Category Archives: Around Town

One summer. 40 shows before Labor Day. One helluva season.

Well folks, I’m back in action after spending the summer doing my usual, chasing shows. This year it went to a whole ‘nutha level. Most summers, I’m lucky if I make it to 20, 25 shows in the parks. These year, I far surpassed that. Made it to 40 shows before Labor Day.

Some of the highlights:

Rhiannon Giddens: I love her work with Carolina Chocolate Drops. She’s the second member of the group to release a solo project. The band was stellar, and their repertoire covered a wide range, from Americana, blues, and spirituals to Beyoncé. Rhiannon sings and plays with authority.
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Systema Solar: This band is from Colombia. I met up with some young fellow Colombians who were visiting the city, and couldn’t wait for the band to take the stage. With their limited English, they asked where I was from. When I told them I was born and raised in NYC, they said I was the only American that they met who was dancing and enjoying the music. They wanted to know why. I told them that Duke Ellington once said, “There’s good music, and then there’s everything else.” This band joins Los Amigos Invisibles as my all-time fave party bands.

Big Bands Represent: Thought I’d heard it all when it comes to big bands. Then I saw Letieres Leite & Orkestra Rumpilezz at Lincoln Center Out of Doors‎. A ferocious set of Brazilian music. Arturo O’Farrill, a band leader in his own right, sat in with the group. And the final concert at Lincoln Center was Lyle Lovett’s Big Band. I sat next to a couple, and we marveled at the generosity of Lyle Lovett, as he let his musicians lead various parts of the concert.

Best weekend of music: August 1-2 at Central Park Summerstage. Mardi Gras meets Carnival, with Dr. John and the Nite Trippers on Saturday, and Brasilfest on Sunday. What a treat.

Singing and Dancing in the Rain: The weather forecast for the VP Records 35th Anniversary Celebration was spot on. They said rain starting around 3, and they were right; it rained the whole time. I had my trusty Helly Hansen. Wasn’t going to miss this. I remember when VP Records first opened on Jamaica Avenue. Back then, folks thought it was a joke, selling records from West Indian artists. Caribbean Massive packed the place to see the likes of Maxi Priest and other performers.

Roomful of Teeth: This was the only set I was interested in attending from the River to River series. This group has a unique approach to a capella singing. Great set.
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Batala NYC: If you saw the beginning of the post-parade ceremony for the U.S. Women’s Soccer team, you saw this group of women dressed in red and white, playing samba drums. The week before, I saw them at Penn Plaza, and my mouth dropped. They played straight through for 45 minutes! And they don’t just beat dem drums—they dance with ’em!
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Muscle Shoals All Stars: From the minute they took the stage, I was on my feet dancing. And this was at Lincoln Center, where the audience is rather staid, to put it nicely. Muscle Shoals was the ‘muscle’ behind some of the biggest hits in the business. Guests included the incomparable Bettye Lavette, one of my all-time faves, and the legendary Sam Moore.

Jason Isbell: Smokin’ country music from a master storyteller.

Dance, Dance, Dance: The dance performances this year were really fantastic. For the July 4th Holiday, I checked out Un Break a Mozart and the Dash Ensemble. The performance was part of the celebration of the arrival of Lafayette’s ship, L’Hermione. Later on in the month, I got to see Philadanco as part of their 45th anniversary.

Afropunk: Blew the roof off of Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center. The bands gave us a real flavor of the festival.

The Tempest by the Classical Theater of Harlem: Saw the preview of this presentation during the July 4th weekend. The setting for this production was in Haiti, which added another layer of magic to this mystical piece. And this was my first visit to Marcus Garvey Park. But not the last. I checked out the circus performance there, and one of Jazzmobile concerts which featured Jeff “Tain” Watts and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
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Best Family Event: My niece and I attended the 40th anniversary celebration of The Wiz at Rumsey Playfield. The place was jam packed; and the audience was in it from the first note. At one point, I could hear my niece singing in the background—and she knew every verse to the songs! That’s how much of a fan she is. So lucky to spend that evening with her.
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Third World: ‘Nuff said. The Jamaica Gleaner had a great review on the show. I was surprised to see a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while, so we got to hang out. I was told her that the Third World show was my 30th for the season,, and I was on track to make 40 shows. And a guy sitting next to me piped in and said, he’d already see 50 shows! My friend confessed that this was her first show for the season. Between schedule conflicts, and trying to find someone to go with her, this was the first time she got the chance to hang out. “Next year, I’m gonna take a tip from you,” she said, “and go solo.” Yep, that’s what I’m talking about.

