Work becomes and act of patriotism

Workers: `Nobody's talking about folding the tent.'

Terrorism Strikes America

September 18, 2001|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - In desecrated Lower Manhattan, what was ordinary behavior a week ago is fortitude today.

Going to work on Wall Street was fraught with new significance: A week ago, the goal in this most competitive of arenas was to make a killing, to nail that vice presidency, to bury a rival. Yesterday, just showing up felt like devotion to country.

Until the destruction of the World Trade Center, playing the stock market was about enhancing one's portfolio. Yesterday, investment strategy was seen as an expression of patriotism.

The emperors of Wall Street until seven days ago were the men in $3,000 pinstriped suits and Hermes ties. Yesterday, everyone looked to the men and women in hardhats and boots.

In so many ways, Wall Street seemed unlike Wall Street, no more so than in the eyes of its denizens, so recently cool and self-assured but now betraying uncertainty, apprehension and despair.

As the sun began its rise on a brilliant New York morning, commuters disembarked from ferries and subways heading for a Wall Street wholly unfamiliar from the place where they began their work week last Monday.

Somber New York police officers and National Guardsmen stood guard at barriers on every street, scrutinizing identifications before allowing anyone to pass. Armies of utility workers in hardhats labored over thick cables, rushing to restore power and communications to the crippled financial district. Sirens wailed regularly, the only noise obscuring the continuing hum of the huge generators providing emergency power here.

The other sign that all was not normal was the sight of hundreds of people wearing masks or holding towels over their faces. Six days after the destruction of the World Trade Center, the acrid air prevailed over Southern Manhattan.

Even more prevalent than the masks were the red, white and blue ribbons hundreds wore to work on their lapels. Yet many regarded the truer measure of their patriotism to America as their very presence. "In a way, by being here, I'm showing the terrorists that they won't win," a subdued broker named Michael Bonanno said after stepping from the Staten Island Ferry.

This being New York, many wore the glazed-eye expression of the veteran commuter. But not all. As soon as Rick Apter, a trader for 30 years, climbed from the Bowling Green subway station, he was surprised by tears in his eyes. "I got off the subway and thought I was going to be fine," he said before he was forced to pause a long moment to collect himself. "It's difficult to see America like this."

Thousands found new routes to work because of closed roads or subway stops. Some emerged from the ferries or subways not quite sure where they were or exactly which way to head. By instinct, John Bishop, another trader, found himself looking skyward for the World Trade Center, a towering landmark that had always served as a convenient guidepost. Then he remembered.

Anna Foss, an executive secretary on Wall Street, also came to work on the ferry yesterday. She had ridden it home for the first time in 20 years last Tuesday morning, after the attack. As she was boarding, she recalled, Staten Island firefighters were rushing off, pickaxes on their shoulders. "They were looking neither right nor left, just straight ahead. Everyone started cheering and applauding.

"I don't know if any of them made it back."

Always she prided herself on her coolness under pressure. But since the collapse of the towers, Foss said, she hasn't stopped crying and yesterday she felt the tears coming yet again.

It wasn't only those directly involved in high finance who returned to work yesterday in lower Manhattan. Chris Nicolelis, head chef of Cosi Sandwich Bars, was here at 5:30 in the morning to reopen a restaurant closed since Tuesday. He took a coffee break shortly before 9:30 when the New York Stock Exchange was set for its reopening across Broad Street. He, too, said that returning to work was the best way to show America's enemies they couldn't cow this country. "In my own little way," he said, "I feel I'm doing that."

Following President Bush's urging, he was taking loyalty to country one step further. He has modest stock holdings, but said he won't sell any of them in the near future."I hope we keep the markets up to show support of our economy," he said. "I mean that would be the best thing, right?"

Not since Americans bought U.S. Savings Bonds during World War II have citizens regarded investments as a way of helping their country through crisis. Of course, the market yesterday showed that Nicolelis was in the minority.

Farther down Broad Street, Ed Bishop, president of Kestrel Technologies, a financial software company with an office in Towson, stood outside his building in white polo shirt and jeans.

One of Kestrel's young technologists, a newlywed named Martin Lizzul, was at a client's office in the World Trade Center last Tuesday and hasn't been seen since. "This guy was energetic, gregarious, the customers loved him."

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