Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2014 -- I Remember Steven Harris Russin

For several years now I have participated in Project 2996,    a tribute to the 2,996 innocent victims of 9/11, where bloggers eulogize each victim. Previously, I have remembered Lt. Col. Jerry Don Dickerson Jr.Mary Lenz Wieman, Mark Francis Broderick, Capt. Patrick J, Brown, Hagay Shefi, Alison Marie Wildman, Daniel Thomas Afflitto, and Donna Bernaerts-Kearns. Please check out these tributes as well today, as they deserve to be remembered too.  Today, I remember Steven Harris Russin.

Steven was born in Marlboro, New Jersey, the town in which I live.  Two years ago, the town ceremonially renamed several streets after victims of 9/11.  My street was renamed Steven Russin Way.  Since the renaming, I wondered who Steven Russin was.  I was going to do last year's tribute to him, but decided that I needed to eulogize a victim from another location, other than the World Trade Center.

Steven Russin was a child at heart.  That is how several online articles and eulogies about Steven start out.  Steven was born and raised in Marlboro, NJ, attended Marlboro High School, where he carried on a successful baseball card trading business, and later, Ithaca College, in upstate New York.  Like many of the victims on that faithful day, he worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, as a government securities trader.

However, work was not what defined his life.  Steven's life was his son Alec and the unborn twin girls he never met, Ariella and Olivia, who were born four days after 9/11.  Ariella even wrote a letter to Steven, which was published in
The Legacy Letters: Messages of Life and Hope from 9/11 Family Members,” which she reads in the video below (the proceeds of sale of this book go to the Tuesday's Children organization.)

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Like Steven, I too am a child at heart.  I also would have been front and center in that water gun fight shown in the video.  From all accounts, Steven, like most of the victims I have written about, appears to be someone I truly wish I could have met.  I would have loved to have talked to him about his kids and share stories of my own children.  To discuss how we both balance demanding work lives with the desire to spend as much time with our children. While I have not met Steven, I am sure that several people I know have, and I hope they feel free to comment on his life here.

Steven's family and friends have set up the The Steven Russin Children Assistance Program Fund, who's mission is to enrich the lives of children of families with financial limitations.  In addition, this child at heart has a playground named after him.  What a fitting tribute!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

13 Years Later: Remembering 9/11

I've written essentially the same opening each of the past few years. It's still appropriate to remember today, as it was when I first wrote this:

September 11, 2001. New Yorkers were heading to the polls to vote in primary elections to determine the next mayor of the city. It was a morning full of promise and baseball fans were excited about the Yankees' chances of making the playoffs, the Mets thinking about the future, and the start of the new football season. In other words, it was a day not unlike the ones we've experienced once again this year.

While everyone was focused on the day ahead, another group of people were thinking about the mission that would forever alter the skyline of NYC and alter history. Al Qaeda's terrorists were already on board four jets bound for New York and Washington DC and had already overpowered the crews.

I was on a NJ Transit train with my dad when I first noticed something wrong at the WTC out of the corner of my eye; it was smoke coming from the upper reaches of the tower.

It was just around 8:45.

The world changed, and I didn't quite realize it. No one did.

People watching the morning news didn't know it either at first. But they would soon be glued to broadcasts that showed the horrors of the worst terror attacks ever perpetrated.

The damage done on that morning was nearly impossible to comprehend. In the mere blink of the eye, nearly 3,000 people were condemned to death and the World Trade Center would soon be reduced to a pile of rubble that would burn for weeks on end. Reports would come in that a third plane had struck and damaged the Pentagon.  But the death rattle of the Twin Towers would continue for just under two hours and victims trapped above the fires had to make the choice to stay and choke on the heat and smoke or jump to a certain death. All too many make that decision to jump. Firefighters on the ground also succumbed before the towers fell - falling debris hitting firefighters and fleeing people alike.