tUnE yArDs: This was one of the best closing shows that I’ve even seen at Celebrate Brooklyn. This woman is such a consummate performer, with a deep musical reservoir that infuses her songs. Absolutely brilliant.

The Ones That Got Away:

  • Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. A mistake on my part. I placed the date in my Google calendar instead of Outlook. I never use my Google calendar. If it’s not on Outlook, it doesn’t exist. That won’t happen again.
  • And of course, the pop-up performance by Stevie Wonder in Central Park. I didn’t find out about it until I went home and watched the evening news. It was just as well; the tix sold out in 30 seconds. So I didn’t have a chance. But it made me see how people can get FOMO.

And I’m Not Done Yet!

Every day, there’s always something low-cost or free to do in New York City. This month, I’ve been hanging out at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. Last week, I saw a fabulous performance of The Amigos with special guest Nature Ganganbaigal. A fantastic collaboration where Americana meets China. Thursday, October 14 will be the Nicaraguan guitarist Aurelio. And one of my music heroes, Randy Weston, has taken up residence with the Jazz program at the New School. As part of his residency, he will present the traditional music of Morocco on October 13.

So as we enjoy the autumn leaves, I hope that all of you had just as much fun as I did over the summer.

Hot town, Summer in the city

Yep, I’m old enough to remember hearing that song on the radio. 1966. The Loving Spoonful. It reminds me of the reason why I live for summer in New York. The free concerts in the parks.

One of the great things I love about New York is that there is always a free or low cost event. In the summer, we are blessed with such an abundance that you’re going to end up missing something. There’s just too many things to do.

I started going to the summer concerts when my boys were toddlers. The shows are family friendly; you can pack a meal, and everyone has a great time. The kids are grown now, but I still hang out in the parks. I’ve check out old faves, and pick up new ones at these festivals. Some highlights of my adventures:

  • Randy Weston at Celebrate Brooklyn, Prospect Park. Rodney Kendrick was the opener. C. Scoby Strohman did a soft shoe to some of Randy’s pieces; it turned out to be Strohman’s last performance before he passed away. My older son was nine years old at the time; he turned to me and said, “Mom, this isn’t elevator music.”
  • David Rudder and Machel Montano. They appeared at Celebrate Brooklyn on separate dates, but they were the wildest concerts I’ve been to. Total disorder. The. Hottest. Soca. Parties. Ever.
  • My first introduction to Tinarwiren was at River to River in Lower Manhattan.
  • Best surprise guest: Maceo Parker, the year he opened up at Celebration Brooklyn, brought out The Purple One himself—PRINCE. I could’ve died happy right there.
  • Some of the baddest party bands have appeared in the parks; Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Los Amigos Invisibles, The Pinker Tones, and more salsa bands than I care to count.
  • Crossed off the Bucket List: Richie Havens at Castle Clinton, Battery Park. I was too young to go to Woodstock, and he was in fine form.
  • Two of the last concerts I attended with my older sister before she passed away were in the parks. During the time that she was treated for cancer, we saw Steel Pulse and George Clinton at Rockefeller Park.
  • Philip Glass did a live performance of his score at a screening of the movie Powaqqatsi. ‘Nuf said.

