On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was awakened by the sheet with the mission of trying to get to the World Trade Center and report what was happening. I was a newspaper correspondent in New York and I lived in the East Village in lower Manhattan, 20 blocks away.
The first information showed that a twin-engine had accidentally collided with one of the towers. The instructions were clear: I should invite my wife, who is also a journalist Teté Ribeiro, so that she could help with the investigation and take photos.
She carried with her a portable film camera in Advantix format, which Kodak would no longer produce in 2011. I left armed with a pen, notepad and a prepaid cell phone with little credit, in a world where smartphones were a distant dream.
The result is the text that appeared in the paper’s print version on September 12, 2001; most of the photos remained unpublished.
Twenty years later, this Saturday morning (11), we retraced the route. If the sky remains an intense blue like it was 20 years ago, the city under it has changed.
For starters, the original route gained dozens of new buildings, some that would have been an obstacle to the view we had that day and which was the north of our walk: first the towers, then the black smoke, then the falls and finally the cloud of white dust.
New York has experienced a real estate boom in these two decades. In the World Trade Center region alone, there was an investment of US$ 20 billion (R$ 110 billion). That part of the city, until then with a commercial vocation, gained several residential buildings, with tax incentives.
Paradoxically, the path is dotted with dozens of empty stores and posters with commercial space for rent. It is the aftermath of nearly two years of pandemic. In the first five months of the health crisis alone, 7,100 businesses closed their doors in the city.
A recovery is being attempted in this semester of 2021, but little by little. The exception is the designer stores in SoHo, which this morning had queues at the doors of customers, who enter following the limits of a predefined capacity. And the marijuana stalls in Union Square.
New York State legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults over 21 in July — medicinal marijuana has been allowed since 2014. Now, alongside kiosks offering aged Vermont cheddar and organic blueberries, customers can choose the varieties “Nerds”, “Orange Fruit” and “Lucky Charm”, among others, for smoking.
In 2001, depending on the amount of marijuana found on a person, that person would be arrested. The mayor was Rudolph Giuliani, who in the days after the 9/11 attack was dubbed “America’s Mayor” and saw his popularity soar. Years later, the Republican would become a political pariah by blindly supporting Donald Trump in his legal maneuvers.
Another effect of the pandemic can be observed on the sidewalks along the way: there are more homeless people asking for money. At the beginning of the crisis, to avoid further contagion, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to remove 8,000 people who used the municipal shelters to sleep, where often up to 70 of them shared the same environment, to hotels paid for by the city. The action was much criticized, and he finds it difficult to reverse it nowadays.
Covid’s impact is everywhere. Restaurants require proof of vaccination for customers who want to eat at indoor tables, and their owners have obtained authorization from the city to build outdoor annexes on sidewalks and streets, many decorated with flowers and lights. With that, the landscape changed. The Village gained a certain air of fete.
In crowded bars, already before lunch, New York police and firefighters, uniformed but off duty, amended the morning’s honors with meetings of former partners. At the counters and outdoors, masks are not mandatory, and fewer and fewer people use them on the streets.
Pharmacies and offices offer doses of vaccine, many with posters announcing the manufacturers. There is no law against “sommeliers”, each one chooses his favorite, among Moderna, Pfizer and Janssen. New York has 67% of its adults inoculated with at least the first dose, higher than the national average of 63%, but the number is not increasing.
The city offers a $100 bonus (BRL 550) to anyone who takes a friend or relative to get vaccinated for the first time at one of the municipal clinics. There is also a public home vaccination program, with online registration. Basically, anyone gets vaccinated wherever and whenever they want and can still be paid for it in some cases.
The closer we get to the place where this morning relatives honor those who lost 20 years ago, the greater the movement of people.
In his speech in Pennsylvania later, Joe Biden again cited the political polarization the country is experiencing. In a pet store this morning, it can be touched and bitten: the window shows rag dolls with the figure of the Democrat and his deputy, Kamala Harris, alongside those of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.
A few meters from where the ceremony is drawing to a close, a man with a long beard carries a sign announcing that “the truth is coming” and urging people to “gently wake up”. He sings in English “Prédio Sete/11 de Setembro”. He is one of several deniers who take advantage of the concentration to announce his theory.
Tower seven was the last to collapse on September 11, 2001. Despite not being hit by planes, like the north and south towers, the 47-story building suffered a major fire and had its structures damaged, which eventually led to the building to the ground at 5:20 pm. The problem was, there were the FBI and CIA New York facilities.
It was enough to create the conspiracy theory: the government took the opportunity to put the building on the ground, burning along with the evidence that it was involved in the terrorist attack. Police officers observe the dumbfounded activist with an ironic look. Twenty years later, New York changed to stay the same.