Friday, September 29, 2006

Boston Trip Part II: Beantown: Home of “The First”

September 29, 2006

Last weekend I went on my first exploration of Boston. Ah, what a lively and richly historic city—many parts of Boston are truly beautiful. And, as I found out over the course of the weekend, Boston contains so many "firsts" that they are difficult to count. First printing press, first public school, first swimming pool, first pub, first YMCA . . . .

The weather was beautiful when I arrived Friday after lunch. Fortunately, it was easy to navigate the shuttle to the “inbound” subway into the city.

At Logan I bought a 5-dollar subway ticket and got on the blue line, which looked like a normal New York City subway to me. I transferred to the green line at Government Center. But when the train pulled up, it consisted of only two cars! It looked stunted. Where was the rest of the train? The people were standing six-deep on the platform waiting for this train. I didn't know how we'd all fit. And we didn't. Inside, the aisle was no wider than that of a school bus. A lot of people had luggage, too, so it was a tight squeeze.

The subway cars were strange. They were more like buses – with steps leading up into the car. Within the car itself there were multiple levels of seats. I wondered how disabled people are able to navigate the subway system in Boston.

The cool thing about it was there were some very nice people on the train. One girl I struck up a conversation with was heading for an audition. She was quite beautiful with a captivating smile. And another couple I spoke with were the same nice folks I’d met on the shuttle bus earlier at Logan, who’d answered my questions about the subway.

So I felt welcomed in this city and was happy to know that the people here were very friendly and helpful, much like New Yorkers. I looked forward to my weekend.

One of the things on my to-do list was to keep an eye out for the sky rise that is featured on the ABC television show “Boston Legal,” which is one of the funnier shows on TV these days. As I stepped off the subway across the street from the nation’s first free-lending public library, I looked up to my left, and there was the famous Boston Legal building at 500 Boylston Street. I recognized the arched windows immediately. Cool!

When I checked in at the overpriced Westin at Copley Square, the clerk wrote down a rate of $185 on the paper wallet that my room card was stored in. Too bad I’d already paid $225 a night via for the room. It was sickening to find out I’d paid too much. The room was definitely not worth $185, much less the extra 40 bucks.

So that is the first (and last) time I use Expedia to book a hotel room. Talk about price gauging. This was Boston, not NYC. And the bathroom was barely big enough to open the door. I can’t complain about the lovely city view, though. It made me miss living in NYC even more than ever. (That sentiment continues to get stronger with every passing day since I originally left NYC eight long months ago.)

Anyway, I unpacked and then got on the “outbound” green line (subway) hoping to head out to the harbor. Since I’d come in on the “inbound” train, I assumed I needed to go back out on the “outbound.” Come to find out I was going in the wrong direction and needed to turn around. But, unlike NYC subways, you can only cross over the tracks to switch directions at specified stops, so I had to get back on the wrong train and go one stop further before I could get on the right train.

I knew the weatherman was calling for rain the next day, so I walked around downtown Boston, the harbor area, and Faneuil Hall. I cashed in my voucher for a Boston To-Go card and headed to the docks. I decided to take my harbor cruise while the sun was shining and the sky was blue. I arrived at the booth at 3:27, and the next boat was scheduled to leave at 3:30. Such timing!

The 45-minute cruise offered beautiful views of the city. There were sailboats moored everywhere. I could have gotten off at the Naval yard and toured the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), but I decided to save that for a later trip. My time was limited this weekend. I wanted to learn my way around the city and see as much as I could in 48 hours.

Faneuil Hall (pronounced FAN-ill, according to one Bostonian I met) is a major tourist attraction – with lots of shops, eateries, outdoor performers, and craftsmen. I bought a purple Boston sweatshirt and roamed around the cobblestone streets. By 4:45PM I was starving, so I stopped in at a place that looked good. It turned out to be the oldest seafood restaurant in the country – Union Oyster House, built in 1826. The fresh baked Haddock was delicious. An interesting fact I overheard my waitress talking about it that this place is John Kerry’s hang-out on election days.

After that I wandered across the street to the row of standing glass towers etched with millions of serial numbers. This is the Holocaust Memorial. I realized instantly what the numbers represented. As I wandered through the site reading the survivor quotations printed on the glass, an extremely attractive man walked up to me. He wanted to know what the numbers were for. “They are the numbers tattooed to each of the victims,” I told him. The survivor stories were powerful and painful.

I did a lot of walking that evening. I don’t think I’ve seen more pubs in a single place in my life. Most were opened up to the cobblestone streets and were packed to the hilt with young revelers. I recall thinking that there was an unusually large number of young people hanging out wherever I went. Boston is a youthful city indeed. As I discovered the next day on a trolley tour, there are 53 colleges and universities in the city. Boston and Cambridge house over a quarter of a million students – with thousands more attending schools in the suburbs. That explains all the 20-somethings that I saw everywhere I went.