Now here’s what I’m looking forward to for this season:

  • Central Park SummerStage: May through October. SummerStage is in its 30th season. Last year was the best one ever. Most of the time, I hang at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park. But the festival extends through city parks in all five boroughs. This year, I’m looking forward to checking out Tedeschi Trucks Band, and two triple bills featuring Meshell Ndegeocello / Roy Hargrove / Gabriel Garzón-Montano, and Angelique Kidjo / Emmanuel Jal / Rich Medina.
  • Celebrate Brooklyn: June 3-August 12. This is the place where magic happens. Since 1979, BRIC has been putting it down at the Prospect Park Bandshell. Opening concert will be Chaka Khan. Also looking forward to shows by Third World (again!), Esperanza Spalding, Krosfyah and tUnE-yArDs.
  • Lincoln Center Out of Doors: July 22-August 9. I’m just now looking at their schedule, but already a few things have caught my eye: Toshi Reagon, Randy Newman, Yo La Tengo, and a Boogaloo Celebration with Joe Bataan.
  • River to River: June 18-June 28. Sorry to say, that this festival, in my opinion, is a shadow of its former self. Since it changed organizers to LMCC (Lower Manhattan Cultural Council), the focus is on new arts and new media. Now I admit to liking this genre more than most, but I really haven’t been feeling anything for River to River for the past couple of summers. This year might be different. There’s a block festival featuring the jazz singer Somi, performances by Trisha Brown, Roomful of Teeth, and the Poets House event is back on the calendar.

Honorable mentions:

  • Shakespeare in the Park: A much-anticipated summer event. This year, the Public Theater will present The Tempest (May 27-Jul 5), and Cymbeline (July 23-August 23).
  • Charlie Parker Jazz Festival: August 22-23 at Marcus Garvey Park.
  • Arts Brookfield: The former World Financial Center is now Brookfield Place. They hold free arts events year-round, but in summer they ramp it up. Must-attend is the Lowdown Hudson Music Fest, July 14-15.

Hope that all of you have a fun, happy and safe summer!

Would YOU attend preschool…for adults?

This was the correct story for the Bluff the Listener game on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Me. An adult preschool in…wait for it…Brooklyn!

It’s called Preschool Mastermind, and it gives adults the chance to get in touch with their inner child—arts and crafts, show and tell, even naptime. Of course, it comes with a price, though I have to give credit—it’s a sliding scale fee, from $399 to $999, for a month’s worth of preschool.

I’m not gonna try to understand this. Maybe it’s a generational thing. I didn’t have the benefit of preschool when I was a toddler. I remember when the federal government created the Headstart program. I was in junior high school by then. But the younger of my two brothers, born in 1970, was a Headstart baby. Many would argue that the Headstart program was the government’s response to the Black Panthers’ breakfast program. While I didn’t get to go to preschool, I attended kindergarten at my local public school. I had a lot of fun in kindergarten, but I have no desire to relive the experience now that I’m a grownup.

As the Bible says (1 Corinthians 13:11), “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” There’s nothing wrong with looking at the world through fresh (or refreshed) lens, and approach each new experience with the wonder of a child. But there’s a reason why human beings are adults for a far longer time than they are children. If one can’t take on their adult responsibilities and still maintain a child-like outlook, then frankly, I don’t think a month’s worth of adult preschool is going to help.

And right now we’re in the enrollment period for the NYC’s pre-K program in the public schools. I can’t help thinking that the same people ponying up to a thousand dollars to relive their childhood also have the means to place their children in an exclusive pre-school program. They don’t have to compete for the limited number of slots for free pre-K, often in schools where children attend class in closets and trailers.

But I guess this goes the way of everything else in our grown-up lives. You make it…somebody’s gonna pay for it.

Not a day goes by when we don’t talk about Sandy.

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This was in answer to a question from Azam, the youngest of my two brothers. He’s a transplanted New Yorker who lives in Tacoma, Washington. About three months after the storm, we were talking on the phone, and after ragging each other about our football teams (he’s Jets and I’m Giants!), the conversation went to the latest news about his hometown city.

“Are they still talking about Sandy in the news? We don’t hear anything about the storm over here. What’s the situation over there?”

And my reply:

“Are they still talking about Sandy?! When are they not talking about Sandy! Not a day goes by when we don’t talk about Sandy.”

“Well, what are they talking about?”

