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 The Brancatelli File

joe CITY OF RUINS

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

December 14, 2001 -- It is three months and three days now and you have heard over and over about New York's indomitable spirit since the September 11 attacks. Led by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New Yorkers are resolute and resilient, the media is fond of reporting. The entire population of Gotham has developed an admirable new spirit of togetherness and harmony and defiant amiability, the commentators say.

True enough. Yet something else is equally true: New York since September 11 is a city of ruins. Eight million people are hanging on by their metaphoric fingernails.

Physically, Lower Manhattan is ruined. It is only in recent days that the last of the residents of the streets around what is now universally called Ground Zero have been able to return to their apartments. Economically, the city is staggered. About 80,000 jobs disappeared in October and the experts say that few of the companies that "temporarily" relocated after September 11 will ever return. Culturally, New York is a shell. Six Broadway shows closed in the days after the terrorist attacks and the museums are eerily empty.

Socially, the city is devastated. Tourists and business travelers have stopped coming, companies report that they are unable to convince top recruits to relocate to the city and New Yorkers simply don't have the energy or desire to do what they used to do before the Twin Towers fell.

Spiritually, New York is on its emotional knees. The neurotic energy that once made the city hum has turned inward. The swagger and arrogance has bled away. Even three months later, and despite their fervent desire to do otherwise, New Yorkers still talk about September 11 to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Everyone knows someone who died when the World Trade Center was turned into rubble. Everyone knows someone who has lost their job in the last 90 days. Nothing seems to help. Not the modestly good news that perhaps only 3,000 people died at Ground Zero. Not a mayoral election. Not the weirdly balmy weather since September 11. Not the holidays.

New York is in ruins and you can see it in all the little ways. The streets remain incongruously quiet, even during rush hour and the crush of the Christmas season. Restaurants, even the world-famous dining rooms where the waiting lists once extended for months, are largely empty. The number of office workers huddled in front of buildings sneaking a smoke seems to have doubled. And New Yorkers still cringe noticeably whenever a police car or fire engine whizzes by with sirens blaring.

"Even when things were rotten in the 1970s, New Yorkers were never pathetic," says Robin Johnson, who has waited tables for almost 30 year in some of the city's best restaurants. "You could always get people to smile or make a sarcastic crack. Now everyone looks lost and sad. Everyone looks like they are on the verge of tears."

AROUND GROUND ZERO
Transportation below Canal Street remains disrupted, rerouted and restricted. The Metropolitan Transit Authority has posted a special Web page updating subway and bus conditions in the area. Five major hotels were in near Ground Zero. The Marriott World Trade Center was one of the buildings destroyed in the attack. The Embassy Suites in Battery Park City is closed indefinitely, but the Marriott Financial Center and the Hilton Millenium are scheduled to reopen sometime next year. At the moment, the sole remaining hotel is the 114-room Regent at 55 Wall Street. Nightly rates have dropped as low as $299 a night as part of the Leading Hotels of the World's United We Stand New York promotion. A 298-room Ritz-Carlton was due to open in Battery Park City in October, but it has delayed its debut until late next month.

AT THE AIRPORTS
Passenger traffic and flights have plummeted at LaGuardia Airport since September 11 and it has gone from the most-delayed airport in the nation to one of the most timely. More than 87 percent of flights arrived on time in October. At Newark Airport, Continental Airlines has opened a third concourse at Terminal C and reconfigured the traffic patterns. The Upper Level is now primarily used for international check-in; the Middle Level, formerly used for baggage claim, is now dedicated to domestic check-in; arrivals and baggage claim are now on the lower level. Newark has also opened an inter-modal transportation station. It links the airport's monorail with trains bound for Manhattan's Penn Station and New Jersey Transit trains.

IN THE LOBBY
The calamitous decline in tourism has turned New York into a buyer's market for business travelers. Nightly rates are still outrageously high when compared to prices in most other U.S. cities, but now, at least, hotels are dealing. The bargains run the gamut from the sublime ($299 a night via the Leading Hotels promotion at The Mark, the swanky jewel of a hotel just off Central Park) to the inconceivable ($87 a night until January 13 at The Franklin, a 48-rooom property with jewel-box-size rooms just off Lexington Avenue). The city's ample supply of major chain hotels are also discounting heavily. You'll also find great deals at Quikbook.com, one of New York's most reliable hotel consolidators. And a note for fans of the city's boroughs: Brooklyn finally got a major hotel three years ago and now Staten Island has a name-brand property. A Hilton Garden Inn opened in the fall.

LOCAL COLOR
Despite the slump on Broadway, The Producers, the Mel Brooks show based on his classic movie, continues to be an impossible ticket. Well, not impossible. The show offers 50 seats a night to anyone willing to pay $480 a ticket. On the other hand, you can score New York Knicks tickets now. The basketball team continues to officially report sellouts--for more than 400 consecutive games at Madison Square Garden--but seats are usually available on game day. Desperate to promote tourism, New York has produced a series of hilarious new television spots. Among the highlights: Woody Allen on ice; Robert DeNiro (dressed as a pilgrim) asking Billy Crystal (in a turkey costume) for tips on acting like a turkey; and Yogi Berra conducting the Philharmonic. You can view them at the New York Miracle Website. The only New Yorkers unaffected by September 11 are the characters on the television series Friends. That's because the show's producers decided not to address the attack in the sitcom's story lines. It's hard to argue with the decision: The show has rocketed to No. 1 in the ratings for the first time in its eight-year run.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.