On Sunday night, I volunteered at Ground Zero at the World Trade Center from about 10 pm until 5.30 am.

I worked with other volunteers -- including my friend Gabrielle -- to prepare and serve food to ~800 firemen, police officers, construction workers, and rescue personnel. The blown-out restaurant which served as our makeshift cafeteria is across the street from the World Trade Center. (For those of you familiar with the area, we were two doors over from the two-story Burger King next to the south tower. That Burger King is now, or was, the temporary on-site NYPD headquarters.) Since that area is restricted, I thought I would take a minute to describe what I saw there. We drove to the area in a police van along with about 6 other volunteers. At around Canal and Varick (about 10 blocks north of the WTC), we passed a checkpoint which was manned by about 5 police officers. Not even pedestrians were allowed past that point. We were not asked for identification and we were not searched. After crossing the checkpoint, we kept driving south on (I think) West Broadway. At this point, the scene changed dramatically. The only vehicles on the street were official vehicles -- police, fire/rescue, utility, and military, and also some cars that I assume belonged to some of the workers. Portable high-output lights lit the entire area, even several blocks away from the WTC. As we got closer, the air got a bit cloudier and you could begin to see the concentrated smoke/dust plume straight ahead. We passed a few makeshift, but wellorganized medical stations and small command centers. The functions that each area served was spray-painted on plywood or whatever other surface was available. For instance, we passed several spots marked "Wash Area", which seemed to be tents with tables under them, a one- or two-person medical staff, and a lot of supplies and devices for eye- and skin-rinsing. And then, we were right in the immediate area, with the rubble about 30 yards to our right, and we could see everything. Everybody in the van gasped or said "Oh my God". Everything was gray and destroyed. Heavy equipment clawed at the buildings' remains, which were piled high and smoldering. I think what amazed everyone was the scale of the destruction. The affected area was so large, and the damage so extreme, that it really seemed to shock everyone. Giant construction cranes loomed over the area, like at the Big Dig. All of this was taking place just a few yards away from the road we were driving down. As we drove further in, it felt more and more like we were pushing further into a war zone. And, in a sense, I guess we were. It reminded me a little of Martin Sheen travelling up-river in Apocalypse Now...the scenery gets more and more chaotic and unrecognizable, but deep in the heart of it, there seems to be an eerie quietness. So we drove right by the structures that are familiar from media coverage -- the still-standing jagged facade of one of the towers, the blown-out building that I think is 4 World Trade Center, etc. We then turned down an alley that was lined with temporary toilet stalls, a few generators, and some sinks that operated via a foot pump. We all exited the van and began carrying food into the building that was our base of operations. As I got out of the van, I looked up at a building to my left. It was a small brownstone, with a small store on the ground floor and apartments or small offices up above. The windows were nearly all broken, which I guess didn't surprise me.

What took me aback is that the fire escape, a metal stairway that criss-crossed the building, was covered -- almost papier-mached -- with paper that apparently had been blown out of the towers and other collapsed buildings. It was a dark, sooty gray crumpled wrapping around the entirety of the escape. Our base was a former fast food restaurant that had a kind of island theme. Nobody could remember what the name of the restaurant was. I thought someone said it was "Face North", but I don't know if that is true. There was no working plumbing or electricity in the building, apparently. The power was provided by a generator, and the water came from a fire hydrant or pumping station. Gabrielle began helping with the re-heating and cooking of the food, which took place in an oven that had been brought in. The oven, according to Gabrielle, could operated on steam. (I have no idea how this worked.) It was later switched to work with conventional heat and electricity. Meanwhile, I headed to the serving lines and within a few seconds was scooping food for the workers. It was a cafeteria-type setting. The restuarant had been gutted, so the floor consisted of long folding tables that had been brought in, and plastic-and-metal chairs, like what you find in a convention center room. Taped to the walls and pillars were were posters from school children saying thanks to the firemen and other workers, calling them heroes. There was a memo from the American Red Cross telling you what to expect from post-traumatic stress. On the wall over the table where they picked up their plates and plasticware was a very large American Flag, maybe 8 feet wide, made out of little red and white squares of paper that school children had written messages on. I saw one firefighter have his picture taken in front of it. The "cafeteria", such as it was, was remarkably well organized, in my opinion. There was an over-abundance of most supplies, e.g., more plasticware, plates, napkins, garbage bags, etc., than you could ever imagine using, although I would guess that all these supplies will be used eventually. These were all stored in cardboard boxes in the rear of the building. On each table was a container of baby wipes. The workers used these to wipe their hands and faces, and we used them to wipe down the tables after they finished. On each table was a water bottle filled with a few fresh flowers. At the tables sat workers from all over the country, and from many different agencies and organizations. I saw search-and-rescue workers from Salt Lake City, Seattle, Texas, LA, Miami, and Santa Barbara, CA. I saw firefighters from all over the state of New York, and workers in jackets that said "FEMA" (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and "FBI" and "Salvation Army" and even "Marriott". I talked to a chaplain from FDNY. There were some guys dressed in uniforms from the Department of Sanitation. A health inspector from the city came by to make sure we were up to code -- which really says something about the incredible civic infrastructure of NYC. I saw doctors and paramedics and religious workers, and iron workers and dock workers and fire chiefs and police detectives and men who looked like accountants. THere were young men, maybe 18 years old, dressed in army fatigues and carrying a light army pack. One of them said he was based in upstate NY and had been down at the WTC for a week. He was just a boy. There were cops who didn't look much older. You could tell the firefighters not from their helmets but from their brown Carhartt overalls, which appeared to be just about brand new. By and large, the people (95% men, at least, I think) were in surprisingly good spirits -- when you smiled, they smiled back, and they were unfailingly polite and

