Reality check at Ground Zero

We were in Boston's Logan Airport, but our luggage wasn't. Despite this, we headed out to look for our onward transport, the wonderfully-named Bonanza Bus.

Frank, the driver, was larger than life. At each stop, he jumped out and shouted, to no one in particular, "God God! Warm! Foul- Mouthed! We goin'". Only when our ears finally "popped" did we understand this as "Cape Cod, Bourne, Falmouth and Woods Hole." We arrived in Falmouth's bus depot, a small, deserted car park, at around 9.45pm. Advance advice was that our hotel was a taxi ride away or a "short walk". No taxi, no phone, no people. Mercifully released of our full baggage allowance, we set off for downtown, in what we hoped was the general direction of the hotel.

It was a very pretty New England town, with white houses round a village green - and no visible people. My son nudged me: "Dad, isn't this a bit spooky?" My lips denied this, but my brain was wondering if we'd blundered on to the set of The Stepford Wives.

There was a rumour of noise coming from deep inside Liam McGuire's Irish Pub on Main Street, but nothing definite until, eventually, we saw a man walking his dog; correction: he was driving his golf cart while the dog lolloped alongside. His directions were so precise as to be unintelligible, so we asked an old guy meandering back from his evening constitutional.

He said: "My car is right here, I'll give you a lift." This was typical of the generosity we found in Falmouth. The relatives on Long Island were equally welcoming, as long as old Dubya was kept off the menu, and we finished up in New York City, where we were reminded that holidays can't last for ever.

The day we arrived, the Mayor had just taken over control of the city's failing public schools system and, with it, responsibility for New York's 1.5 million young people in education. You could only wish him luck.

Our relatives had suggested that we should go to Ground Zero, despite our misgivings. The scale of the hole in the ground is daunting, as are the tributes to the lost still pinned up on the walls around Trinity Church:

"We miss you, Grandad" "Happy Fiftieth, Phil" and caps, flags and mementos from all over the world: a Saltire, a Celtic shirt, a tartan teddy.

Most of all, though, I'll never forget the names and pictures posted outside every fire station in Manhattan, while those who remained, and the new recruits, continued to roar forth in a maelstrom of bells and horns and lights and sirens.

Welcome back to reality.

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