Victim Number One would be there to comfort those who fell. Rev. Mychal Judge of the FDNY was comforting fallen firefighters and office workers alike when he was struck and killed by debris. So many people inside the Department and around the City thought so highly of him that he was honored as the first victim of the attacks - so that he could comfort and aid all those many others who were murdered on that day - to guide them to Heaven.

All too many would unfortunately follow him - and not by their own choice.

Here are remembrances of a few of those killed on 9/11, as written by my friend legalbgl for Project 2,996:

Steven Harris Russin (2014).
Lt. Col. Jerry Don Dickerson Jr. (2013).
Mary Lenz Wieman (2012).
Mark Francis Broderick (2011).
Captain Patrick J. Brown (2010).
Hagay Shefi (2009).
Alison Marie Wildman (2008).
Daniel Thomas Afflito (2007).

By happenstance, I happened to come across Hagay Shefi's name, which was found on the North Memorial Pool:

Stephen Siller, whose name is memorialized in the annual Tunnel to Towers Run to raise funds for responders.

 He's also memorialized at the Staten Island 9/11 Memorial thusly:

Stephen Siller's memorial on Staten Island

Coming full circle, on May 1, 2011, the United States finally caught up with Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. In a daring raid on a compound near Pakistan's military academy, US special forces killed bin Laden and captured a treasure trove of intel.  That's small consolation for the thousands of families and friends who still grieve the senseless murder of their loved ones in New York, Washington DC at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The profound loss is a heavy burden on all those who were there and on those who lost loved ones.

Local commemorations are already underway and will continue through the week throughout the region. In fact, this is the first year that the WTC Museum will be open on 9/11. The museum has not opened without controversy. There's the question of the incredibly high cost for entry, the tacky gifts included in the gift shop, potentially locating restaurants in the museum, and lawsuits filed over the installation of the WTC cross. The cost to entry is still too high (it should be free) and the lawsuits to block the installation of the WTC cross, which were filed by an atheist group, lost.

Part of the reason that the WTC Museum charges fees is that it's a private foundation operating the site. They have to deal with security and overhead of the facility, which is quite significant. I've long called for the National Park Service to take over and that this would necessarily reduce the overall costs and improve the accessibility to the site. While I don't need to be able to visit the museum myself, the museum is for those who weren't even born yet or understood what actually happened at the WTC site on 9/11 and the weeks, months, and years that followed. The museum should be free for all to come and bear witness to the events. This should be a no-brainer, and yet no one can agree on making that happen.

Meanwhile, the federal government created the James Zadroga health and compensation fund because of the ongoing health concerns of those who carried out relief and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. More people continue to seek assistance via the program, including those emergency responders who came from across the country to spell the FDNY and NYPD and PAPD in the grim task of recovering the remains of those murdered. The Zadroga Act wasn't perfect by any means and it has come too late for some, but it's a start to compensate and aid families of responders who are suffering from all manner of ailments  attributed to Ground Zero exposure. The Act is scheduled to sunset unless it is reauthorized, and given the dysfunction in Washington, it can't be taken for granted that it would be continued.

Construction at the site doesn't domination the front pages of local papers as it used to, as construction is nearing the end on several portions of the site. The entire Western side of Ground Zero is now essentially built out - between the Memorial, Museum, and 1WTC.

The South Memorial Pool looking towards 4WTC. 
1WTC (aka the Freedom Tower) has finally recaptured part of the skyline and is regarded as the tallest skyscraper in North America at 1,776 feet. 1WTC is set to open later this year even as work continues around its base.

Looking down Fulton Street from West Street towards Church across the WTC. 1WTC is on the left, and the memorial to the right.
The North and East sides of 1WTC
Construction of the Transit Hub is also underway, and Santiago Calatrava's design shows its final form, even as the cost pushes past a staggering $4 billion. That's nearly $2 billion over the original budget estimate, and the costs associated with this has sapped the Port Authority's ability to build new infrastructure in the region, which is its core mission. Instead, the agency has poured billions into a project that doesn't add any cross-river capacity.
The WTC PATH transit hub with nearly 50% of the spikes installed. Every day, the structure looks more and more like a stegosaurus. The structure on the left is 3WTC, which just saw construction restarted this past week. To give a sense of size, the tips of the spikes are probably 10-15 stories tall at their peak and extend out from the main structure by 50-75 feet at their widest points.
One of the tower cranes preparing to hoist one of the ribs into its final location on the north side of the transit hub.