gracious, and went out of their way to thank us, of all people, and tell us what a good job we were doing. I thought over and over again of what they must have seen before coming in to see us. The guys who were the most tired-looking and the dirtiest were those who wore jackets or jumpsuits that said "Search and Rescue" on them. These were the men from the farthest away who were still working around the clock, looking for people. The crew from Miami-Dade wore simple gray T-shirts that said where they were from. They were covered, head to foot, in soot and grime. One older man had a bandage covering one side of his face. The crew from Santa Barbara had bright yellow coveralls lettered in black, and now, covered in black. One of the men on the team was a K-9 officer, and he brought his dog, a chocolate lab, I think, into the mess hall with him, and was instantly the most popular man of the evening. I spoke to a police officer who said that most of the cops were just watching the perimeter of the site, making sure no unauthorized people got in. He said all the police spent the first few days digging, and then had been re-assigned to stand guard. He said he had been at the site since Day 1. I got the impression that he was able to go home at night, however I did not get that impression from several other people whom I spoke to. I saw several men sleeping on sidewalks or in remote parts of the disaster area, one man sleeping peacefully next to the 14-foot sawwheel of a giant road-cutting truck. The front of our building seemed to have been blown or torn off, so there was just a green tarp covering part of the entrance. (Elsewhere there were signs that said "Hot Food at Green Tarp".) There was pretty much an endless stream of workers coming in to get food. The lines usually were around 5 people long. The longest lull would be about 10 minutes, during the course of which just a few people would come in, and then a small squad of people would come in together, and we would have a mini-rush. About 6 people worked the food-service tables, spooning portions of salmon, lamb, ratatouille (sp?), green beans, sweet potatoes, fried chicken, etc., to the hungry. The food, having been prepared by chefs at a SoHo restaurant, was very good, although it had been made of mostly donated ingredients. (For example, during the food prep time, one of my tasks was to shred a block of Krafttype single-sliced processed cheese.) I later heard a lot of compliments about the food, including one firefighter who said the salmon was the best he had ever had. It was clear that the chefs, one or two of whom were present on site, took a lot of pride in the food they were preparing. After working for about 3 hours, I took my first break. I had been asking people whether you could walk around a little bit, un-escorted, and they said yes. They said you could go next door and get a hard hat if you wanted one. Since I was not familiar with the area at all, I didn't really know what to expect when I walked outside. I thought I would have to walk a block or so to get to where all the work was happening. Instead, I walked outside and found myself starting at Ground Zero. It had been right outside the building, and I had no idea, because of the green tarp and a scaffolding that had been erected. But there it was, the whole scene laid out in front of me, extending from about 300 yards to my left to about 100 yards to my right, and a great distance in front of me. The scene was lit by very bright construction-type lights that were powered by generators and sat atop 40-foot poles. At first, I didn't understand how these lights, which are very powerful but still somewhat small, could illuminate the scene so brightly in the middle of the night. So I looked around for additional light sources, and quickly saw what the real source of the light was: a light tower that looked like it had been imported from Yankee Stadium. There were stadium lights pointing down on the scene from maybe 200 feet in the air. Consequently, the area was about as well-lit as a nighttime baseball game.

