Saturday, January 17, 2009

as if the sand were stone

A view from the Hudson -- the hotel, not the river, designed by Phillipe Starck and situated near Columbus Circle in Manhattan where I was sequestered in a windowless room three long blocks and a riverbank away from where the US Air plane glided into the Hudson -- the river, not the hotel.

I saw none of it, although my boss broke into the day long forum we were holding for clients to tell us something about it just after it happened. We chatted about it some more during the break, and later heard from one attendee how she was supposed to be on that plane and had decided to push her flight back.

I might have headed to the river after we wrapped, to see what I could see, but I was entrusted with signing for the drinks which meant staying in the bar, nursing a glass of wine, making conversation, and feeling the acceleration of the throbbing in my skull which started earlier that morning when I wrapped up my presentation slide deck at 2.30, just a few hours shy of my early morning wake up call.

I got a sense of how close it was when a fellow walked into the bar and ordered a drink and told anyone who wanted to listen that he saw a plane crash outside his window at work just a few hours before. He wore a stunned shell shocked look and kept repeating: “I didn’t know that could happen.” I nodded. I didn’t tell him I knew that it could. That would have sounded hollow and false.

I didn’t tell him I had worn his same look once for a while; had seen something like what he saw; felt the power of the engines fly by out of the sky; heard the unmerciful speed and roar like a race car as the twin engine Cessna -- much smaller, of course, than a passenger jet -- banked a few brief hundred feet from where I sat in my living room on a Sunday eating the last of my lunch, a door down from where my neighbor stood poised on his balcony, screaming to his wife in the kitchen and getting ready to jump, just before the plane veered sharply to the left.

My neighbor saw it tear into the alley across the street; I only felt the shudder and the shake as the windows of the condo rattled in their panes on the plane’s impact. Felt the heat from the fire, smelled the jet fuel and the saw the spark of the severed power lines dancing like angry snakes as I ran from my house toward the alley and then stopped and doubled back to dial 911.

The phone line was dead of course, but a Cessna can’t crash in the middle of Boulder, Colorado, without someone calling out the ambulances and the fire trucks and they came soon enough. Eventually we made CNN. Eventually the story unfolded -- the suicide note, the plan to take the chartered plane down in the middle of town, to destroy as many people and as much property as possible, the assumed struggle, the heroic pilot who managed to crash it somewhere, somehow else, into the only the unoccupied house on the block (how could he have known? surely he couldn’t have known.); the house that disappeared entirely with the pilot and the suicide.

Eventually I stopped shaking. After about a week I stopped starting and looking upward when I heard a plane fly by. But I never shook what I learned that afternoon: that planes can fall out of the sky. That they do.

Which changes none of the things that have to get done, but changes the way you go about doing them.

For a little while.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W.H. Auden


I, Rodius said...

Wow. And you still fly. A lot.

Guy said...

I started reading your list last evening, left it open on my mac, went upstairs to say good-night to Drew and fell asleep in his bed (muscle relaxers all day) returned to your list and followed the link to here and my Texas Monthly is lying open to the article about the "day the music died" I was reading because the 50th anniversary was yesterday.

Planes do fall from the sky. Helicopters too.
I photographed one as it hit a water tower and crashed onto the top of a building. I seldom think of that anymore although it was the only time I've actually witnessed people dying. And I still fly in them as often as possible. Flying in planes is boring by comparison.

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