It was quiet and foggy at Ground Zero this morning — the first New York had woken up to knowing Osama Bin Laden was dead — but not entirely silent. By 5:30 a.m., the impromptu all night party was still going on in pockets, most noticeably in front of the 9/11 Memorial storefront preview space. But the party had turned into the same drunken dawn scene you might find outside of an Irish pub in the wee hours on March 18, or in Times Square any January 1. Only the hardcore dregs were left, and they weren’t exactly painting representing American patriotism in the best light. (When one man tried to work a plug for his website into an interview, it was apparent that Ground Zero right now is an irresistible magnet for some as a viral marketing opportunity and a chance to be on TV.)
Many of those still partying were literally falling down drunk in the street, and these were not people who had lost family or close friends. Many were extremely young, and had been mere kids when the World Trade Center was destroyed almost 10 years ago. There were more cans of Bud Light and 4 Loko than you’d likely to find even on a Juggalo cruise. (Best overheard quote: “Why aren’t there any recycling cans? Who planned this thing?”)
Around 6:00 AM, some of the teenagers sobered up temporarily to lead a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The somber mood didn’t last. It was followed by some college students pounding one last beer, before heading back to dorms in New Jersey and Connecticut.
It wasn’t just kids who had come out. Christine Medina of Bellrose, Queens, sporting a cane, had traveled all the way from Queens. She’d had family in the area on September 11th, but had “only lost an acquaintance, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.”
Paul McDonough, who’d never been to lower Manhattan before, drove all the way from Boston with his retriever Stacy. Like most there, he had known no one in the towers, but wanted to “be a part of history, today.” (Stacy was perhaps the most popular living being in the vicinity this morning, a hit with reporters, construction workers, and the intoxicated.) McDonough, who’d hopped in his car in Boston right after the news and got to the area around 3:00 AM, said that a number of veterans in uniform had shown up around at 3:30, but said they left quickly because “the partying, it was a little too much for them.”
At first, there were only two types of people on the scene: people who’d come to party, (who clearly weren’t that close to the 3,000 dead), and media to cover them. By around 6:30 a.m., another group emerged: workers headed to their offices, who had little patience for the media circus and drunken revelry blocking the sidewalks and inconveniencing their commute.
As the sky lightened, more people started to appear who were directly connected: Afghanistan vets, coming to do live hits with CNN and Fox News, and construction workers coming on for the day shift. The ample number of NYPD seemed relatively relaxed and jovial — especially compared to how they were in this same location in 2001 — and those wearing hard hats seemed focused on their work, and a little agitated about all the press and commotion.
Still, some people just sat quietly amidst the hubbub, staring at the rapidly rising Freedom Tower. One of them Walter Hillegas, a union plumber from Jackson Heights, who talked about coming down here for the first time in a long time. He volunteered on the pile the first week of the rescue and recovery operation in 2001, and now suffers from the lung disease sarcoidosis.
All in all, as the workforce diluted the population of partiers and press, it almost looked like a typical Monday morning in the financial district. While certainly not totally normal, it won’t be too abnormal, and the business routines will go on much as they have for over nine years.
By 7:00 AM, a second group was starting to blend in — people on their way to work, who didn’t seem to much care about the goings on around them and only wanted to get where they were going.
UPDATE: Voice staff writer Elizabeth Dwoskin sent some photos of her own from Ground Zero: