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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

How this astonishing new landmark, the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center, was yesterday leading some New Yorkers to say they won't go back to work
By JAN WONG, The Globe and Mail
Monday, September 17, 2001

NEW YORK -- Andrew Stein is a cowboy, and not just on Wall Street. But yesterday, as he gazed from behind a police barricade at the smouldering rubble of the World Trade Center, he said he felt cowed. He insisted he could never go back to Wall Street.

Instead, he said, he would head for the hills, to his ranch -- yes, of course he owns one -- in Colorado. His life as a commodities trader, he declared, was finished.

But it was just talk. Mr. Stein is one of those guys -- and they are mostly guys -- who wear funny jackets and yell and gesticulate and make gazillions trading crude oil and natural gas futures. He thrives on stress and adrenaline and risk.

At 42, he's lean and hungry, with pale blue eyes. He's in the prime of life, which in New York is defined as being in the midst of his second divorce, with a very cute girlfriend on the side.

Mr. Stein is a member of the New York Mercantile Exchange. This morning, the Mercantile, the New York Stock Exchange and the American Stock Exchange are scheduled to reopen for business after an unprecedented four-day closing.

"It's a mistake," he said gloomily. "It's not secure enough. Ten guys with grenades and handguns can come in and take out 500 people."

He predicted that half of the Mercantile Exchange's membership wouldn't bother to show up today. Those who did would get little work done. "We think there's going to be constant bomb threats."

Bernard Kerik, the New York City Police Commissioner, reported that the city was averaging 100 bomb threats a day, compared with seven a day before the World Trade Center attacks.

Schools, office buildings, the chief medical examiner's office, have all received bomb threats. There are so many that New Yorkers are becoming inured.

Diana Schwartz, chief technology officer for an advertising company, said her building, on 42nd Street, received a bomb threat last week. But she stayed at her desk and kept working. "I thought, this is ridiculous. No one is going to bomb the old New Yorker Building."

Everywhere, people subconsciously measure the risk factor of wherever they happen to be. Hmm, this is uncomfortably close to the Empire State Building. Gee, would Grand Central Station be a target?

"I'm scared," said Joaqoan Orjales, a short-order cook at Joe's Salad Bar and Gourmet Deli, a few blocks north of the World Trade Center. The store had just reopened for business and he was wiping off the accumulated dust. It had shut abruptly after the terrorist attacks. Yesterday, its newsstand was still stacked with papers from Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

Yesterday morning, Mr. Stein was trying to get into his condo, which is two blocks north of Ground Zero. He was in bed last Tuesday when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. He heard the explosion and remembered the 1993 bombing. He assumed it was more of the same. But he kept his cool, and packed a knapsack with a sweater and a camera.

Now he was back, trying to get into his apartment. His building superintendent was ready to escort some residents home. But the U.S. Army soldiers at the barricade weren't co-operating. Besides, it wasn't clear whether Mr. Stein's building, at 53 Park Place, had electricity or water or phone service.

He's probably very good at trading. Even when he's talking to you on a street corner, his eyes dart around, taking in the action. He seems to be able to eavesdrop on several conversations at once.

Suddenly, Mr. Stein darts away. He's overheard the superintendent asking others if they have dust masks. He doesn't have one. But seconds later, he's somehow managed to finagle some from a rescue worker on the other side of the barricade. This man can hustle.

Then the superintendent has bad news. "They're going to put chemicals on the fires. Right now I'm going to be leaving. And I don't recommend you guys stay here."

Mr. Stein decides to head back to his hotel. Unlike Mr. Orjales, the short-order cook, many New Yorkers believe that work is the cure-all remedy for despair. As congenital workaholics, they scorn tourists. New Yorkers wear black, people say, in order to distinguish themselves from the pastel and plaid-clad tourists from Omaha. When New Yorkers walk down the street, they're too sophisticated to crane their necks and admire their magnificent city.

Kevin Flynn, a retired court officer, went down to volunteer at the disaster site yesterday morning. "You'd be surprised how many people I spoke to down there who have never been inside the World Trade Center," he said, leaning against a car.

On Saturday night, he had dinner with some relatives. They took a poll. Out of the six New Yorkers there, only Mr. Flynn had ever been to the World Trade Center. And he had never been to the observation deck on the 110th floor.

"That's too touristy," the 55-year-old said. "You think: It's always there, you can go up any time."

He was on a break from his rescue work and nursed a mid-morning cup of black coffee. "New Yorkers are so busy," he mused. "They're always working. They never take time to look around, other than the block they live in."

