Another day , another memorial

Just when you think things are getting back to normal in New York, you encounter the strange.

Last night’s Metropolitan Opera benefit was, by all accounts, a huge success. The company’s general manager announced more than $2.5 million raised by the beginning of the event. The house was packed with 4,000 people (not unusual at the Met, where people regularly line up for standing-room tickets) and so was the plaza, where we fed a 30-foot-wide video screen. Estimates were that at least another 3,000 people stayed in the plaza for almost four hours to watch the show outdoors and that, in the quiet parts, you could hear a pin drop. The message I took from that was that New Yorkers are not scared to go out and congregate.

All of the restaurants in our neighborhood seem to be (as usual) running at capacity. But there’s no question that Broadway shows are doing poorly. It must be tourists who aren’t showing up, in part, perhaps, from fear and in part, perhaps, from transportation problems.

Today’s “official” memorial event at Yankee Stadium was something else. I have worked on TV shows around the country with a number of U.S. presidents. I have dealt with Secret Service and State Department security. But I have NEVER before encountered security the likes of what I experienced today at Yankee Stadium.

After supplying our identifying information days in advance, it still took close to half an hour to get in. POLICE officers were being stopped for credential checks! We had wrist bands, multiple pendant credentials (different for each day and for different access), and digital photos. Incidentally, it helps to be sartorially and tonsorially unique. Once I had passed through each checkpoint once, I breezed through on successive visits, while my associates had to undergo more stringent credential checks; no one else was wearing pepper shorts, pepper T-shirt, and Birkenstock sandals while sporting a bushy beard.

But why all the security? Mr. Bush never showed up (neither in person nor via closed-circuit feed). The mayor was there, but he was at the opera benefit, too. Former President Clinton was there, but we were prepared for him at the New York Philharmonic benefit with minimal security. Could it have been for all the different clergy? For Oprah Winfrey? For Bette Midler? Maybe it was for the families and friends of the victims, though they, too, were delayed by the heavy security, forcing us to start the show late.

The crowd at Yankee Stadium, too, showed that New Yorkers are not afraid to go out and congregate, not even those who lost people in the attack. A nice touch was the subway being free on the way home (participants also got flowers).

The volunteerism has been astounding, even just on the shows I’ve been associated with. Some of today’s Yankee Stadium crew had just done the Philharmonic “Live From Lincoln Center” benefit on Thursday, the all-network telethon on Friday, and the Met Opera benefit on Saturday before showing up this morning. A jerk spray-painted graffitti on the side of the TV truck at the Met just as we were wrapping, and the Met house crew, all on their own time and in the wee hours of the morning, dug up some cleaning solvents and scrubbed it all off before the truck left. This morning, with many of the crew working on just a few hours of sleep for days, I heard not a word of complaint about the long security lines. And, at the end of today’s show, with the crew facing a long, unpaid wrap, many thanked ME for getting them involved!

I cannot express enough appreciation for what everyone has contributed, so this will have to do. Many, MANY thanks to all! My long-distance phone service seems to have returned, and all of the over-the-air TV signals seem to be back, too (the Alpine tower actually seems to serve my neighborhood better than the World Trade Center did). At the end of today’s memorial service, during yet another multi-verse rendition of “America, the Beautiful,” the big flag in the Yankee Stadium outfield was raised from half mast.

We’re supposed to move on, I suppose. But the Mayor’s Office of Motion Pictures and Television is not yet issuing any permits. I have two non-memorial/benefit shows coming up at the end of this coming week, and neither producer has yet been able to get permission to bring a TV truck to the site.

Life continues to be strange.

TTFN, Mark

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