Red, White & Blue Monday

Like thousands of other commuters, Robert Polansky goes about his work routine -- but with new significance

Terrorism Strikes America

September 18, 2001|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Robert Polansky buys a coffee. Catches the 7:01 from Millburn, N.J., to Hoboken. Grabs a copy of the New York Daily News. Rushes to get the ferry that will take him across the river to Manhattan.

The last time he did this was Sept. 11.

It's the same kind of coffee. The same newspaper. The same commute. But nothing's the same.

Polansky is executive vice president of Arthur J. Gallagher Intermediaries Inc., a brokerage at 14 Wall St., and today is his daughter's 5th birthday. He spent much of the weekend trying to reach colleagues and friends. But he and his wife also took their two children to Macaroni Grill (where they sing to birthday girls) and to Petco to buy food for the police rescue dogs.

On the ferry deck around him, commuters stand elbow to elbow. The early morning sun is bright, and a breeze changes neckties to flags. To the left, you can see the smoke still roiling up from the emptiness. Other buildings block the rubble from view, so it looks as though a giant has plucked the towers out of the famous skyline and left behind nothing but black and red haze. Everything else - the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the piers - is still there. A few commuters snap pictures.

"It's unreal," says attorney Anthony Marconi. He stares at the skyline and shakes his head. The New Providence, N.J., resident typically takes a PATH train to his Broad Street office and gets off at the World Trade Center. "It takes your breath away, and then you think, `Why?' " he says. But he adds: "We're coming in, and we're doing whatever we can."

Peter Mancuso is impeccable in a charcoal gray suit. Until last Tuesday, he, too, would come in on the train and disembark at the World Trade Center. A performance specialist at the New York Stock Exchange, he has no qualms about getting back to work today.

"It happened," he says and takes a picture. "That can't be erased. We'll do the best we can."

Last Tuesday, Polansky and a co-worker were standing in the street when they saw the second plane hit, and they ran, and she fell down, and he yanked her up, and they ran again. "But people actually were pretty calm," he says.

He took his wife and kids to church when he got home.

Someone's on the pier handing out American flags when the ferry pulls in. There are press photographers everywhere. Polansky takes a flag and walks toward Wall Street.

Last night he wrote a poem of sorts. It's in his briefcase, and it says, in part:

I visited these buildings with my father as a young boy.

I traveled to these buildings as a young high school student.

I stared at these buildings through car windows.

I commuted through the base of these buildings.

I witnessed a plane crash into them.

I watched it sink into the ground.

I heard of co-workers dying there over and over.

I went to work across the river and it wasn't there.

He's wondering what to say when he starts talking to clients again today. And he's going to buy stock today just to prove a point. "To show the terrorists they can't stop us," he says, moving quickly down the sidewalk.

The scene is typical New York, and yet it isn't. Flashing red lights. Gray pavement. Yellow police tape. Chalky white dust. Groups of armed military personnel. Fire trucks everywhere. Here, a bike messenger is cursing because he can't get through the traffic. There, a soldier in a camouflage uniform yanks off his face mask to buy fruit from a street vendor. "Ugh. The smell," Polansky says. "It's burning steel. The first thing that went through my mind was burning flesh. You get sort of in a state of prayer for the people who died."

He crosses Water Street and walks down Wall Street, past Drew Krzwicki, who is sitting at a picnic table working a crossword puzzle. Krzwicki, an insurance company employee, sits here every day. He was sitting here last Tuesday when a blast of loose papers blew by him in a rush, followed by debris, soot, smoke and fire. He went inside and stayed for a long time. "I'm trying to get back to my routine," Krzwicki says.

There is a police barrier at William and Wall streets. No one (except reporters with press passes) may go beyond this point without one form of identification proving that they work on Wall Street and another that proves they are who they say they are.

Susan Fisher can't find hers. She works at a small, family-owned business on Broad Street, she says. "I was here on Tuesday. I have 4-year-old twins at home, so I work three days a week, but I was here on Tuesday."

Her brother, a firefighter, went off-duty at 9 a.m. that day, she says. As soon as he heard the news, he went right back to work. Between them they have lost perhaps 100 friends.

The policeman listens until she finds her ID, then lets her through.

Polansky pulls out his wallet and ID, and a policeman searches his bag. Anxious Wall Street employees jostle him and the policeman yells, "Let him through! Let him through."

An opening appears in the crowd and Robert Polansky steps around the barrier and toward his office.

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