World Trade Center, New York
December 11th & 12th
The Dakota Roadhouse is a block from the World Trade Center site.
I had gone back to the site early in the evening to spend more time
reading the messages and notes at the various shrines along its
Unfortunately, you cannot just focus on those little pieces of
hope, memory, encouragement, and praise. The grinding, crashing,
piercing symphony of the recovery effort provides constant underscoring.
Occasionally, try though you might to avoid it, the now famous twisted
metal of all thats left standing jumps at you from around
I needed a break. Up ahead I saw the sign for the Dakota Roadhouse.
Prior to September 11 it would have been filled to the gills with
investment bankers and equities traders. Tuesday night there were
four guys from a nearby firm whose offices were still intact. They
shot pool and clumsily flirted with Lara, the pretty, blonde bartender.
A little later two women and one man came in. It was a nostalgia
trip for them. They had worked at the WTC. Two of them are now in
temporary digs in Chelsea and one has to commute to New Jersey.
Every now and then a shell-shocked tourist would wander in, have
a beer, and leave.
The Dakota Roadhouse is a nice bar, the patrons were sociable,
Lara mixed a mean drink and the conversation was good. David, from
the UK, and I spent an hour or so solving the worlds problems.
I met some construction workers from the site who popped in for
their midnight lunch break. We talked about the Knicks losing to
the Celtics in overtime earlier that evening.
Lara was pleased that the street in front of the place was now
open to vehicular traffic. It had been too weird being down there
and never seeing a car on the normally gridlocked street.
While cars could now pass through, it was still desolate.When the
CD jukebox would fall silent between songs you could hear the pulse
of the machinery at the site.
Sometime after midnight I figured I should head back to the hotel
to crash. I bounded out the door into the eerie haunted house shadows
cast by the science fiction glow from the stadium lights burning
at the site. I nearly ran over an old Irishman with a bunch of fliers
in his hands.
He gave me one.
Did you work in the Towers, he asked me.
I told him I did not. That I was from Los Angeles and had wanted
to see New York after the attacks. He nodded solemnly, as if this
was important information. I looked down at the flier in my hands.
A young woman smiled out at me from a grainy color Xerox copy. Across
the top in huge letters it said, MISSING.
Something in my look caused him to react.
I know, he said, smiling apologetically. Im
not crazy. I just gotta find someone who knows what happened to
my Baby Girl.
He was a sizeable man in his late fifties with thinning white hair,
scarred hands, and a nose that looked like it had been broken about
a hundred times. He looked lost. Helpless. I wanted to do something
for him but couldnt think of what. We stood there awkwardly
for a few moments.
Tell me about her, I said.
He lit up instantly and reached for his wallet. That picture
didnt come out too good in the copy machine. Look at this.
He held out a wallet sized photo of his daughter. Isnt
I thought to myself, no, she isnt. She was rather plain,
with flat hair plastered to her skull and a fairly featureless face.
But to the old man she was the most beautiful thing this earth had
Thats my baby girl.
He lived in Brooklyn where hed raised her. His wife, the
girls mother, had passed away fifteen years ago, when his
Baby Girl was still a teenager. He never remarried
One life. One wife, ya know?
Back when she was little she always needed to be the center of
attention. When her parents had friends over she would have concerts
in the middle of their living room. She would sing some popular
song, belting it out so loud you had to listen. He said he always
thought she would be a star. He held out the picture again. She
had become more beautiful to him in the last few minutes.
His Baby Girl had worked her way through college and gone on to
get an MBA. She ended up a big shot with one of the big money
firms. He beamed when he said this. Though he still thought
she could have been a star. Shes still the center of
attention, he said.
He waxed on about all her accomplishments as we walked along. Said
she was always a handful, that one. After her mother died she got
a little crazy. Thats how she dealt with it. Shed always
been a good girl but started acting out. Not that she ever
did anything horrible
harmless teenage stuff. Drinking. Loser
He told me about when she went to her prom
how he didnt
know what to do. How he knew that it was a big deal for her but
he didnt know how to help her get all fancied up. He still
carries a faded photo in his wallet of her in her prom dress. He
pointed to the skinny kid next to her in the photo, trying to look
cool in his bad tuxedo. Thats the loser. I about threw
a party when she dumped him. Kid was trouble.
I didnt ask how. I got the impression that no man was good
enough for his daughter.
Look at her. Aint she something? Didnt get help
from nobody. Just look at her.
He remembered how, when she was little, shed always hold
his hand when they crossed the street. So he could keep her safe.
How she outgrew that. How, as an adult, when they reached a crosswalk
she would sometimes take his hand like the old days and ask him
if it was safe to cross. It was their little game.
He remembered when the family was in a car wreck and she cut her
head on the window. He drove his broken car like a crazy man getting
her to the hospital. The cut was bloody but not deep. She wasnt
all that scared. She laughed at him because he was.
But his Baby Girl was hurt.
He remembers when she graduated from college, the first in his
family to make it through. Her first job paid more than hed
ever made in his life. He told me he was proud of her and loved
her even more because she didnt want to tell him how much
she made. She knew it was more than he made and didnt want
to hurt his feelings.
Isnt that something, he said.
Then she got an MBA and got a good job makin money
like you wouldnt believe.
She was a real big shot, he said. She had people
working for her. Always got a real big bonus and raises so she musta
been doin good.
He remembered how hed come up to have lunch or dinner with
her and hed walk into her office with all these rich guys
and shed introduce him around
like I was the big
And now shes gone.
He went somewhere far away for a moment.
I used to hold her hand when she crossed the street
He said he knows shes gone. He knows she isnt coming
back. He knows shes buried somewhere in that pile of concrete
I hope it happened fast.
At first he had hoped as hard as he could that she had made it
out but was hurt and couldnt get through to him. He said it
felt wrong hoping she was hurt bad
but that was better than
the alternative. He knew she would call him if she could. She would
know he was worried sick. Every time the phone rang for the first
few days he hoped it was going to be her and she would be laughing
at him for being so worried and nervous for her.
But I kinda thought
I guess I knew.
Her body has yet to be recovered. Her firm has been very helpful
in getting him any information they can. He needs details. He needs
to know precisely how and when and where.
He stared up at the wreckage of the building.
Even though shes a big shot, Im still her old
shes still my little girl. And if she was hurt bad
if she was trapped and hoping somebody would find her
needed me. She mighta called out for me and
He stopped abruptly, his breath coming in short, angry and anguished
gasps. I asked him if hed like the flier back, since I wouldnt
be able to accomplish anything with it. He thought that would be
good since the color copies were expensive. Getting a tough edge
I gotta be continuing on now, ya know? Its
busier down here tonight with the three month anniversary and all.
Maybe I can find someone.
He turned and moved down the street, the harsh glow of the construction
lights creating a halo around him
a tiny, shining silhouette
against the hulking wreckage of the Towers.