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Manhattan now devoid of a certain visual thrill

By SANDRA THOMPSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001


Tuesday morning when it happened, I was driving from St. Pete Beach to Tampa. At the townhouse we are in the process of buying, the floor guy, who'd come to give an estimate, was already there.

Tuesday morning when it happened, I was driving from St. Pete Beach to Tampa. At the townhouse we are in the process of buying, the floor guy, who'd come to give an estimate, was already there.

He got out of his truck and said something like, "It's unreal what's happening in the world." He was fairly laconic.

"What?" I asked. "What is happening?"

Then our real estate agent screeched up in his Mercedes, talking fast, which was not unusual but this time it wasn't about real estate. The house inspector arrived. The termite guy arrived. Their voices reverberated against the tile floors and walls in the empty house.

"This means we will be at war," one of them said.

"No," another replied. "We are at war."

An agent for the seller rushed in, cell phone in hand. "I'm from New York," she cried. "I can't reach anyone!"

I hadn't tried. I dialed my ex-husband, a stockbroker in a midtown Manhattan firm. That morning, from the windows of his -- and what used to be my -- Brooklyn Heights co-op, he had seen smoke and flames shooting from the towers.

The real estate agent kept asking me questions, so I handed her the phone. "Were they able to evacuate the day care center?"

He didn't know much, really, except that a lot of people were dead.

He would know some of them.

I would not.

Then I wasn't so sure.

My closest friend in the city runs a midtown investment advisory firm. She and her husband have three sons, all of whom I've known since they were kids, the youngest since he was a couple hours old. Son No. 1 is an executive with a Japanese bank. Son No. 3 is a financial analyst. I had no idea where they worked.

I knew her office building, an art deco skyscraper across from the Chrysler Building, would have been evacuated. I tried their home number in Manhattan. Circuits were busy. I thought I was pretty smart to call their Long Island beach house; I got through and left a message. Later that day, I got through to the answering machine at their home. I sent an e-mail to the office.

Wednesday morning at Shapes when President Bush came on TV, one of the trainers -- a former New Yorker -- leapt up onto the arms of two treadmills to reach the TV and turn up the sound.

"I just think everyone should hear this," she announced.

A handful of us gathered to hear President Bush promise, "We will win."

How could he have missed that we'd already lost?

In the locker room, a woman from Germany said friends had called. In various towns, festivals had been canceled. I tried to recall a time when we, in the United States, had canceled anything in response to a tragedy in another country.

About 1 p.m. Wednesday, people were crowding around the TV in the lobby at the Wyndham Westshore Hotel and Tampa City Center. In the elevator, people didn't talk but smiled kindly at one another.

Wednesday night my husband said he'd reached her office and left a message on the answering machine there. Four messages, no reply. I was scared.

My husband had the sense to call son No. 2, a Manhattan lawyer. His voice was oddly euphoric.

Brother No. 1, in fact, did work at the World Trade Center. He had left his wife and their 6-week-old son in Westchester that morning and was standing across the street, ready to cross and enter the second tower, when the first tower was struck.

It's a small thing, but I keep thinking of the view from my windows in Brooklyn Heights. From our fifth-floor apartment, only the tops of the towers were tall enough to see, but at night their lights heralded the thrill and privilege of living in New York City.

Now I wonder if there's any hint of Manhattan at all.

- Sandra Thompson is a Tampa writer. She can be reached at tampa@sptimes.com. City Life appears on Saturday.

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