Work continuing on the PATH transit hub.
The North Memorial Pool looking towards the PATH transit center.
The price does provide for a lot of marble though.

The mezzanine level for the PATH terminal; there is marble as far as the eye can see.
The Port Authority has announced that they expect the transit hub to be open by the end of next year. I personally don't see it happening, unless the Port Authority will open it the way the MTA has done at the Fulton Center. I fully expect that sections will be closed off for construction to continue as the main transit hall is largely available.

So, while the hub will be visually interesting and definitely become a photographer's favorite, the problem with the PATH transit hub and all that spending is that it doesn't exactly add capacity to the system.  The Port Authority is fudging the figures so as to claim that 250,000 pedestrians will use the transit hub daily. That's not exactly true. 35,000 people use PATH daily in and out of the WTC. The rest are people who the Port Authority expects to visit the mall being built as part of the hub, and the people who are working in 1WTC and 4WTC as those spaces are filled out. 250,000 people are not going to be taking PATH daily.

4WTC is nearly done, though I'm surprised that there's an exterior lift still attached to the south side of the building. Even 1WTC has been buttoned up, and it was topped out after 4WTC. That's odd to say the least, but tenants are supposed to be moving in there next month. Maybe.

2 WTC remains a stub, and construction has finally resumed at 3WTC after Larry Silverstein finally secured financing and other commitments to build out the building that had reached about 10 stories before grinding to a halt. Silverstein signed GroupM to lease 500,000 square feet of space in the tower, which enabled the developer to move ahead and secure additional financing from the Port Authority. That financing raised questions from some, who thought this was a giveaway but ignores that this was a loan guarantee - the agency wasn't actually putting the money up. The only way the Port Authority loses on the deal is if Silverstein defaults, which isn't likely to happen.

Lagging behind all the other structures is the Vehicle Security Center that runs along the south side of the WTC and which was previously occupied by the former Deutsche Bank building. There's a new platform and entrance area being built for vehicles servicing the WTC complex, but it's years behind schedule and over budget (like everything else at the WTC).

Much of the fault for the slow pace of rebuilding is the result of Port Authority actions and omissions to limit cost increases, especially when it comes to the transit hub and the delays in building led to still more costs incurred. In order to complete construction of the memorial in time for the 10th anniversary, the Port Authority needed to spend $500 million more on the transit hub to build out the memorial while the site was erected around the transit links.

At the same time, the Fulton Center, which is a block East of the WTC site is nearly open, and will eventually link to the PATH transit hub via the Dey Street connector, and ultimately those working at the World Financial Center (Brookfield Place) would be able to access Fulton Center without having to travel outside. It's likely to be opened in time for when 4WTC is fully opened for business.

The skyline will never be the same. Neither will our hearts, which are heavy with the loss and supreme sacrifices made on 9/11 by the rescue personnel who bravely rushed up the towers even as people were racing to get out of the towers or gasping as people were forced to jump to their deaths to avoid being burned alive in the fires that racked the towers.

We remember.

The media will be out as usual. The Memorial is busy preparing the site for the memorial service and the media is getting set up. These photos were taken on September 10, 2014:
PIX11 news van at corner of Church and Vesey.
NYPD security barriers being arranged ahead of tomorrow's events.
Flags being hung from 3WTC
Preparations for the memorial services underway.
This year Century21, the department store whose main location is across from the WTC and which was badly damaged by the attacks, has unveiled a building wrap in time for tomorrow:

Century21 department store doing a full block wrap
The Century21 Department Store installing a full-block wrap on their Church Street frontage.
What the Century21 wrap will look like when done.
We remember.
The Tribute in Light
Reaching towards infinity
The view of Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island 9/11 Memorial at St. George.
Looking across the Hudson River from Hoboken.

For my prior year recollections and postings, see September 11, 2013September 11, 2012, 10 Years Later,  September 11, 2010, September 11, 2009,  September 11, 2008, September 11, 2007, September 11, 2006, and September 11, 2005.

Cross posted at LGF.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Meet Me In St. Louis

Looking up at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka the Gateway Arch). Definitely very impressive from the outside. Also impressive? The line to get in. Depending on time of day, you could spend more time waiting in line than actually riding the elevator to the observation deck.
Inside Union Station. The station, repurposed as a hotel, is a grand space with a nightly light show. One of the more impressive public spaces in the City.
At Busch Stadium with a view of the Arch, Court House, and downtown.
A view from behind home plate.
One of the great things about St. Louis is all the public art and sculptures on display. This is part of a larger display along Market Street. 
Soulard Market is a hidden gem near the Budweiser brewery (and tours and free tastings). However, this is more likely to leave a lasting impression with a copious amount of fresh food, spices, teas, and other local delicacies. 
More of the fresh food on display.
From the top of the Gateway Arch looking West. There was a bit of haze plus the windows don't exactly give you the clearest views (and they're incredibly tiny - each one is less than a foot high and about 18 inches wide). Everyone gets wedged in tight up there trying to hunch over to get a view, let alone decent photos.
Fountains outside Union Station at night. 
More fountains outside Union Station.
The Lincoln home in Springfield, Illinois. It's where Lincoln accepted the nomination to lead the Republican Party in the 1861 presidential elections, which he won. 
We hit several stretches of Route 66 in and around St. Louis. This particular stretch was near the Lincoln National Historic Site.
Inside the State Capitol of Illinois.
Looking up at the State Capitol of Illinois.
St. Charles, Missouri. Home to the first state capitol and first capital of Missouri.
White Haven, the home owned by US Grant and where he lived prior to the Civil War. It's where he met his wife, who was from a family of slave holders. 
Inside the Budweiser Brewery.
Inside the Court House where the state's Dred Scott cases played out.
This space is recreating the look and feel of the court room at the time of the Dred Scott decision. The courtroom was originally several times larger than this.

Walking through the Old Courthouse, you could really feel the history around you. Hitting these historic sites really did give you a sense of the importance of the St. Louis environs and why events turned out the way they did - it was where US Grant got his first exposure to slavery (via his wife's family). It's where the infamous Dred Scott case worked its way through the courts on its way to an abominable decision by the Taney court, and where the nation was at a crossroads- literally and figuratively as a central point on the way West.

If you want to get a primer on civil rights and equal protection under the law, look no further than the courthouse downtown. The courtroom for Dred Scott leaves a lasting impression on those willing to learn - we are still a world away from truly having equal protection under the law, and minorities are still persecuted and not treated equally.

That goes for religious as well as ethnic minorities. So, when I hear about how Christian persecution in the US, I have to wonder what planet these people are talking about, because Christians aren’t being persecuted here - they’re being exposed to the limits of separation of church and state as the Founders wanted because no religion shall be established, which means that Christians can’t impose their views on everyone else through state acts (like legislation).

A few other observations about St. Louis in general. The food is pretty damned good. Had Imo's and Ted Drewes as well as great Italian food at a place off the beaten path. Square One distillery and brewery is a nice spot in the Lafayette neighborhood. The area's parks and recreation activities are quite nice, and there's plenty of distinctive architecture to take in.

But there was one thing I couldn't quite figure out. Why did local and state leaders think that every street, let alone highway needed more lanes of traffic? The place could have accommodated two or three times as much traffic and still had room for several times more. It's one of the most overbuilt areas for roads I've ever traveled. The area could definitely benefit from a road diet.

For these photos, I shot with my Canon 60D and either the Sigma 8-16mm, f4.5-5.6 or Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 lenses.


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