A week ago truck driver Gerald Hill was looking up at the World Trade Center towers the way all New Yorkers did: as a landmark to orient himself in the city.
Now he’s driving a beam from one of them on his flatbed toward the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island.
“It’s real terrible in there,” says Hill, who drives for the New York DOT central depot. “There are a lot of buildings down, windows blown out – it’s a disaster. You should see how much equipment is burned out.”
Because of all the tight spaces in lower Manhattan, as well as the traffic and all the tourists thronging for a glimpse of the smoky wreckage, Hill will make only two trips today. His first load of the day was a burned-up fire engine.
Hill says he’s glad that firemen hose down all the debris that truckers haul out of Ground Zero. That’s because some of it is red-hot from all the fires that still rage under the rubble.
“If I looked back there and saw it on fire, I’d be out of here,” Hill jokes. “I’m just the driver – somebody else can come in here and drive that thing.”
Driving east on Canal Street toward the Manhattan Bridge, Hill encounters lots of traffic. Pedestrians are outpacing him. Church Street provides one of the best views for the curious – smoke and a mangled building. Onlookers spill into the street, despite police yelling for people to keep moving.
At one of the many stoplights, a guy in a pickup stopped in the opposite direction starts talking to Hill.
“Where you taking that?” the guy asks.
“To the landfill in Staten Island, where they pound it up and take it to Jersey.”
“Where in Jersey?”
“I don’t know.”
“When are they taking it to Jersey?”
“I don’t know – you’d have to ask my boss about that.”
“Who’s getting it?”
Then it dawns on Hill that the interrogator wants to get his hands on the metal for himself.
“At a time like this, and people are thinking of money,” Hill says.
The guy in the pickup is not the only one. Every corner in Chinatown is filled with $3 T-shirts saying, “Attack on America: I Survived the Attack,” and “I Can’t Believe I Got Out.” A man hawks binoculars in front of the Church Street view. Another sells photographs of the Trade Center. People reportedly were selling paper masks for $3 shortly after the attack.
As Hill inches his truck past the mayhem of Church Street, he focuses on his work, talking about how to keep his old truck from stalling. But it’s hard to be in New York and think about something other than recent events for more than a couple of minutes. “It’s a real tragedy,” he mutters.