Resurfacing

Twenty years ago I was working in Manhattan (am I really that old?).  I was living in Hoboken at the time and my daily commute involved taking a bus from Port Authority, through the Lincoln Tunnel to 9th Street in Hobo.  My bus was known as the Big Apple.  It was old skool, even for the 80’s.  No a/c; hard molded plastic seats; those lozenge shaped sliding windows.  Old. Skool. It was awesome.  Periodically, Elvis would ride it (oh, if I only had had a cell phone camera in the 80s).

Summers in NYC can be hot and muggy.  Muggy like you wouldn’t believe. New Yorkers have a great capacity to be alone while being surrounded and crowded by everyone else.

Most evenings I would walk across 42nd St., navigate the aromatic Port Authority, stand on line, take a seat on the bus, pull out my book, and zone out for the trip through the tunnel.  The tunnel trip involved a long, slow, crawl down the spiral ramps; long, slow, merges from a gazillion lanes to just two.  Once we got through, home was just a few minutes away.

It was a hot, muggy day in NYC.  The commute home was proceeding as normal.  Then – it wasn’t.  I was reading a Robert Ludlum book (strange the things you remember), when I heard a high-pitched whine and then — BOOM!  The bus in front of us had lost it’s brakes.  The driver, in an amazing moment of clarity, had steered the bus toward the garage door next to the tunnel opening rather than ram the vehicles in front of him.

The police immediately shut the roadway.  We sat there.  We could hear the people on the bus in front of us.  I looked up, locked eyes with the guy across the aisle and we both moved.  Moved!  We ran off the bus (left our stuff – in NYC!) and helped evacuate the bus in front.

The gears on the bus were still engaged.  The driver and the first two rows of passengers (it was more new skool than my old skool bus) were trapped.  Their seats had compressed and they were trapped at the legs.  I’ll never forget them.  I’ll never forget their faces.  Their panic.  My frustration at my inability to get them out.  The heat.  The sound of the bus. The fear on the face of the little Italian grandmother who’s hand I was holding to comfort her.  It was all I could do.

Eventually NYC EMS professionals arrived and traffic started moving again.  From somewhere, someone came and got me to tell me that our bus was leaving.  I left it to the pros, got back on my bus (my stuff was still there!) and went home.

Tonight’s events, brought all those memories flooding back like it was yesterday.  My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who was involved and impacted.

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~ by Kat on May 29, 2008.

5 Responses to “Resurfacing”

  1. I know you aren’t looking for congratulations, but I offer them to you anyway for being so clear-headed and aware. I would probably have been paralyzed with indecision about whether I would be more in the way if I went to help and would have done nothing — and it would have haunted me.

    My thoughts, too, are with the survivors and the grieving families.

  2. so scary. both your experience and what happened last night. that poor woman who died trapped there. and her poor dad that kept calling her, knowing that she had died.

    about a year and a half ago i was on the franklin train that ran into a truck that got stuck on the rails. no one was seriously hurt but it was very surreal. i can believe that you remember the book you were reading.

  3. What a powerful experience – sounds like you handled it very, very well.

  4. Wow, that’s quite a story.

    I too think I would have been frozen in place. Even if it doesn’t feel like you did enough because you couldn’t get them out, just being them to be a calming voice was enormous.

  5. What a scary experience, Kat. Holding that woman’s hand and comforting those people was a really great thing to do. Yeah, that crash was horrible. So sad.

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