Stay tuned for Part III.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Boston Trip Part I: The Plane, the Plane! (And why I almost missed mine. . .)

This weekend I went on my first exploration of Boston. Leaving Baltimore Friday morning turned out to be quite the fiasco. I was running just a few minutes late—not enough to miss my plane because I live only 15 minutes from the airport and always give myself plenty of time by leaving two hours ahead of flight departure when tackling air travel.

The problems started when I’d driven half the distance to the airport. That was when I realized that, out of habit, I’d locked the deadbolt on my inside garage door. However, this dutiful act would prevent my pet-sitter from getting in and feeding Mr. Martin. So I immediately exited the freeway and turned around. By the time I was back on the road to BWI, I still had just under 90 minutes before my flight was to leave. “I’ll still make it,” I thought, “ . . .barring any unforeseen obstacles.”

The first unforeseen obstacle was highway construction right around the airport. It seems like every road in Maryland is being re-paved at the same time. I missed my turn into the daily garage parking and had to make a u-turn to go back. “No big deal,” I thought, “It’s only an extra block out of the way.” I had already checked in online, so I had my boarding pass. With just one piece of luggage, there was no reason to stop by ticketing. I took the shuttle from the garage to the airport and breezed past ticketing with about 50 minutes to spare before takeoff.

The next unforeseen obstacle was the surprisingly long security line. Someone else in line informed me that there’d been a security breach earlier that day, in the form of “a bag full of guns,” that had caused the shutdown of two concourses. (Come to find out much later, it was one guy with one gun. Idiot.)

Thinking I’d be smart about the security check, I’d left my water bottle behind. Time was running out, so I hoped my artificial disc wouldn’t set off the metal detector. My sunglasses, however, did. No big deal; I successfully passed through on the second try. But then the TSA agent behind the X-ray monitor instructed another agent to search my bag. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “it’s my new eyebrow razor. I never should’ve brought that.” (Now who’s the idiot?)

Shockingly enough, it wasn’t the razor blade at all (which is equally as dangerous as a box cutter). It was my Dry Idea deodorant, my travel-sized Colgate toothpaste, my miniature bottle of hair serum, my anti-frizz gel, my teensy-weensy (1.5” long) sample tube of Yonka face cream, and the even smaller sample of Yonka lotion. One by one, these items came out. I felt like the biggest idiot in the world for not realizing that these innocent items weren’t allowed in carry-on bags. I knew that beverages weren’t allowed, but it didn’t even occur to me that toiletries were considered potentially dangerous. I hadn’t flown since prior to the attempted London hijackings, so I wasn’t familiar with the latest rules. (Lesson learned. I will go back to my earlier post-9/11 habit of checking out the latest air travel restrictions before leaving for the airport.)

What else did I have in there? Oh yeah, my leave-in hair conditioner, my contact lens solution and eye drops (those were acceptable, no less), and my nose spray--to help prevent colds, you know. TSA was going to throw all of that away, unless I wanted to go back through the ticketing line, check the bag, and return to the security line. I looked at my watch – 30 minutes until departure.

On a whim, I decided to risk it. We threw all the stuff back inside my suitcase, including my TSA-approved luggage lock (no time for that nonsense!), and the TSA agent escorted me out of security. I ran back to ticketing (not far at all), and they let me check my bag immediately. (Thank you, nice lady at the AirTran counter.) I ran back to the security line, showed the agent my marked boarding pass indicating I’d already been through, and he let me in via a short cut. (Thank you, nice Security guy!) I was back in line at the same security check point behind just a few people.

I made it through this time without incident (fortunately, they still had my sunglasses behind the counter), and I was off to my gate. Luckily, I had 20 minutes to spare. I was thirsty and assumed that since I’d already been through security, it would be OK to get a drink. I ran from the boarding line to the nearest store, bought a diet soda, and went back to the gate where the airline agent let me through with my soda (she never even looked up at me as she scanned my boarding pass). Good deal.

Down the concourse and onto the plane. As I stepped on, I was just cracking open the Diet Coke when a flight attendant said, “You can’t bring that on board.” I said I was sorry, that I didn’t know I couldn’t bring a beverage purchased inside the secured area. I turned around to walk off the plane toward the jetway, and as I walked off, she grabbed the bottle from me. I was outside of the plane, expecting her to hand the bottle back to me so I could throw it away in the trash can right behind me. I said, “I just want a sip before I throw it away.” But she wouldn’t give me the bottle, telling me I am not allowed to drink from my cold factory-sealed soda bottle. You've got to be kidding me. What was she going to do, dispose of it on the plane??