“What are they not talking about? You really wanna know what they’re talking about? Let me count the ways…”

I then gave my brother an exhaustive rundown of all the issues up until then. How Wall Street was still a “city of generators,” as my colleague Andrea described it on her Facebook page. That the MTA had taken train cars out to the Rockaways on flatbed trucks in order to restore temporary service across the peninsula through the free H shuttle train; but then we had to take a shuttle bus from Mott Avenue to the Howard Beach Station to connect to the mainland, and travel into Manhattan.. Anyone in the Rockaways can tell you, that ride was murder. That Brooklyn Battery tunnel was still out of service, as well as the PATH train. And the South Ferry station for the 1 train that was totally flooded out; the MTA had no idea when it would be back in service, but they would have to re-commission the old South Ferry terminal until the repairs are complete. (Projected time to complete the repairs: three years.)

That the homeowners in the most devastated sections of New York and New Jersey were faced with bureaucratic delays, the looming prospect of higher flood insurance premiums, and the prosed change to the flood maps where they would be forced to raise their homes. The controversy over the running of the New York City marathon, and how it was eventually cancelled. The stores and hospitals that were still closed, like Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn and NYU Langone in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan. The landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty, forced to close because of storm damage, and when (or if) they will re-open. Colleagues at city agencies who were relocated to different offices because their locations in Lower Manhattan got flooded out.

We talked again over the summer. He asked the same question, I gave the same answer. Not day goes by when we don’t talk about Sandy. Not even the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School caused a stop in the stories about Sandy. The only day when there was no talk about Sandy was the day of the Boston Marathon bombing.

A couple of weeks ago I was sorting through papers, and found a handwritten entry of my journal from Halloween of 2012, just two days after the storm had torn through town (Jrnl 2012 Sandy02 Handwrite). Normally, I type my journal into a computer or another electronic device. But the battery on my laptop was long dead, and I had to conserve power on my smartphone and tablet, since we had no power in the Rockaways, and no idea when the electricity would be restored.

I am still catching up on video footage from the storm. During the past week, the local news channels have been looked back on this one-year anniversary, airing pictures and video from the storm that I only heard described on WCBS Newsradio as I hunkered down in the dark of my apartment. One of the videos that I got to see was at Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. During the night of the storm, the WCBS news reporter described the scene:

“I’m here at Castle Clinton, and there’s a moat. The moat is thirteen feet high…and the moat is almost covered…and I gotta get outta here now, it’s not safe to stay here!”

That’s when I knew the storm was gonna be bad. I’ve attended more than my share of summer concerts at Castle Clinton, and knew exactly what the reporter was talking about. When I saw the video footage last week, my mouth fell out of my head.

I had the same reaction when I saw the story on 60 Minutes about the homes in Breezy Point. When I first heard it on the radio during the night of the storm, it was twenty homes that had caught fire. Then an hour later, the number had gone up to a hundred homes. That’s when I turned off the radio, pulled up the covers, and turned over in my bed. I couldn’t stand to hear any more about the storm. I’d have to wake up the next day to hear and see the aftermath. Today, many of the residents whose homes burned to the ground on the west end are still waiting to return home. As a reporter said on WPIX, Sandy “left a scar” on our area.

And there is not a day goes that by when we don’t talk about Sandy.

September 11, 2001

The following is an essay that I wrote for an Autobiography course that I took in the Spring of 2002. It shows the level of shock and disbelief that I felt as the events unfolded on that day. This essay is dedicated to those who died, those who survived, the first responders, and our military.

I know the cliché is that it started out as an ordinary day. Actually, it was an extraordinary day, thanks to Mother Nature, who blessed us with crisp clear blue skies, a light breeze, and temperatures in the 80s. It was hard for New Yorkers to have an attitude with that kind of weather, and the kids had a great start to the school year. My house was also abuzz. Mom was planning to come that Saturday for a month-long stay, her first time back in her hometown since she relocated to Tacoma, Washington seven years ago.

The plan was for me to take the 7:45 train and ride in the back with my 15-year-old son Magezi, so that I could stop by the Farmer’s Market at the World Trade Center before I went to work. But it took a little longer for me to get ready, so I got out of the house in time for the 8:05 out of the Beach 25 Street Station. As the A train made its way through the wildlife preserve between Broad Channel and Howard Beach, I paused to watch the ducks, geese and other birds bask in the sun by Jamaica Bay. “Lord, I couldn’t ask for a better day if I made it myself,” I said.

The train still remained in the platform with its doors open when I stepped off at the Chambers Street station an hour later. I did not hear the conductor announce the usual warning to watch the closing door, nor did I hear the train rumble on to its next station stop. The conductor announced instead that “service is suspended” as I walked up the stairs. What now? I thought. A power failure? A water main break? I was glad that I had made it to my station. I heard the din of people milling around the token booth before I actually saw them, and I thought that it was strange to hear so much noise for what was just a routine transit failure. But then I noticed that these folks did not behave like inconvenienced transit riders; they weren’t standing in line for the public phone or badgering the token clerk. They just stood there.

One woman at the northwest exit was screaming and hollering louder than the rest. At first, the people who came through the turnstiles acted as if she was just another crazy person. But as I went through the turnstile myself, I saw that this tall, slim black woman in a short ‘fro seasoned with just a bit of salt was dressed just like any other office worker. She was crying, hollering and begging us, “PLEASE, DON’T GO UPSTAIRS!! A plane flew into the World Trade Center,” she said between sobs. “People are jumping from the building–”

We all looked at each other in disbelief.

“I saw two ladies hold hands and jump out the building–PLEASE! I’m begging you, PLEASE! DON’T GO UPSTAIRS!”

The same thought must have run through everyone’s mind. We can’t go back downstairs–but now we can’t go outside?! We’re sitting ducks! Some people went to the token clerk, a young African American woman with long straight hair. She’d overheard the woman, and picked up the phone midstream.

“I’m trying to get some information,” she said into her mike.

People turned away from the booth, still wondering what to do. I wondered how I was going to get to my office just a few blocks away and report to my directors. I’ve got to try and get upstairs; they know that I’m right under the World Trade Center on the train.

A tall black male transit worker wearing an orange safety vest strode through the turnstile. Immediately the crowd besieged him.

“Something has happened at the World Trade Center,” he said as he put his hands up. “We still don’t know what. We’re trying to get more information.”

A young woman stood crying over by the northeast exit. “My baby’s upstairs–my baby’s upstairs!”

I went over to her and asked, “Where’s your baby?”

“Over on Worth Street. I just dropped her off. I’ve got to get my baby!”

I knew exactly where the baby was, over at the daycare on the corner of Worth and Church Streets. “Look,” I advised, “why don’t we do this–let’s creep upstairs, pop our heads up–and if it don’t look too hellish, you go and get your baby–and I’ll go report to my office.”

The subway exit put us on the corner of Church and Chambers Streets. The World Trade Center was five blocks south. Once we got upstairs, I made myself turn around and look up at the buildings. Each tower stood with a gaping black maw, bits of flame barely licking around the edges. Papers flickered down like confetti. I choked up inside. People stood with one hand on their mouth, the other pointing toward the towers. I thought about people that I knew who worked at the World Trade Center, like Robert Ferris, our training colleague, and Robin, Annette’s husband, who worked for a federal agency. I thought about all of the people who once sat where those holes were.

I walked east down Reade Street with my cellphone in hand, frustrated that the signal wouldn’t come, and when it did, I couldn’t get a call through. I walked past the discount variety store Dee and Dee, the Langdon Flower Shop and Starbucks on the corner of Reade Street and Broadway. A steady stream of people headed north on Broadway looking straight ahead, walking hard and fast.

I work for a City agency that does the centralized payroll functions. My job is to train the human resources staff at the various City agencies in how to use the city’s payroll systems to pay their employees. My office is on the corner of Lafayette and Reade. It is an old building that is run by the City for the use of its agencies. Diagonally across the street is the Municipal Building at 1 Centre Street, with Police Plaza on the north side and the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge on the south side. One half of the agency works on the north side of the Muni Building while the other half works in my building on Lafayette Street. My first stop when I got to the office was at the 15th floor where my directors, Minnie and Annette, have their office at the very end of a long hall.

