Courtesy of an impenetrable fog and a closed airport, instead of flying back to New York City after a wonderful weekend in Ottawa, I jumped (well ... dragged my suitcase) onto a Greyhound Bus.
Other than having to endure a cranky but careful bus driver, my trip back was uneventful. I had nothing to complain about and nothing to revel in. Not, at least, until the wheels of the bus began to rumble over potholes, the familiarity of which woke me up. I looked out the window and realized that we were approaching New York City. Or, should I say Oz?
There it was. A staggering array of lights spread out against an infinity of black. Shimmering. Crystalline. Exquisite. Truly, an Emerald City of dreams. A reminder to those of us who sometimes take the greatest city in the world for granted of just how breathtakingly magical Manhattan is.
I was in Brooklyn on September 11, 2001. One of my friends works in the American Express Building, which is part of the World Financial Center. Her fiancé was driving on the street below when the first plane hit the first tower. A car in the lane next to him was crushed by a wheel that fell out of the sky. He pulled his car into a parking garage, got out, and ran for his life. Literally. My friend fled her building. She, too, ran. But their cells phones didn’t work after the attack, and she and her fiancé lost touch with each other. Neither knew if the other was alive. They each found a way to reach us, though. My husband and I became their Command Control and, second-by-second, minute-by-minute, we were involved in the tragedy and nobility of that day.
I have always been fascinated by the courage of those who fought and defeated Germany and Japan during World War II. I am in awe of the day-to-day courage of the British who, refusing to cower, endured the relentless bombings of the London Blitz. Winston Churchill had admonished his countrymen to “Never give in. Never. Never. Never. Never.” And they never did. With dignity and unflagging courage, they persevered.
Inevitably, I wondered if in similar circumstances Americans would be as valiant. On September 11, I found out. They were. Repeatedly, I was told stories about stranger comforting stranger. The cop who put his arm around the distraught man waiting in line for a phone. The mysterious benefactor who gave a woman change to make a call. The hotels that opened their doors, hearts, and offices with food, water, telephones ... kindness. People helping people. New Yorkers from everywhere in the world, who, instead of stampeding and crushing each other – as depicted in contemporary movies – put themselves in harm’s way to save each other’s lives.
It’s an old slogan, tried, true, and often delivered in three-syllabled sing-song: I love New York. Or, rather: I loooooove New Yoooork. I adhere to the precepts of that song implicitly, explicitly, and ferociously. I love the city. It is the most glamorous, least crime-ridden, and greatest metropolis in the world. A city that, since its inception, has lived by the words written by Emma Lazaruz that are embedded in the base of the State of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
I know. I know. The tired and poor cannot always get into our country. There are limits on immigration. We have too much of it. We have too little of it. Disagreements abound. Nevertheless, if you get on any New York City subway, you will see more newspapers being read by riders from more ethnic backgrounds in more languages than anywhere else on earth. They are riding together peacefully, to jobs that they are free to apply for or quit at any time. And ninety-nine percent of them were not born in Mainline Philadelphia.
New York City, on a day-to-day basis, is awe-inspiring. Hollywood, on a day-to-day basis, delights in obliterating it.
As a matter of routine, its honchos cinematically demolish Manhattan’s financial district, smash its subway system, annihilate its skyline, and in coupes de grace of unparalleled malignancy, depict the Statue of Liberty buried in sand or split in half by raging tsunami. Inevitably, there is a final, lingering shot of Lady Liberty’s torch. Broken ... destroyed.
Funny, isn’t it, how in any other era and any other war (we are, after all, engaged in a war on terror), our enemies would have had to pay fortunes to propagandists to create images of our symbols of liberty in ruins. Hollywood does it for them. Free. And gloats while doing it.
Within the past two months, we have seen Manhattan decimated and doomed in I am Legend, and we have been subjected to a revolting movie trailer boasting a decapitated Statue of Liberty in Cloverfield. Since September 11, 2001, the city has been destroyed by floods in The Day After Tomorrow, blasted to smithereens by aliens in Steven Spielberg’s awful remake of the War of the Worlds (note the idiotic scene where dumbstruck New Yorkers stand around the crashed flying saucer like morons waiting to be ... yum yum ... eaten by aliens.) Other recent movies that have gleefully depicted Manhattan in ruins include but are not limited to Godzilla, Armageddon, Deep Impact, and Independence Day.
The first real life attempt to destroy New York City occurred with the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Next came September 11. That day, close to 3,000 people were murdered by fanatical Islamic terrorists. Since that date, I cannot recall a single movie in which terrorists were hunted down and killed. In which their cities were destroyed. That honor, apparently, is reserved for innocent New Yorkers.
When I was a child, it was drummed into my head that good deeds are rewarded and evil is punished. Hollywood has reversed that equation.
One cannot help but wonder why.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit: shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben.