It’s no ride

I’m riding the PATH train into the World Trade Center this morning across from a dad on vacation — it’s that season, suddenly — who’s wearing a baseball cap and shorts over his never-seen-sunlight legs. As we come into the WTC, he brightens up, smiles, and shouts: “Hey, kids, Ground Zero!”

I wanted to slap him. No, actually, I wanted to pull him aside and say:

Sir, this is still a solemn place. It is the site of a terrible crime and tragedy. And for all you know, some of your fellow passengers on this train may have been here that day or lost friends or loved ones here. If passing a cemetery and seeing a funeral going on, would you shout, “Kids, a corpse”? I’m sure you wouldn’t. Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not asking that you treat this like a funeral. It’s not. Just please don’t treat it like Disneyland. Have a little respect. Thank you.

I wouldn’t do that because I wouldn’t want to embarrass the guy in front of his kids, who already appeared plenty embarrassed anyway.

  • Chris Bechard

    Jeff, NOT saying anything to the “dad on vacation”, citing the excuse you did of not wanting to embarass him in front of his children, is EXACTLY the reason why this country is becoming so callous and apathetic. We are too concerned about our own welfare, whether it be being worried about getting punched in the nose or drawing attention to ourselves that we say and do NOTHING. It was by saying NOTHING that the man’s children, whether they “appeared plenty embarassed anyway” or not, that will allow them to believe that their father’s actions were acceptable, as no one challenged him. We are all products of our environment and rest assured the kids will grow up to espouse the same ignorance and pass it on to THEIR kids someday, unless someone who knows better speaks up and make an indelible impression on them.

    So in my mind, Jeff, you are just as bad, if not worse, than the person you criticize.

  • Jeff –

    I believe that your restraint was actually more respectful of your surroundings than trying to correct that ignorant Dad – who, btw, you would not have been able to impact for more than 30 seconds as I’m sure he doesn’t think he needs correcting.


  • Ben Sparks

    >>> Just please don’t treat it like Disneyland

    in 50 years, it will be a ride. wasn’t the titanic a tragedy at one point? now look…

  • it reminds me of the week following 9/11. i was back on my houston consulting gig — following the airline groundings — flying back into new york for my first weekend back.

    as we passed over manhattan, getting ready to do the obligatory circling to LGA, the captain came on the intercom and announced to the cabin that you could see ground zero on the right hand side of the plane.

    practically *everyone* on the left side jumped up to try to get a look (the flight wasn’t packed). there were a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” and i just sat there, staring forward, numb to the entire scene… so much i wanted to say, i just didn’t know where to begin…

  • Mr. Bechard, I hold that Mr. Jarvis did his best in that situation. It is very difficult to know how to deal with something that one feels others should just understand. We all saw people falling out of buildings, many of us tried calling NYC that day to see if the people we loved were okay. I was in New Brunswick, NJ, and just watched the smoke from the ruins, ruins where people were still getting killed, rise up for what seemed to be an endless amount of time.

    I hold that if you understand what many went through on 9/11, then you can understand why restraint as opposed to example-making is the key.

  • Jeff,

    I can’t agree with you more. “Ground zero” will always be a place where thousands lost their lives. It should be treated like a found sunken US submarine, where the crew was lost, and is considered on “eternal patrol”.


  • sooze

    One week ago today my husband and I visited the Oklahoma City Bombing site at the Murrah Bldg. My aunt and uncle, who live there, accompanied us and told us many of the stories of the bravery and sadness and heroism. It was all a little overwhelming and I was glad I had forgotten my camera because I felt that to click away in this hallowed space was disrespectful. But to wander there that day, as so many others meandered about, I was struck by the quietness and restraint. No one laughed or talked loudly, no running or crying children–just a tranquility. Its the same at the Alamo and at the Civil War battle fields. You can hear the wind and the birds seem to sing louder. I hope this family gets caught up in the atmosphere of “Ground Zero” just as I was caught up in the atmosphere of OKC. Maybe that father can be transformed by the experience.

  • Hail the American tourist – most especially the parent trying to impress the bored kids. Feel pity, they’re much to be observed without trying to embarras them, and Jeff, you did right. Trying to give your kids a feeling of the momentousness of what you’re dragging them to see takes a lot of unattractive forms. I recall hearing a desperate mother intoning about having fun because ‘we’re on VACATION’ over and over. The kids were bored stilly.

    Someday if you come to the Chincoteague Pony Swim, you may see parents trying to impress their kids with the loveliness of the events in the face of the unnecessary inhumane treatment of wild ponies, the crying of the foals when they are separated from their parents and weaned instantly, instead of naturally.
    Yes, it’s a way of keeping the island from overpopulation, but it could be managed without so much brutality – that is another leftover from a past age when animals were not regarded as being fellow beings.

  • EB

    I feel somewhat the same way about comedies like “The Producers” which attempt to “poke fun” or “lighten up” the horror of the holocaust, some people seem to think that “living life as normal” (like taking vacations and laughing) are the truest way to fight the evil of certain horrific deeds. But, while I see the logic in that, I don’t have the stomach for it…. I’d prefer that other people respected the magnitude of the events, without resorting to carefree life as usual, but that is human nature, we all have different sensibilites.

  • Hunter McDaniel

    Having visited the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, I think I understand where Jeff is coming from. That’s what this is like – it’s not Disneyland.

  • Jeff I entirely appreciae both your feelings and predicament. When 911 was happening while I watched here in Taiwan toally shocked, with some Australian friends making callous and flippant jokes during the scenes of the WTC being bombed.

    I was enraged-and didn’t know the correct response. These were friends joking when my country and home city had just been viciously attacked. This wasn’t an army base this was an office building. Worse still, I had seen the WTC from my room in Brooklyn every day for 6 years from the age of 12 until I left at 18 so this made it much more “personal.”

    The next day when it was disovered that 911 produced a “UN” of casualties including Australians their tune changed somewhat. Now there was some rage and righteous indignation in their voices where previously there had beeen only jocularity.

    My point: people while capable of meanness are usuall guilty of insensitivity. The root of a lot of ths insensitivity is tv and movies which feed us fantastic images on a daily basis causing us to become numb to the horrors of reality, until the reality is our own and we must react.

  • John

    >The next day when it was disovered that 911 produced a “UN” of casualties

    The MSM would have us believe that only white folks died that day…

  • Steve


    Jeff’s story is precisely the reason I have never returned to the WTC site. This is possible given my work in upper-middle Manhattan.

    I have been terrified that I would hear someone say something stupid, that I would see some guy hawking a Ground Zero tee-shirt, or that I would be put off by the throngs of tourists.

    It’s not that I don’t understand the need for those people to visit or, more generally, the pilgrimage impulse. I have made my share of pilgrimages.

    But, for good or bad, I am clinging to MY experience of that day as something significant and sacred and, while the visitors should come, I live in fear that some schumck from Sandusky might make a comment that would push me over the edge.

    Disclosure: I was in midtown that day. I was not near the WTC. My next door neighbor was killed.

  • Jimmy

    I’m not sure why this should surprise anyone. Consider the debacle that is the WTC memorial and commercialization of the site why wouldn’t an out-of-towner see it as just another tourist trap?