For about a year after 9/11, I heard people say, “I just want to get back to my normal life.” The implication was that life stopped on that day and would start again when we were able to pick up exactly where we had left off. But since 9/11 my life has completely changed. I now have a completely different set of activities than I did prior to that day. I am occupied with the reconstruction of our building, reaching an insurance settlement, looking at real estate and moving, condo board activities, press activities, writing, school PTA responsibilities, fatherly responsibilities, and child transport—not necessarily in that order.
Most of my day is spent walking. My life revolves around a 6-block radius surrounding the WTC. I now live essentially two blocks to the southwest of the site. Our public school is 3 blocks to the northwest. Our original condo at 114 Liberty Street, which is under repair, is on the southeast corner, facing the WTC. Most services and errands are within a couple blocks to the south. Today, I did three complete laps of the site.
This was the first day of school for three of my children, which meant my routine was that of every parent around the country. Get the kids to school and hope they don’t panic when it’s time for me to leave. Pick them up at the end of the day. With four kids, the pickups and drop-offs can get complicated. Trips to school today: three.
On the construction front, today we began installing all the doors and storefronts on the façade of our building on Liberty Street. That involves tearing down the bent, broken, and contaminated fronts of the building, along with the plywood boards that have secured it for two years. Our building has been cleaned inside and out and is supposed to have been decontaminated, but every project exposes more toxic dust (more about this issue in a later entry).
Once the old fronts are out, the new fronts go in. We are modifying the fronts to expose more of the original details of the building. The advantage of complete demolition is that you have greater options for rebuilding. We’re putting our own stamp on the building, limited only by funds and imagination. This is the part of the day I love: finding ways to make the building better without increasing costs, checking on the work in progress. It is that same interest that drives my passion and concern for development at the WTC site. But for now, no one is calling for my opinion on those buildings.
As we repair the front of our building, the cement and wire barriers that have protected the building from casual tourists are being pulled out. Today our street will open for the first time in two years. Before today, the barriers created a 30-foot buffer between our building and the tourists. As the barriers come down, we lose the feel of being in the restricted or “red” zone. At first, the red zone prevented even our own access to our building. Later, it became our protection from unwanted intrusion. Now that it is gone, we join the rest of New York again. Incidentally, the barriers are coming down to allow fire trucks access to the newly renovated fire station down the block.
Insurance dealings are also winding down. We finally got closure when the insurance company accepted that we would need our full claim to restore the building. We originally hired an insurance representative to support our claim and fired him approximately a year later. Since then, I’ve acted as an insurance adjuster with the help of our architect, Chris Warnick. There are still loose ends to tie up and occasional phone calls, but the biggest issues are behind us. Working on an insurance claim is painful. You have to prove the obvious in a way that the insurer cannot contest.
This week is a major media week in the area. Interviews started a couple of weeks ago and mostly finished last week. Today, however, I received a call late in the day from our community board asking for volunteers for a Sept. 11 Town Hall meeting with Gov. George Pataki. Normally, I would jump at the possibility of being heard directly by Pataki. But not this week. Not the first week of school on the 9/11 anniversary. Not the week I have a major press conference (more on that tomorrow) and major building decisions to make. Not on the one day that I would rather have everything completely low key. I don’t really want to participate in an opportunity for a politician to enhance his image using the media power of 9/11. But I volunteer and send out some feelers for others.
I finish off the evening with some writing. I’m working on a speech for tomorrow’s press conference at City Hall. If I have time, I’d also like to write an editorial for a local paper. Writing I love, but I never have enough time. The rest of my daily activities I have to do, whether I like it or not. In some areas, I have reached my tolerance limit. In those areas, I take one step at a time and try not to look forward or back.