New Yorkers are now getting into the tourism thing. Yesterday, many headed downtown, as close to the rubble as possible, and snapped souvenir pictures. But they apparently draw the line at posing in front of the ruins themselves.

Canal Street, which threads through Chinatown, was the closest that many New Yorkers could get. They loitered at intersections, gawking at the grey cloud of smoke in the distance. "Why do they keep taking pictures? " a police officer asked. "It's just smoke."

In Chinatown, the crowds seemed thinner. But everything is relative. The streets were still teeming, but you could actually walk at a normal pace, instead of shuffling along because of pedestrian gridlock.

The sidewalk vendors were doing a booming business in commemorative T-shirts at $5 (U.S.) a piece. "I escaped from the World Trade Center," one said. "America Under Siege," read another.

But the restaurants were dead. At noon, only one customer was dining in the Grand Sichuan, which has a view of the skyline once dominated by the World Trade Center. Business was so slow that the waiter, Jiang Yusheng, spent the lunch hour cleaning ash and grime off the windows.

"At night, the view used to be beautiful," he said. "Now, it's empty."

In Little Italy, many restaurants had zero customers. The waiters sat at the café tables on the sidewalk.

This morning, much of New York's transit system will be up and running. A sure sign that life is resuming normalcy is the sight of joggers running through the rubble. Another sign was that even the looters were back at work. Someone was arrested trying to loot the Brooks Brothers store on Wall Street. Another was nabbed stealing Tourneau watches.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Sweeper trucks have been vacuuming up Wall Street. But yesterday you could still see the ashes glazing the grapefruit and limes and Granny Smith apples in baskets outside Morgan's Market, a small grocery store near the World Trade Center. When the attacks occurred, the store didn't have time to take in its produce. So it sat outside, in the horizontal tornado of smoke that engulfed the neighbourhood.

"It's no good," said Kevin Oho, 41, an employee, as he dumped a basket of red Delicious apples into a garbage bag.

Rescue workers say there is no blood at the attack site. There are bodies and body parts, but no blood. The fine grey dust, some say, is the ashes of the victims, mixed with concrete and incinerated office equipment. The sniffer dogs have become useless at pinpointing corpses because they are decomposing now and the smell is overwhelming. The number of people dead and missing at the World Trade Center is now more than 5,000.

Wayne Nemeth, a venture capitalist, stopped to buy some food from Morgan's Market. He was just returning to his apartment across the street, after having to leave it last Tuesday. He had a shopping bag from Restoration Hardware. Asked what it contained, he answered, "A vacuum cleaner."

As he left his Wall Street neighbourhood, Mr. Stein paused to point out his condo. "Unfortunately, I left the windows open a crack." Then he pointed to an adjacent building. "Robert De Niro is moving in there," he adds.

He loves this part of New York. It's full of rich and powerful people, like himself. Harvey Keitel, the actor, lives there. "There's Martha Stewart's condo," he says, pointing to the aptly named Merchants Refrigerating and Ice Manufacturing Co.

But he insists the district is finished. "Nobody really cares any more. Nobody wants to live down here. Nobody wants to trade."

He's staying at the Soho Grand, a chic new hotel where rooms normally cost $400 (U.S.) a night and up. Asked how much he's paying, Mr. Stein says he got a deal. "I've got networks."

But he's so competitive he wants to know how much this reporter is paying. When he's told, he crows, "I'm paying less." But he still won't say how much.

That's why you know Mr. Stein is never leaving New York. He may vacation at his Colorado ranch, where he has cows and horses. But he's a New Yorker to the core. When it came time to evacuate his condo, he didn't head for New Jersey. He moved to a hotel all of four blocks north.

He says he saw the jumpers as the first tower started to collapse. "Mostly men in business suits. It's hard to think you're going to go back in and trade and make money. What I do for a living requires focus. Making a mistake can be very costly. It just doesn't seem important right now."

So will he, or won't he? When the Mercantile Exchange opens this morning, will Andrew Stein be there? "Yes," he said.


Life Goes On

Voices From After the Fall, The Facts Behind the Fear, and the preview of a new Discovery documentary filmed at Ground Zero.


   (RealPlayer required)

  • Six-month Memorial for Sept. 11 - U.S. President George Bush speaks from the White House. "The terrorists will remember Sept. 11 as the day their reckoning began," he said.

  • In Canada - Relatives of Canadian victims of the World Trade Centre attacks wonder why there's no six-month memorial here at home. video reports

  • Copyright © 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.
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