Mario and Wannetta burst out of the door, right as I turned the corner to walk down the hall.

“Leave!” Mario ordered. “It’s a terrorist attack!”

How does he know it’s the work of terrorists? I thought. I asked him where everybody was, where Minnie and Annette were.

“No one’s there,” he said without stopping. “Leave!”

I went inside anyway and, like Mario had said, the place was a ghost town. I went back down the hall to the stairs and walked to the 12th floor where my office was located. One of my trainers, Essie, was still sitting at her cubicle. She told me that a plane had hit the north tower around a quarter to nine, and they thought that it was some kind of strange accident. But then a group of staff members stood at her window and watched the second plane fly in. I told her what I saw on the street. No one had heard from Administration in the Municipal Building about what to do.

“I don’t think we should stick around,” I said. “But let me make a couple of calls while I got the phone, because the cell is out.”

I called the secretary at Transit Tech High School to confirm that Magezi had reached the school safely and to send him word that his mom was all right. I then called my 16-year-old son Kintu, who was home on break from Katharine Gibbs School. He had the television tuned to the news and gave me the latest updates. I told him that I was going to try and make my way north and get out of Manhattan.

We also discussed what to do in case Magezi got stuck at his school, which is located in the East New York section of Brooklyn. I was confident that he would make it home just fine, so long as the subway trains continued run in the outer boroughs. He could even take three buses home in a pinch. If for some reason there was no public transportation, I knew that he had a calling card, and we would hear from him. And if we couldn’t go to pick him up at the school, he could probably make his way back home with some of the other students who lived in the Rockaways. Kintu and I both felt that I would have the harder time of it, because Manhattan Island was already on lockdown.

“What about the dentist?” he asked, since he had a scheduled appointment.

“Play it by ear,” I said. “Try your best to make it over there. There shouldn’t be a problem with the bus. But it’s up to you, ’cause you know that everyone and their grandma’s gonna call once the word gets out. If you want, call the dentist and tell her your mom’s in Lower Manhattan and you’ve gotta hold it down.”

Somewhere in the conversation I began to cry. I could feel Kintu’s discomfort over the phone. We had been through hard times and sad times, but he has always known that somehow, his mother can find the blessing, that there wasn’t too much that could keep her down.

“C’mon Ma,” Kintu said. “Now you’re supposed to be the strong one.” He recalled that the last time he had known me to cry was when he had barely missed getting hit by a car, by some mere seconds.

“If you would’ve seen what I saw when I got out the subway, those two holes in the building–” I paused to wipe my eyes. “It’s bad, son…It’s very bad.”

Essie made arrangements for her six-year-old daughter Ashley to get picked up, and once we got off the phone, we went to check on the agency staff in the neighboring units. She said that her friend Elaine, who worked down the hall in CityTime, was still unaccounted for. Elaine’s co-workers were preparing to leave their office. Simon, Eileen, and her friend Mary Ellen, who had come to visit, were the only ones next door in Reconciliation. Eileen and Mary Ellen agreed to leave with us, but Simon had heard from Administration, who said that it was business as usual. He wanted to stay until 12 noon and then see what would happen.

My first impulse was to smack him silly while I cussed some sense into him, but then I thought better of it and said, “Well y’know, you can do whatever you want—but we’re gettin’ outta here!” And I don’t give two M-Fs what Administration says!

As I went to make a final check of the office on the 15th floor, Elaine stepped off the elevator. Thank God! I left her and Essie by the elevator to wait for me, but when I didn’t arrive back in time, the two of them left. Eileen and Mary Ellen were still in their office, trying to talk Simon into leaving. Within moments, his decision was made for him. A police bullhorn sounded from the street, “EVACUATE! EVACUATE!” The South Tower was about to collapse. It was just after ten in the morning.

We left our office and entered the stairwell that was now crowded with workers coming from the upper floors of the building. The solid enclosed stairwell shielded us from the sights and sounds outside. We all behaved like it was a fire drill, except for the anxious looks on people’s faces as we got closer to the ground floor. When we finally got to the lobby the dust from the collapse of the tower was gone; the sun was shining bright, the sky was crystal clear, and the streets were teeming with people who walked as fast as their feet could move them.

“Go north!” A middle-aged police officer with a long row of bars on his badge pointed for us to walk uptown. The crowds of people were steered toward Lafayette Street and away from Centre Street, another hotspot area because of the courthouses that line the street. There was no vehicular traffic at all, except for emergency vehicles. A young slim Chinese woman with a large shoulder bag and a tall pair of flip flop shoes huffed past us; everyone walked fast and hard, looking straight ahead with serious looks on their faces. Occasionally a sniffle could be heard, or someone talking on a Nextel phone to a loved one.

Eileen, Mary Ellen and I headed up Lafayette Street and later crossed over to Broadway. My right ankle was not quite healed from an aggravated ligament injury and it was really starting to hurt. Still, I kept hoofing it. Most of the people who walked with us also came from the area offices. The one exception was a tall heavyset Caucasian man with a camera in hand that was covered from head to toe in a pale orange dust. I later recognized him on TV as the photographer for the New York Post.

We walked out of Lower Manhattan and the neighborhoods of TriBeCa, SoHo and Greenwich Village, on our way towards Midtown. Every now and then we looked in the distance; the South Tower looked like a tall chimney with black smoke billowing out of the side. As we approached 23rd Street and Broadway, we heard people scream behind us and start to run in panic. We turned around and the lone smoking tower had vanished, just like it was never there to begin with. Only the bright sky remained.

“That’s it, it’s history,” I said. “Ground Zero.” It was almost 10:30.

Somehow I got a call through to Kintu. He told me that a plane had hit the Pentagon.

“Ain’t no plane hit the Pentagon,” I snapped. “The plane hit the World Trade Center!”

The three of us continued to walk until we got to West 34th Street, unsure of whether we should continue walking or to stop. We were near Penn Station and we all had to get to Queens, and wondered if we should try and wait for the Long Island Rail Road or walk over to the East Side, hike over on the 59th Street Bridge, and catch a subway train at Queens Plaza. While we thought about it, I suggested that we go find some lunch, since we needed to keep our strength.

We walked up to Tenth Avenue and spotted a gas station with a convenience store near 34th Street. It was located near an overpass that went over the huge railyard from the Long Island Railroad and the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. The area had the gritty gas smell from the cars and the surrounding industry. In addition to the gas station, the avenue was lined with old tenement buildings, some with storefronts for fancy nouveau restaurants and some with storefronts of old shops and bodegas.

The gas station had a ToGo sandwich shop in addition to a grocery store. We perked up our ears as WCBS radio announced the traffic situation. The LIRR and New Jersey Transit trains were coming back up and we decided to wait for the train. The transit report also stated that subway service in the outer boroughs was still running. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that Magezi would be able to get home from school. We walked along the aisles stocked with cans and bags of chips and snacks with relative ease, but once we went to the sandwich counter to order our food, people began to arrive in ones and twos until the place began to fill up. A man came in with a briefcase in one hand and a cellphone in the other; I heard his wife screaming over the phone.

“Calm down now, calm down,” he kept telling her. “I’m fine. I’m fine.”

We went over to Penn Station and ate our food in the plaza over by Kmart. I still marveled at the beautiful, crystal-clear weather that we were not able to enjoy at all. Nevertheless we were still blessed because we were able to stand out in the street and not worry about the elements. All over Seventh Avenue, near Macy’s flagship store on Herald Square, the hotels across the street from Penn Station and the entrance to Madison Square Garden, people stood and sat in stunned silence. Any talking was done in hushed, muted tones, as if inside of a house of worship. The jumbo screen over the escalator down into Penn Station in front of the Garden still flashed advertisements for the upcoming concerts and sports events. And the jumbo screen in front of Macy’s also flashed its advertisement. But the revolving door to the store was at a standstill.

As we ate in the plaza, I was able to get a call through to Nan, our retired director. Everyone had called her to account for themselves, and I was one of the last to check in. Later on I marveled that I walked past her five-floor walkup on 23rd and Lex, as well as Minnie’s apartment towers on the Lower East Side, and not once thought about knocking on their doors. My only thought was that the sun was not going to set with my sitting on Manhattan Island; I was going to leave come hell or high water.

Eileen, Mary Ellen and I finally got on the LIRR out to Jamaica Station around 2:30 in the afternoon. The Far Rockaway train had just pulled out, so I went to Parsons and Hillside to catch a Jamaica Bus back home. I got on the Q113 right when school had let out. A group of kids from Hillcrest High were carrying on a serious discussion about ‘he-said, she-said.’ Not one word was uttered about the World Trade Center.

It was almost five o’clock when I finally turned the key to my humble abode. I was so glad to see my boys. Kintu’s linebacker frame was at his usual post, hunched over the computer in the living room as he surfed the Internet; Magezi’s long legs and arms were sprawled out on his bed as he leafed through a magazine. The first thing out of my mouth was to ask them why some empty recycling bottles were on the kitchen counter–again!

“Welcome home, Ma,” I announced. “We’re glad you got home okay, we’re glad you got back in one piece!”

Kintu said that everyone who had called to ask if I was all right told him the same thing: “When your mom comes home, give her a hug.” Well, so much for that hug. I went over and wrapped my arms around Kintu’s broad shoulders; later I grabbed one of Magezi’s long arms as he came out of the kitchen, and planted a nice smacker on his face as he tried to run away.

I spent most of the night camped in front of the TV, watching the pictures of the planes fly into the Twin Towers repeat over and over. In my feeling of helplessness, I took out my bead box and began to work on a bracelet for Essie, who was due to leave the agency for a job at the Transit Authority. At one point, Magezi camped down with me. I asked him how he had learned about the attack, since his school did not have a view to the skyline.

“They came and told us,” he said in his soft bass voice.

“Okay.”

“I got the note during second period.”

That comment got me to thinking. “So, when did you find out what happened?”

“Third period.”

“Oh, really?!” I wheeled around. “So–you’re sitting there with this note saying, ‘Mom’s fine,’ and you’re like, oh-kaayyy–”

“Yea. Then I got to third period.”

“And it made sense.”

“Yea.”

“Wow…”

My phone rang off the hook with friends and relatives, and I got to hear how some of the others got out. Annette told me that her husband Robin was in D.C. when it happened, but now had to rent a car and drive back to the New York. Sharon, my other trainer, has 8-year-old twin boys that attend one of the elementary schools in the shadow of the World Trade Center. They were shepherded out to safety, but didn’t get home until after 10, covered in dust, and talking about what happened. My sister walked over the 59th Street Bridge to pick up her fourth child, Ilyaas, and his friend from Thomas Edison High School in Queens, then went home to the Bronx after escorting his friend over the bridge to Washington Heights. Ilyaas saw the whole thing from his classroom. Darlene was on the express bus, stuck on the Gowanus, and saw the second plane fly in.

Essie also told me what happened to her and Elaine when they left. They stood in the building lobby to try and wait for me, but at some point, the police came and ordered everyone out of the lobby. They stood outside of the building on the street corner near the entrance to the Municipal Credit Union, and when the North Tower collapsed, they rushed inside to escape the approaching cloud.

“It was chaos,” she said. “People just bum-rushed the door.” They were among the last people to make their way across the Brooklyn Bridge, under a haze of acrid smoke and dust.

Minnie and Annette oversee OPA’s User Services, our helpdesk for the human resources staff at the various City agencies that use the payroll system. They planned to go to work the next day to provide user support to the agencies displaced by the closing of Lower Manhattan. Other staff members responsible for distributing the city payroll were also going in, since Friday, September 14 was a payday. They were all going to meet at the security checkpoint at 14th Street, and then walk downtown to the Municipal Building location. I wanted to go and help out, but Annette was worried about my ankle.

“Stay home,” she said, “come in with the rest of the staff on Monday.”

My mother still wanted to come to New York so that she could hear and see firsthand what was happening; my sister and I felt otherwise.

“Why don’t you wait for Thanksgiving,” I advised. “Then things will be better around here.”