The Utter Arbitrariness of Cordons



hudson st & N. Moore st, new york, NY 10013

Neighborhood: Tribeca

On September 11th, I stood at Washington and North Moore for six or seven hours, near a triage center, waiting for all the lined-up ambulances and fire engines to be given the all-clear to go in. We waited for the injured to come for care and comfort. All the ripped-open bandages, makeshift guerneys, stacks of IV’s and sterile dressings, every sort of volunteer cleric, nurse, medical student, doctor — all this and not one patient.

The utter arbitrariness of cordons. Duck into a bar at the right time, and you were “legitimately” in one zone, pockets of casual passersby in a cloud of dust, crowds further down, the cadre of police officers manning my barricade paying a delivery guy for a bag of takeout food on the street; the mix of mundane and urgent; guys on bikes with cameras, angling over and over for a break in the cordon; a cute Gen-Y guy with no shirt on rollerblades writing in the dust on a parked rescue vehicle; the stringers with notebooks interviewing anyone, everyone; a guy I thought was just talking to me as a person trying to get my name for attribution, then losing interest when a woman near me said she’d been in one of the buildings.

I find myself wanting information of a hard, detailed, and specific nature. Why, if all of America knew there were other hijacked planes in the air, were the people in Two World Trade told to return to their desks?

And this engineer-guy I saw interviewed on some news show said he knew immediately the burning jet fuel would melt the steel supports, that the collapse would come quickly. Didn’t they have this information onsite? Aren’t fireman supposed to have experts on how fast and how far a fire will burn?

And who set up the ground cordons? Why was the triage center right at the base of a burning building? Who let all those off-duty and retired policeman and fireman put the plastic flashers on the dashboards and race on in to add to the chaos?

How many people died just from watching, just because they were curious?

I want diagrams, time-lapsed, 3D cutaways of who was where and who they spoke to and where they went and where they fell and why. How many people from upper floors got out? How did they do it? The flood of survivor accounts just adds more questions.

I want a computer-model interactive diagram where I can change the variables until everyone is rescued. The elevators that still worked; the ones that became hurtling fireballs. The escape door that lead to a rain of debris; the one that offered shelter.

The eyewitness stories of sublime foolishness; the radio reporter who jumped into a cab and ended up running from debris three times, each time contributing to the wave of secondary chaos, smashing open a boat, or a store, searching for a place to hide.

He was billed on TV as “the reporter who helped in the rescue effort,” but as far as I could tell, he ran, he ran back, he ran, he ran back, he took a cab to his mother’s.

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