Last night, I was on my way home from work in midtown Manhattan.
I got out of the office, and was walking between 3rd and Lexington, when I noticed everyone just staring south. It seemed that everyone were on phones, or just watching in silence. I have seen this only once before, this same sort of "group fear".
I knew right away that "something happened". I walked to the corner, and my heart was cold with dread with what I was about to see.
I turned, and saw a plume of black, thick smoke rising, only 20 blocks away. Everyone was moving around me with a more hurried pace and I could near snippets of conversation on cell phones:
"Dude, another terrorism attack."
"A building collapsed."
"They bombed the subways."
I looked around and I saw a group of four people, a father, a mother, their teenage daughter and son standing there, with a look of confusion. They were obviously here on a holiday, and didn't know what to do or where do go. I felt really sorry for them, because the city wasn't in a panic, but it was clear that something was happening that was similar to September 11. I couldn't help them, and with the mood of the city, I had to find out what was going on before I made my next move.
Today we are all reading how it was just a steam pipe. Last night, in that moment, I felt that the terrorists hit us again. I didn't know what happened, but I felt that something was VERY wrong and I didn't want to take the subway, for two reasons: One, if it was terrorism, I didn't want to be underground, in a subway if something else happened. Two, the explosion was at 42nd street and my subway passes right there. I wasn't about to get on a subway and head towards the explosion.
I thought about it for a bit, and figured I would head to the NY Waterway and take a ferry to Hoboken. I figured that it would be much faster and safer than taking the subway to the PATH.
I first started to walk across town, and there were just cops flying down the street, and sirens were blaring. There were a mix of people, some were very much aware of this explosion and there were a ton of others who had no clue what was going on, especially as I got further from Lexington and people couldn't see the smoke.
I hailed a taxi near Columbus Circle and asked the taxi driver if he heard anything about the explosion.
"What explosion? What are you talking about", he replied with a tinge of irritation.
I told him to turn on the news. He did.
Bloomberg news wasn't even reporting it. They were talking to an Ohio senator about the economy in Ohio. I listened to this for 10 minutes until they finally took a break and the traffic guy jumped on and talked about the explosion and saying it was a transformer or steam pipe. Traffic was going to be a mess, they noted.
So, I was a bit relieved to hear that it wasn't terrorism, but I still had to get home. I was already in the taxi and he took me to 48th and West Side Highway.
I hadn't been to the NY Waterway since the Blackout of 2003. It has very much changed, with a large, glass building in place of the dinky dock that used to be there. I walked inside and first saw the dock itself, with only about 40-50 standing there waiting for a ferry to NJ. My first thought was "Man, that was so smart of me to take the ferry."
Then I turned the corner and saw the line.
There were easily 200 people in line waiting for tickets (the picture above was taken when I was in mid-line and doesn't show those standing behind me). There was ONE, count them, ONE person at the window selling tickets. One guy and 200 people standing in a large, glass and steel building that did a terrible job with air conditioning, it was hot and humid.
I went to the back of the line and waited. There weren't any machines around, like I would see at the PATH or NY Subway that I could swipe a credit card, buy a ticket and be on my way.
I saw an asian girl walk into the building, who was covered, on one side of her body, with mud. It was like she was sprayed with mud, but otherwise looked fine. She looked irritated that there was a long line, too. She went to the back of the line with her friend.
After waiting about 15 minutes in line, another employee appeared at the window and started to sell tickets. This helped a little bit, but I easily had to wait in line for 35-40 minutes before I could buy a ticket.
I purchased the ticket and they only had Hoboken North tickets for sale, which would drop me in Hoboken at 14th street. This was the other side of town, but I didn't care I just wanted to get home. I could take a taxi or the bus to my condo.
I took the ferry and heard other people who normally take the ferry daily comment about how many more people were on the ferry because of the explosion. I found the ride to be enjoyable, because of the cool Hudson River air that blew in my face during the ride.
We got off the dock, and then I walked to Washington Street and grabbed a 126 bus to the other end of town.
I fully plan to contact NY Waterway in the morning and ask them to review what happened yesterday. I think the first step they could take would make it easier to purchase tickets from a machine, rather than wait for a window teller. I didn't see any machines around and if there were machines to buy tickets, they certainly weren't clearly marked.
I left work at 6pm, I walked in the door at 8pm.