The excavated area began about 30 feet away from the sidewalk in front of the restuarant. About 100 yards to my left (west), across a wasteland of debris and dirt and steel, was the jagged, multi-triangle exo-skeleton of one of the towers, which is shown so frequently in the media. It is much, much larger than it appears to be in the pictures. At its peak, that structure is still about 12 or 13 stories tall. I had expected it to be about 40 feet tall. To the northwest (as I remember) and straight ahead several hundred yards was what I believe to be the debris associated with the other tower. As I understand it, the entire scene has been subdivided into sub-sections, and each sub-section has its own crews and support services. This suggests that they had their own cafeteria-type mess hall which was serving as many people as we were. Thinking about that made me realize the scale of this operation. About 150 feet straight ahead (north) from the where I stood was "The Pile", a huge pyramid-shaped mass of tangled steel and debris that seemed to stand about 130 feet at its height. (My estimates could be way off here.) Behind it was the blown-out skeleton of what I now believe was 4 World Trade Center. It was just a series of squares stacked next to and on top of each other, barely standing up, it seemed. To the right (east) was more debris and, just across the street, One Liberty Plaza, a building that is reported to be unstable. One Liberty and virtually everyother building anywhere near the towers were covered, top to bottom, in plastic netting, presumably to catch or divert and falling debris. Seeing all of these 40- or more story buildings draped in the netting made me realize that everyone near the scene was still in danger. Looking back on what I just wrote, I realize that there is essentially no way for me to convey the enormous scale of the disaster area. Basically, as far as you could see in every direction except east, there was dirt and debris and giant trucks and dust and smoke and workers dwarfed by the scene. The area was bordered entirely by buildings which had been wrapped in netting, some of which were heavily, heavily damaged. The building next to ours, a modern office building, had a huge hole in the middle floors. I believe this may be the building that was reported to have been struck by a falling jet engine. The building we were in was also covered in netting, had all the windows shattered, and was faced with a metal scaffolding. On the roof of the short building next door, surveyors took measurements facing away from the towers and towards the building with the hole in it, which made me think that perhaps they were making plans to bring down that building. Most of the time, the sound outside was very loud. The engine drone of the dump trucks and cranes was the dominant sound, along with very, very loud bangs from 40-foot pieces of steel being dropped into the beds of the trucks. Some workers around the perimeter wore ear plugs, but most did not. The air quality was not as bad as I expected. You could stand right outside the restaurant and breathe without difficulty, although the air was not exactly fresh. A few workers wore respirators along the perimeter, but every worker within the Pile was wearing one. Nearly every worker I saw in the mess hall had a respirator. The respirators appeared to be color-coded so that one could easily distinguish what kinds of pollutants/particles it would protect you from. Most of the respirators I saw had pink cartridges. A few workers had what appeared to be electronic air pumps or air purifiers attached to their masks. The area immediately surrounding the Pile, especially on the block where our restaurant was, had been entirely converted to ad hoc facilities to serve whatever

function was necessary. As I mentioned above, the Burger King had been converted to NYPD headquarters, and the fluorescent spray paint on the windows announced that. Next door, a coffee shop was now a light-duty medical assistance office, which dispensed bandages and first aid. The building was also marked with spray paint. A red cross had been painted on the rear of the building, next to some graffiti that appeared to have been scrawled by a plumber's union. Next to our restaurant was another hollowed-out storefront, also partially covered by a tarp. This place apparently dispensed equipment to the firemen and construction workers, again much like the depot encountered near the end of Apocalypse Now. A lone firefighter sat perched slightly above street level, ready to hand out whatever supplies were necessary. A large plywood sign had been hung above his head: "Home Depot" was written in orange spray paint. In this area, right in front of the restuarant and the "Home Depot", was a kind of waiting area which was maybe the most remarkable thing of all, apart from the utter destruction immediately in front of it. In this waiting area, which measured about 40 feet wide by 20 feet tall, were scattered about 30 chairs that looked they had been assembled from any available sources. And in nearly all of the chairs sat a firefighter, or rescue worker, or contruction worker. And each chair faced the Pile. It seemed that the sight of all this devastation, and the clean-up, was so compelling that even these men who had been staring into the face of it for at least 12 hours a day for 12 days straight, could not even turn away from it when they were on break. They sat in groups of twos and threes and fours, and stared blankly at the Pile and the trucks and their colleagues, and sipped their coffees and talked quietly to one another. Some had bowed their heads and fallen asleep. Others answered calls on their radios, sticking a finger in one ear to keep out the din of the trucks. But most just sat and watched, seemingly awed by the sight before them, and the work that lay ahead. copyright 2001 thousandrobots.com this work is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License see http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ for more info