (and let us know any special dietary requests).

As freelancers, we don’t get to observe too many holidays. Thanksgiving is the only recognizable one I insist on. It’s not unique to any religion, nationality, or ethnic group. It’s inclusive rather than exclusive. And it’s a good day to appreciate life.

TTFN, Mark