A Hole in the Ground … Zero

I recently arrived back from an extended stay in New York. Apart from reminding me how much I enjoy living in the “Silicon Vineyard” of Southern California’s tech corridor, I had a reasonably interesting and productive week gnawing away at the heart of the Big Apple. When I wasn’t doing the work stuff, I was doing touristy stuff. In New York, that’s a lot like standing in a fume-filled room while being jostled by strangers tearing up hundred-dollar bills.

Of those tourist experiences, probably the best was seeing the stage production of “War Horse,” which is grueling but amazing. The worst was the Ground Zero memorial.  My son was visiting from college that day and we thought it might be interesting to take a look at the new memorial. When we arrived at the site, we were met with ten foot high walls, a long line of bored looking tourists, and a $30 entrance fee. I’m not easily shocked (ask anyone), but I was genuinely shocked by the way NYC is handling this.

9-11 is one of those things that unites an enormous number of people. I have visited the Vietnam Memorial, the beaches at Normandy, Arlington Cemetery — each a moving testament to the fallen, and none of them with an entrance fee. Charging a family of three (as we were) nearly $100 to witness and remember for a few minutes strikes me as cold blooded and in marketing PR terms, odd.  As it turned out, we decided to pass and move on to our next tourist engagement. The price was a factor for sure, but in part it was the sense of disgust we all felt for whoever is running a memorial that erects barriers and charges accordingly.

I have been at or near Ground Zero many times over the past decade or so. I’ve been there when the enormous sad pile of rubble was still there and the walls were still covered with improvised portraits of the missing. Each time I peered through one of the many viewing portholes to take stock of the progress. Each time it was an eerie almost mystic experience. It was never a formalized memorial, but the very fact that life was moving on and construction was under way was a memorial in itself.

I don’t know who is in charge of the memorial today; it’s probably the Port Authority in part and the developers. I’m sure the math makes sense. It’s a free market so why shouldn’t they charge what they feel the market will bear. But answer to that might be when we add in the billions of taxpayer dollars that went to the cleanup and restoration of the site so that they (whoever they are) could eventually build their memorial and stop anyone who has an interest looking in and reflecting upon the reflecting pool, the math just doesn’t add up. Even in raw marketing terms, it strikes me as a bad idea. 9-11 was our national tragedy. Indeed, it was the world’s, and I believe the world should have the ability and the right to look into that hole in our collective psyche and reflect without interference.

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