NEW YORK — The attack on Sept 11, 2001, stopped New York cold, but on that same day a decade later, it was the Gotham of lore, the city that never sleeps.
As President Barack Obama and other dignitaries gathered in lower Manhattan early Sunday morning to commemorate the dead, for others throughout the city, it was pretty much business as usual, though many also recognized the importance of remembering.
“I hate it, but it’s necessary,” said Joe Garofola, 50, who was sketching a piece of sculpture in Madison Square Park. “It keeps us together.”
“It keeps us on our toes,” said Monique Boardraye, 25, a lifelong resident as she rushed down West 14th Street to work.
Despite the day’s solemnity, the city bustled. Streets buzzed with the harsh rat-tat-tat of pneumatic drills as repair crews ripped into concrete. The new pipework clanged as it hit the pavement and echoed blocks away.
Armadas of bright, yellow taxies hurtled up and down the wide avenues. A fashion shoot with models who appeared to have been poured into their dresses drew onlookers near Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Over on West 27th Street, a 20-something was breakfasting on pizza and staring at his cell phone.
“Everyone goes about their business, no one will be cowed, no one is going to let their day-to-day lives be changed,” said Pam Quigley, 53, a hospital research administrator, seated on a bench along Broadway.
But the day will always weigh heavily, she said.
“Everyone in New York knows someone directly or knows someone or has friends or family who knows somebody,” Quigley said. “We’re all connected in this. It’s easy to say you can move on, but you never forget.”
There’s no escaping the past in New York. It peaks out from old stone buildings with fine, but largely forgotten craftsmanship. Beneath all the sleek steel and glass, the winking neon and frantic pace of traffic, lies a city in amber whose moments, even those as nightmarish as 9/11, live on.
More than 2,700 people from the New York area were killed in the conflagration and collapse that took place when the planes hit the World Trade Center. On its 10-year anniversary, the skies eerily were just as bright and clear.
The death toll included people who worked in the towers, as well as police officers, firefighters and paramedics. The remains of more than 1,100 victims are still unidentified.
Yet at what point does the endless replay of the event become exploitative? Joe Richard, a 23-year-old law student said he has seen stories about 9/11 babies and even memorial wines.
“It’s kind of shocking,” he said. “You draw a close line between commemorating something and commercializing it.”
Boardraye said all the attention is good, and the city is safer and “much, more friendly than it used to be.”
“New Yorkers normally have this hard shell, this mask on all the time,” she said. “Normally, you wouldn’t stop on the street to talk to someone you didn’t know.”
Has the city of hard knocks, and where a measure of irony will also help see you through the day, gone soft?
“There is a tendency to do what you have to do to survive the day,” said former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a New York resident who served as president of the New School in Greenwich Village at the time of the attacks.
In Union Square, chess players had taken up their positions on old card table chairs and overturned green plastic crates and were already deeply engaged in their games when the memorial service at Ground Zero was remembering the dead.
“They each had a face, a story, a life cut short,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
His words came out of a portable radio that belonged to one of the artists who were just then setting up their work.
“Part of me feels like I know everyone who was there,” Wanda Gonzalez, a 41-year-old nursing assistant at a pediatric center.
She had just arrived at Union Square after pulling an overnight shift and was enjoying a cigarette and talking to a friend.
“They were all human beings like I am,” Gonzalez said. “They had children, they were mothers and fathers, they were sons and daughters. It really feels like a family was gone that day.”
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