Had I known that there was an explosion in midtown Manhattan near where my wife works, and that my wife and daughter were out in the ensuing chaos, I would have been far more anxious during my train ride home from Philadelphia last night.

I had gone to the city of brotherly love on business. One of our party misplaced her iPhone, discovering the loss as we were about to board the train back to New York. The odds against her recovering it would kill a game in Vegas. But it is her only phone and she is about to leave the country, so she stayed behind in hopes of locating it. Anxiety on her account, and some guilt at having boarded the train without her, kept me plenty busy on the ride home.

Like The New York Public Library, the old Pennsylvania Station was a Beaux-Arts masterpiece (photos: concourse and entrance in 1962, two years prior to demolition). An abomination replaced it. Outrage over this desecration gave us laws supporting historic preservation and preventing future desecrations, making the old Pennsylvania Station the Jesus of buildings.

One emerges from the current Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom.

On emerging from Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom, I overheard people discussing 9/11. That seemed odd. New Yorkers don’t talk about 9/11; we leave that to politicians. When I reached home, fifteen minutes’ humid walk later, my doorman was also muttering about 9/11. Odder still.

I expected to find my daughter asleep. Not so.

“Can you tell something happened?” my wife asked.

She had seen the explosion while standing about a mile north of it (just as, on September 11th, 2001, she had seen the twin towers on fire from a position on Fifth Avenue about two miles north of the disaster) and asked two firefighters who were also gazing in its direction if the intersection where it had occurred was known. 41st Street, they said. Reassured that our home had not blown up, she went on to the rendezvous where she was to pick up our daughter from her baby-sitter. Our daughter and her baby-sitter were not there. I can imagine my wife’s reaction to that absence. (I knew nothing about it, sitting in a crowded Amtrak car, discussing a client project, and worrying about a missing iPhone.)

Finally our daughter arrived; her baby-sitter was put in a cab; and my wife and daughter attended a birthday party for one of our daughter’s friends—a younger girl who had just turned two. Pizza and cupcakes were served.

At seven, the party ended, and, as at all children’s parties in New York, the guests were shooed out.

Philadelphia is 100 miles from New York. I made it in an hour. It took my wife and daughter two hours to traverse the single mile home. The subways were out, two avenues were closed, the whole world was taking buses or walking north, away from the disaster. Just below the cutoff and oblivious to it, I walked home knowing nothing except that I had had a good meeting in Philadelphia, and had perhaps overdone it on the huevos rancheros at Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat Restaurant.

Here’s how it looks in a newspaper:

A steam pipe installed in 1924 ruptured in a thunderous explosion shortly before 6 p.m. today, sending steam, water and debris shooting outward and sending clouds of smoke and dust billowing through Midtown Manhattan at the height of the evening rush. One person died of cardiac arrest, and more than 20 others were injured. The authorities ruled out any criminal activity, saying the explosion was apparently caused by a failure of antiquated infrastructure.

How was it for you?

[tags]steampipe, explosion, nyc, newyork, newyorkcity, myglamorouslife[/tags]

15 thoughts on “Bang!

  1. I can’t decide whether New Yorkers are hardy or foolhardy. One of these events might have me idly wondering about what life was like in some other part of the country. Seeing a few of these sorts of events would have me strongly considering a relocation. The upper midwest may be boring, but aside from an occasional snowstorm, there aren’t many disaster, naturally-occurring or otherwise. “Weathering the storm” (or explosions) seems to be a badge of honor amongst New Yorkers, though. To each their own, I suppose.

  2. You’re such a great writer, although I live in CA, you put might right there in the situation. Amazing. It’s good to hear you and your family are safe.

  3. Jeff, you’re not going to believe this, but something similar (albeit on a smaller scale) happened in Aurora, Illinois on Monday morning, just before the rush. An underground power vault that converted electricity to a lower voltage for transfer to other cables in the city’s downtown electrical grid exploded around 7am Monday morning, sending manhole covers on Galena Boulevard and Broadway Avenue soaring about 10-15 feet into the air. The next day, a light fixture exploded, which sent pieces flying 50 feet into the air on Stolp Island (

    Fortunately nobody was seriously injured in either case here, though i do feel for the family and loved ones of the person who lost his life in Manhattan. I am glad to see that you and yours are safe and sound though. Just be careful, watch your step and look both ways before crossing and you should be fine. :)

  4. I would have been frantic had i known my wife and daughter was in the middle of that. BTW What was that about a silly missing cellphone? Ah the things we worry about. Glad everyone was safe. Have a restful weekend.

  5. It was very similar to 9/11 in one way: the visceral way one immediately knew something was wrong, and was wrong in a big way, by the crowds of people filling avenues that would ordinarily be speeding-taxi deathtraps.

    Just as the murmur of a crowd tickles your adrenal glands, the sight of thousands of people standing where people oughtn’t to stand has a shocking effect on the central nervous system.

    The big difference? This time, everyone in the crowd was holding up cellphones. Pictures; everyone wanted pictures. It looked like a telecom marketer’s version of a rock concert.

  6. Christian. the answer to your question is: We are hardy. And this is where we live.

  7. what a way to tell a story, I agree – great piece of writing, very powerful.
    glad to hear you and your loved ones are safe :)

  8. Frustrating. None of the initial news articles I could find included street numbers of where the pipe exploded. Took some frantic time to find it was far from my cousin’s building on 38th Street. New York is a beautiful grid, which made it so much more irritating to have to dig out the information.

  9. Along with the 911 events this latest event only confirms what a cowardly bunch New Yorkers are. Running, Screaming, Crying. Truly pathetic…

  10. okay, i’ve been wondering this, so maybe you can tell me. What are those steam pipes for? Nice storytelling here btw.

  11. Along with the 911 events this latest event only confirms what a cowardly bunch New Yorkers are. Running, Screaming, Crying. Truly pathetic…

    Nice try, Troll Boy.

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