The Wall

Tom Avitabile | The Wall
Berlin Wall art on exhibit at 53rd St. in Manhattan. Click to enlarge.

In my novel, Hammer of God, a relic of the Cold War war-fighting machine plays a key role in a terrorist attack today. I grew up during the Cold War. It left an indelible mark on me, and probably everyone else who, as part of their school day, had to practice being immolated and turned into nuclear ash. Ostensibly as neat piles under our desks to make the clean up easier or why else have us duck and cover?

An iconic symbol of the Cold War was the Berlin Wall.  An actual concrete wall, which was built after World War II, to split the city into two parts. The East Germans lived on the other side, the side that was connected to the Communists, the Russians or in short, the Enemy.

In later years, when things changed, I remember a factoid that the average East German visitor to NYC dropped $23.22 a day into the local economy. A Japanese tourist spent $989 per day.

The reason for all this nostalgia is that, last night, I went to a restaurant located behind the Berlin Wall!  Albeit a piece of it, now residing in a plaza on 53rd Street in NYC. I was struck by the fact that the cheapest (and there was only one) entree on the menu was $37.50.  My appetizer alone cost my host for the evening, $25.00. So just the first course would blow the average East German visitor’s budget into dust.

That fact caused me to remember that nobody fired a single shot during the entire Cold War! In fact, it ended like a game of Monopoly. The other side just ran out of money.

So as dozens of Christmas Party goers who collectively dropped $1,200 to $1,800 per table on this one part of one night’s entertainment, passed by this huge chunk of concrete on their way in to the restaurant, maybe 1 in 10 knew what the hell it was.  And even smaller odds that it was America’s robust economy that defeated all the nightmares, terrorizing classroom drills and nuclear paranoia that gripped this country no so long ago.

Admittedly the restaurant goers I am writing about are the top end of business folks and well to do revelers and most of them are on expense accounts.  But still the irony was not lost on me.  That even though today America may be heading for a fiscal cliff, years ago we avoided the Wall.

I Love A Parade

This is a very important election for New Yorkers. They will be deciding who will tie up their traffic for the next four years.
– Barack Obama

Recently during Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg respectfully requested that the President come nowhere near New York City. That’s because a presidential visit has an inordinate impact on the infrastructure and connectivity of the City on the best of days. During a storm, it would have been positively lethal. The mayor was 100% right.

Tom Avitabile, The Hammer of GodAs Mayor Bloomberg alluded, to live in New York is to curse the President. Especially when you’re in traffic. Even more especially when you’re watching the meter in your cab go past the $20 mark because a cop three blocks away has cordoned off your street in order for the president to get from one hotel to another. And you sit back and you think: Why are we doing this?

As written elsewhere in this blog, my first exposure to anything presidential was in 1968 when Lyndon Johnson flew over my head in the blue and white Air Force One 707 (Tail number 26000). Just seeing the plane created a sense of awe and wonderment, and since those early days I’ve been hooked by all things presidential.

That doesn’t stop me from thinking critically, though. Is this visit worth spending millions of dollars in security? Is it worth tying up all this traffic? Why put up with this terrible impact on the City of New York’s ability to generate wealth for an entire day? And why are streets blocked off for hours even after he’s passed? No one has ever explained that one to me.

And then I begin to wonder if he is even in that limo. Wouldn’t it make more sense to drive Continue reading “I Love A Parade”

Eleven Years Later, A 9/11 First

This symbolic act of bringing together, for the first time, two days of
infamy, 60 years apart, connects both events with all that is good about

Today, September 11th, 2012, at 6:00 a.m. I had a very rare and distinct honor. I was asked to be a part of a very special sunrise tribute at Ground Zero to those who fell on 9/11/2001 and to those who continue to die from the illnesses inflicted on them during their selfless acts of rescue and recovery. It was a small gathering of fire fighters, veterans and first responders who embarked on a very special mission on this very special day.

Starting at dawn’s early light, twenty flags bearing the names of those who died, and the first responders who sacrificed their lives, were consecrated at the base of the new World Trade Center. Then this small entourage headed for a waiting plane at JFK. In 10 and half hours they will land in Oahu, Hawaii and at 6 p.m. local Hawaiian time they will again consecrate those flags at a sunset ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

On both days, 12/7/1941 and 9/11/2001 there were acts of bravery, humanity and selflessness, known and never to be known, performed by military, first-responders and civilians alike, against a backdrop of fire, smoke, death and destruction. Through those dark clouds over Pearl Harbor and the choking dust in lower Manhattan, the silver lining of the human spirit, and the uniquely American glow surrounding it, is what we paid tribute to from today’s sunrise to sunset.

This event was organized by the Gear Up Foundation, itself born on the pile at Ground Zero and dedicated to helping those who served there as well as spreading American good will around the world, one fire company at a time. They accomplish this with their programs that recycle surplus fire trucks, firefighting equipment and instruction from America to other places in the world where it is sorely needed.

When you stand at Ground Zero, or The Arizona Memorial at Pearl, on any day, but more so on this day, the spirit of the thousands who perished here overcomes you. The echoes of the bombs and torpedoes and the reverberation of collapsing buildings surround you. Yet at the same time, the rise of the human spirit, displayed on these days, energizes you. It’s cliché, but America’s worst days, brought out the best of the American spirit.