I thought about how ridiculous it was that I couldn't drink from an unopened soda just before disposing of it and then boarding. What was I going to do, swallow a bomb in one sip? I knew this couldn’t possibly be policy, that this girl was just making it up as she went along. Maybe she secretly hoped to make headlines for saving this plane from certain catastrophe incurred by a thirsty woman armed with diet cola.

Just then the pilot (or co-pilot) appeared from the cockpit. I was still standing outside the door of the plane when the flight attendant asked the flight officer if I was allowed to drink from my soda bottle. “Of course she can!” he told her, turning to me with "Duh" on his face. I told him I’d bought the soda after clearing security and didn’t realize that I couldn’t take it on the plane. He smiled and told me, "It’s a stupid rule.” I took a sip, threw the bottle away behind me, and boarded the plane.

So, the moral of the story is: today the TSA will allow passengers to carry a dangerously sharp blade onto the plane, but a sealed plastic Coke bottle purchased on the concourse is out. (Five years from now you can probably reverse those restrictions again - who knows?)

I agree to give up some of the conveniences of my free life in order to live safely in this new scary world. I have no problem complying with the rules—(those that I can keep up with). But, my god, do we have to be so stupid about it?

Five years later we’re allowing sharp eyebrow razor blades on planes—(no different from the box cutters used in the 9/11 hijackings, except for the femininely pink handle)—but not a Coke just purchased 20 feet from the gate with a cap that is still sealed?? Airline security needs to be proactive, not reactive. I think that the thwarting the London bombings this summer was fantastic intelligence work. Safety officials proactively removed liquids from passenger carry-ons. Good work. But it doesn't explain why the restrictions on sharp instruments were lifted not long ago. Why take one step forward and then two steps backward?

Brilliant. I feel mu-u-u-u-u-u-ch safer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Recommended reading Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

102 Minutes

Last Sunday evening, September 10, I began reading an incredible book that recounts the stories of many people at the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. The book is called “102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers.” It was written by New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. They did a fantastic job of compiling thousands of interviews and recordings into one volume.

I had bought this book from probably about 10 or 12 months ago. But I shelved it in plain sight. I just couldn't bring myself to read it, despite a huge part of me desperately wanting to do so. Just like I hesitated for weeks before seeing the movie “World Trade Center” on Tuesday the 12th, I dreaded the painful emotions I’d experience when I delved into the book. I’m here to tell you that if you can get your hands on this book, open it up right away and read it. Don't let your fear of gut-wrenching emotion stop you. This is a book you'll find yourself up reading at 2:00am on a weeknight.

I think it was an email from my Uncle Mike that Sunday that made me change my mind. As he signed off he wrote, "Please, Susie, remind everyone you see tomorrow what happened 5 years ago on Sept. 11." That night I finally decided to pick up the book and made plans with my friend Rashmi to see the movie a couple nights later.

I’m so grateful that I did. It was selfish of me not to. I dreaded going through the pain of reliving that horrific day and learning in greater detail about the horrible things that happened to real, live human beings. Now I realize that this wasn’t the right approach. Instead, I should be making an effort to embrace those memories--and often. Yes, it makes me angry, and it makes me cry. It makes me want revenge and it makes me mourn for the families who lost loved ones and companies that lost employees. It's painful for all of us. But that shouldn't stop any of us from facing the terrible truth.

I regret not picking up the book sooner – not just because it serves as a tremendous reminder of what happened, but because I didn’t understand the full extent of what went on in the towers during that hour and a half. I had no idea how many people were helplessly trapped above the site of impact with absolutely no hope of getting out. I had no idea just how many people jumped, or that Cantor Fitzgerald lost a whopping 658 employees. I didn't realize that the Marriott was full of firefighters and that the building was essentially bifurcated by the first tower collapse. I didn’t know that there was a huge Risk Waters conference starting at 8:30 that morning in Windows on the World, at the top of Tower 1, and that not a soul who was in attendance got out, with the one exception of a lucky guy who snapped a few pictures then left just before the first plane hit.

I learned a lot from this book. I learned why the towers fell, and why they fell so quickly. I was angered to find out how many lives were lost because the real estate developer tried to squeeze out every possible square inch of rentable space – denying upper-floor citizens escape routes on 9/11 that should have existed in the form of emergency stairwells. Instead, each building held only three staircases, all clustered together in the center of the buildings, and only one of those actually extended to ground level.

It enraged me to realize that the FDNY lives lost could have been massively reduced had the NYPD and FDNY put down their swords and resolved their ongoing feud years before. Instead they were still using different radio frequencies and their efforts were not coordinated one iota. They set up separate command posts. They didn’t communicate. They couldn't get the repeater working in Tower 1, so all the firefighters who valiantly climbed the stairs went in blind - with virtually no radio transmission. The police circling the buildings in helicopters had no way to report to the hundreds of firemen resting on the 19th floor of Tower 1 that the upper floors were starting to sag and the top of the building was leaning – in other words, that collapse was imminent.

