Volunteer uses song, supplies in post-9/11 New York
Patrick Weir and other members of the Big Apple Chorus sing patriotic and New York-themed tunes in Manhattan days after the September 11 attacks.
The following story is one in a series of profiles based on interviews from "Tower Stories," an independent project showcasing the firsthand accounts of those directly and indirectly affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The hundreds of people lined up around the Javits Center represented every facet of America, different in every sense -- gender, race, age or profession -- except for what brought them there.
"They were looking to do anything -- anything," said Patrick Weir.
Weir was one of them and, at the same time, in awe of them.
One woman he met drove nonstop from California, heading to the convention center turned relief center to find out how to help New York in the wake of September 11.
Then there was the trucker with a garbage hauling company who approached a Red Cross representative and said in a deep, gruff voice, "You need trucks? You tell me, I got the trucks."
Soon after Weir finally got to his Mailboxes Etc. store inside the center, one of three such franchises he owned in metro New York, he went to work -- or more accurately, to help.
Aided by other stores in the chain, he opened his doors for free faxes, copies and supplies for those involved in the recovery effort, ultimately donating over $13,000 worth of material.
The store's location -- and the fact it was giving away and mailing items for free -- allowed Weir to get a unique perspective on the efforts of volunteers and recovery workers, including some fresh off long shifts at Ground Zero.
"Independently, every one of them bought the exact same [post]card -- the one with the New York skyline," said Weir, recalling a group that came into his store days after the attacks.
"These big, tough guys would write out their stories on postcards. ... Sometimes they'd stand there in the store, start writing, stop; start writing, stop. Tough to find the words. Where do you find the words?"
Singing 'an emotional release'
That Saturday, Weir got a call from a fellow member of the Big Apple Chorus. At first he thought singing on the streets of New York so soon after September 11 was inappropriate.
But at his friend's prodding he headed out, eventually setting up shop some 20 blocks north of Ground Zero.
People began flocking to the chorus soon after it performed its first song, "God Bless America," Weir recalled.
"We were used to singing in public -- you look them in the eye and you sign and you give an emotion [whether it's] a happy song or sad song," he said.
"But this wasn't the same. I looked them in the eye and I had a tough time holding it together. Everybody did."
The chorus moved from block to block, eventually landing in Union Square, which was filled with scores of makeshift monuments, flowers and people gathered for a vigil to the World Trade Center victims.
Hundreds huddled around the chorus, "applauding like crazy" and urging them to sing more, Weir recalled. "For us and for them, it was this emotional release," he said.
A rendition of "New York, New York" brought the crowd to its feet, with cameras flashing and people calling up friends and relatives to share the experience.
"I'll make a brand new start of it, New York, New York," Weir said, quoting the Frank Sinatra classic.
"The whole tragedy changed the meaning of that song. We had all been feeling so bad, everyone. It was a surprise to us, to them, and it was good to feel hope."
Spirit manifest in candles, tears, hugs
That sentiment permeated the streets of New York, Weir said, manifest in public displays like the candles lit a foot apart for around 150 blocks up Broadway to the kindness showed by strangers to strangers.
Weir and his singing mates headed back the following day to Union Square and made the round of firehouses.
"What stuck in my mind was this one lieutenant," said Weir. "When we started 'God Bless America,' his posture quickened, he stood straight and never flinched. First, I noticed his eyes well up, then [his face] start[ed] to turn red all over. Then the tears flowed a little down the sides of his cheek.
"I will never forget, he never blinked once during the whole song. He refused. He was New York personified: big, strong and human, but refusing to fall or break down."
After lingering late at one station, Weir and his fellow chorus members set to say goodbye and went to shake the firefighters' hands. But they would have nothing of it.
"We were greeted with hugs instead," Weir said.
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