Some days The City is almost mystically quiet when seen from our 50th floor apartment. The eerie silence is always interrupted, though, after a short while. Usually, it’s one or more sirens. Our building is adjacent to Mount Sinai West hospital and there is constant but irregular coming and going of ambulances in full-throated wail trying to intimidate their way through automobile traffic blocking every lane, seemingly indifferent to the person whose fate depends on the ambulance or fire engine arriving as fast as possible.
And then there are the pedestrians who seem to regard the imminent arrival of an ambulance or fire engine as an opportunity to dash across the intersection in the gaps created by the few cars who are actually trying to make way for the emergency vehicle.
Then, the hush returns. The other frequent sound is an often shockingly loud crashing of a truck bed separating from its foundation as the truck encounters, and ignores, the so-common fissures and cracks in the streets. New York City is very old and its base infrastructure suffers mightily under the burden of tens of thousands of vehicles passing every day on many of its streets. The booming sounds made by these truck-street interactions would be easily ignored in times past, but in the age of terrorism, the mind is instantly drawn to the idea that the sound could as easily be a bomb.
There are no sounds at all from the thousands of windows I can see from my apartment.
Behind those windows, in just the buildings I can see, labor hundreds of thousands, millions, of people talking on phones and in meetings and, of course, clicking away on the computers on which modern commerce totally depends. It is a bit surprising to think that the aggregate of those conversations and keyboard click/clacks does not escape into the atmosphere to make at least a faint impression on the observant eardrum. But they don’t. The city, viewed above street level, might as well be devoid of all life, home to little else than the proverbial church mouse (or, in the case of New York, perhaps the church rat) and the strange ever-present parade of paired red lights creeping south on Ninth Avenue.
The windows of the massive twin towers of the Time Warner building sit opposite my living room windows. In the afternoon sun they are as opaque as a solid wall of black glass.
After dark, on the other hand, the towers light up in the brilliance that we have come to associate with The City at night.
As I walked by one of the towers the other day, I observed a uniformed doorman speaking to the driver of a black Secret Service-style van: “This is a condominium, not a hotel. And all the people who live here, I know.”
This is not an exaggeration. The doormen in our building, one of two towers holding 700 apartments, knew us on sight, by name and apartment number, the second day we were here. There’s a certain comfort in that, but also a bit of a chill to think that we are that recognizable to people who were total strangers only a day before. But it is their job and they do it well.
As night falls, I hear a discordant rat-a-tatta-tatta machine gun-like sound from far below on the street. One of the seemingly infinite NYC construction jobs is still going well after dark, further rending the concrete for some purpose. There seems to be a construction project underway on every other corner and we are blessed with several in our neighborhood. Often the scaffolding gives away that yet another building is going up, but many times the goal is simply impossible to know. The work blocks lanes of traffic, adding to the frenetic battle between the ubiquitous armada of yellow taxis and the other cars and trucks maneuvering for advantage along Ninth Avenue.
I can’t help but marvel at this mostly silent scene. All those people, cars, trucks, going about their business. Somebody’s business. The business of The City is business. According to Investopedia, New York City is the is “the leading job hub for banking, finance and communication in the U.S. New York is also a major manufacturing center and shipping port, and it has a thriving technological sector. There are more books, magazines and newspapers published in New York than in any other state in the country.”
The employment figures boggle the mind:
Financial services 330,000
Retail workers 800,000
And who knew that NYC manufacturing leads in railroad rolling stock and, of course, garments, New York City being the fashion capital of the country. It’s also a major producer of … yes, elevator parts and glass. A walk down any major street will tell you why.
Those numbers are only part of the story. Wikipedia, the source of all truth in the Digital Age, reports the presence of almost 600,000 university students at 110 colleges and universities. You likely recognize names like Columbia, Barnard, Fordham and New York University, but there are dozens more. I wonder how many athletic teams are fielded by city schools each weekend. And where do they practice?
They don’t make much noise, I can tell you, at least not up here on the 50th floor. No slapping of shoulder pads or blowing of whistles. People, people, everywhere and not a sound to hear.