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Through the glass door we didn’t know whether we were looking at a street or an ally but it was outside.  To our left, like a miracle we spotted a singular ray of sunshine that was framed in a few square yards of faint blue sky; then it was gone as the ash consumed our sight again.  “Did you see that?”  I asked.  “Sure did.”  “What do you think, Scott?”  “I think the wind is coming from that direction”, nodding toward the sunlight, “and we are seeing the edge of the smoke plume.  I think if we go left we can walk out of this by getting upwind of the smoke.”  We agreed that seeing the sun and the sky for that instant gave us the direction and the conviction to step away.  We opened the door, turned left and walked smack into the burning cloud of settling ach.  After shuffling and scuffing along for an ash-blinding block, I realized I was holding Scott back.  He could make faster progress alone.  I called out, “Scott, go for it.  I’ll be fine.” He called back “We are staying together.”  Then he waited for me to get along by his side.


I then spied two alien-looking figures of oxygen-tanked NY firefighters.  With a slight wave of one hand in the direction we were walking, we were given all the hope we needed to validate our escape.  We stumbled along another block.  A voice called out, "Over here. Water. Over here."  I walked toward the voice.  He was a cop.  He held open a door of a café where a few police had gathered.  On a round table by the door 30 glasses of water were set out.  I poured the first over my head to wash off the crusted soot, before using a second to washed my face, a third to pour in my eyes and a fourth, half to gargle and half to drink.  I was back on the street in a few minutes.  Walking out of this, for me, was now a forced march.  Back on the street the transition of soot to clean air was appearing.  It was like seeing the fog line appear and disappear on our home waters of Nantucket Sound.  The wind was shifting or we were at the up wind limit of the ash, it didn’t matter, we were gaining on it.


We walked out of the ash and smoke at Battery Park at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.  Here, the air was clean, the sky was very blue, the water even bluer.  At the ferry terminal we were, for the first time since 8:45 A.M., out of harm’s way.  We used the next hour to make a plan as Scott assessed our situation, “It’s all downhill from here.”


After a while we boarded an evacuation bus headed away from the Terminal along FDR Drive.  Our route passed the Brooklyn Bridge where most people on the bus got out.  They walked up the ramp, over the bridge and found safety in Brooklyn. We didn’t get off the bus.  The driver continued to 42 Street where a few more got off to march to Grand Central.  We didn’t get off.  The bus went as far as 59th Street where it turned around back toward the Terminal for more passengers.  We got off.  I stepped on the pavement and repeated Scott’s words, “It’s all downhill from here.”

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