Tuesday, December 19, 2023

US Open 2023 - Day 1 - 9/11 Memorial Museum and The Dinner That Almost Didn't Happen

[Composed 8/31/2023]

After browsing the amazing treasures exhibit at the New York Public Library, we headed downtown to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. We figured we could walk the nearly 4 miles to the Museum and still make it for the last timed-entry slot of the day.

As our good fortune would have it, our path to the museum took us by the Long Lines building. Atlas Obscura describes this address like so:

An uber-secure, windowless tower of doom in the center of Manhattan is an NSA spyscraper.

Oooh, a tower of doom. How cool, is that! We snapped selfies and ogled the facade. As towers of doom go, I think the building checks all the boxes.

We made it to the museum right on time and started our self-guided tour without incident.

Our experience at the museum was split into two phases. In phase one, we browsed various art installations and large objects on display, information about the creation of the Twin Towers, and spent time in the In Memoriam room. This room puts faces to the 2,983 people killed on both 9/11 as well as an attack from 1993. While moving, this was all relatively gentle when you consider the horror of 9/11.

The art work, especially Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning really touched a nerve with me. It conjured a vision of a sort of round-table discussion among various professions.

The doctors stands up and say: we'll make the world a better place by healing people. The lawyers stand up and say: we'll make the world a better place by seeking justice. The architects stand up say: we'll make the world a better place by designing infrastructure that brings us together. And so it goes. Finally, all eyes turn to artists and ask: so nu, what good will your paints and brushes be to the world? They stand and say: when unspeakable tragedy has befallen you, we'll be there to help you make sense of it.

And so Trying to Remember does this. In a simple, unexpected and brilliant way, its 2,983 tiles speak volumes about memory, loss and the unspeakable experience of that day.

The second phase of the museum began when we were told to put away our cameras and we entered the Historical Exhibition. It was here that we went through the timeline leading up to, through and beyond 9/11. Artifacts were deftly chosen to tell the story of the day. Some of the media was familiar to me; some I experienced for the first time. A number of the air traffic control recordings fell into that second category and I found myself moved by their raw directness. The most haunting artifact hit me by surprise. What started as a seemingly random alarm tone, came into focus as the sound of firefighter's Personal Alarm Safety Systems. This man-down system sounds alert when a firefighter remains motionless for more than 30 seconds. The exhibit explained that on 9/11 ground zero was ablaze with these alarms; each signifying a dead or trapped first-responder. You can hear a measure of this event in this recording. In the span of 20 seconds I went from confusion, to understanding to heartbreak.

Maybe it was because we caught the last time slot of the day. Or, more likely by design, we found our walk through the Historic Exhibition to be a crowded, jockying affair. If the designers of the museum wanted to impart a tiny sense of the confusion, crowds and urgency of that day, then mission accomplished.

I left the museum humbled and thankful by what we'd witnessed. I was initially struck by how foolish it was to try to squeeze this museum in as a sort of add on to our day. But, upon further reflection, I appreciated that one trip to this museum was never going to be enough to take it all in. To fully absorb what this museum has to offer I'll need multiple trips. Better to visit today and start our journey rather than try to wait for the perfect day; which will still be insufficient.

After the museum Shira and I considered our dinner options. While we could have sanely called it a day, we opted instead to head back to midtown (smartly taking the train this time) and hit up Spiced NYC, a seemingly fancy Kosher grill. When we arrived at the address the place looked shuttered. There were no lights on and no indication that it was even a functioning business. Wasn't that just typical: the web made promises that real-life couldn't deliver. On a whim, Shira tugged on the door handle and to our surprise, the door opened. We were greeted with the sight of an elegantly lit dining room.

From the moment we walked in, we were impressed. The ambiance, our server, the food, everything was perfect. Between the food and the service, it was among the most delightful dining experiences we'd ever had. I'm so glad we didn't mis-interpret the dark store front and call it a day. The pastrami empanadas and BBQ pulled brisket flat bread were both unique and exceptionally tasty. Shira asked for a burger, and the waiter kindly brought it disassembled so that she could make it just the way she wanted at the table.

After a full day of walking (32,552 steps baby!), we finally made it back to our hotel in Flushing. Tomorrow the real fun begins: all tennis all day! Wish me luck.

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