In fact, the majority of the people inside the towers during those 102 minutes never even know that Tower 2 had fallen, 57 minutes after it was struck. To most people, like window washer Roko Camaj and Frank De Martini, the Port Authority construction manager who saved many lives but didn't get out alive himself, it was unthinkable that the buildings that had withstood the 1993 bombing would collapse. People who knew the buildings the best didn’t believe that for an instant. The buildings were supposed to be able to withstand the impact of a 707 jet airliner and self-contain any fire. So these men went about digging people out and wresting open jammed doors, freeing dozens of trapped workers, ultimately pushing back the border between survival and death.

This book is the kind of reminder that Americans need to give ourselves as often as possible for the rest of our lives.

And if you can see the movie "World Trade Center," do it. I went to the theater armed with Kleenex but didn't go through as much tissue as I thought I would. This is the amazing and true story of the rescue of two Port Authority Police Officers, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, from the rubble nearly 24 hours after Tower 2 fell. In fact, their story is also featured in the book.

And then, when I flipped to page 170 of my Reader's Digest this evening, there they were again. These guys are true heroes, along with hundreds of others (many of them civilians) who risked their own lives to help other people get out. John McLoughlin has suffered years of multiple surgeries and painful rehabilitation treatments. He's alive, but it hasn't been easy for him or for his family.

Many people died trying to save (or to not abandon) others. . . people like Dave Vera and Jose Marrerro who actually returned to the upper floors to help save others. . . and Abe Zelmanowitz who refused to leave his wheelchair-bound co-worker Ed Beyea for the entire ordeal as they waited for someone to help Ed down from the 27th floor stairwell landing. That help never arrived. Both men were crushed to death.

The senseless murder of 2,749 innocent Americans on our own soil is an unspeakable outrage. Those are the only words (stolen from a John Irving character) that I can think of that come close to describing what happened. There are no words. But the stories of human sacrifice, honor, and selflessness of that time are heart-warming. The book and the movie will both help you to see the good in people, rather than just serve as reminders of the evil of that day that we as Americans still cannot comprehend.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Neither Rain nor Sleet

I saw the funniest thing after work tonight. I was in the post office waiting to use the self-serve machine that calculates and prints postage for packages. (My sister-in-law Judy is facing the big four-oh next weekend, so I wanted to send her a little reminder of how gravity takes over every ounce of your body after that. Heh-heh.)

When I'd left work several minutes earlier, it was pouring rain, and my clothes were still damp all over from the long run to my car from the office. But by the time I got to the post office, the rain had lightened up quite a bit. I thought, "Well, that's lucky."

Inside the post office, I saw a middle-aged man with a dark beard saunter from one of the work tables to drop a package in the blue drop slot next to the postage machine. He appeared to be of middle-Eastern descent, and his mannerisms displayed just a hint of arrogance. I was speaking with a guy behind me in line as I watched this potentially haughty gentleman head toward the front exit. He stopped in the glass-enclosed vestibule and picked up his cell phone. I watched as he stood facing the parking lot in front of the building and thought to myself, "No way is he doing what I think he's doing."

Sure enough, he immediately reached someone on the phone in his left hand and waved his right hand toward the curb as if giving driving instruction. The post office parking lot is small, so the rear bumper of the car closest to the man was about 12 feet in front of him. Wouldn't you know it--the car directly to the left of that one backed out, drove to the curb, and stopped--in the firelane, no less--to pick up the bearded man. By then the rain was just a drizzle.

How lazy have we become in this modern era if we can't walk twenty feet in the rain? It's bad enough we send email to the co-worker in the office next door to our own, but you gotta admit that calling someone parked right in front of you to pick you up at the curb is crossing the line into severe couch-potatoness. If this guy had been wearing an Armani suit or expensive Italian loafers, maybe, just maybe I'd let him slide and never would've mentioned it here. But he was wearing dress slacks and a button-down shirt. No tie. Nothing fancy.

It's like the other day when a woman pulled into the intersection of two parking lot drive lanes and completely blocked both lanes, including the drive lane directly in front of the Giant supermarket, creating a mini-traffic jam. She sat there, burning gas, waiting for someone to unload their groceries into their trunk and return their cart. There were dozens of open parking spaces she could've used, but this young, perfectly healthy woman with both legs intact had to inconvenience everyone else just to get the space closest to the store instead of a space that was maybe another 20 or 30 feet further from the storefront. She was probably on the way home from her Pilates class.

These silly suburbanites wouldn't last a New York minute living in the city.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Never Forget . . .



From (see this page for a technical description of the building architecture and other detailed information about how the attacks affected the building structure)

From an anonymous photographer in Brooklyn Heights.



May God bless the families and loved ones of those who perished.