I met a man.
Well, you know how it is. It’s your first morning in New York after a 24+hour plane flight. You wake up at 3:30am and are unable to get back to sleep. So 5am sees you exploring the hotel, and getting acquainted with the night staff who are rapidly approaching the end of their shift.
I end up in the IT section with a bank of computers that I cannot get started. My intention is to send quick messages to my nearest and dearest at home to say His Nibs and I have arrived safe ‘n sound.
There is a man who, with hotel staff in attendance, is also not sleeping. He offers me the use of his Ipad to send my quick messages home. I accept and we fall into a conversation.
His name is Alan Jackowitz. He’s about my age, probably few years younger. A New Yorker by birth, he is articulate, witty and intelligent with that wonderful NY view of the world he inhabits. He also suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.
We talk for a couple of hours during which the sun rose, the cock crows and the hotel staff change shifts. A member of staff periodically comes by to check that he is OK.
From politics to the law, the role of the media, entertainment and sport – no subject went untouched, no opinion not given. He is a doer. Earlier in the year he organised a charity concert for Parkinson’s research in Florida where he now lives. The concert was called SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROLL which made me hoot with laughter. He is a very funny man.
For the last 15 years or more he has been living in Florida. A tingle in one finger was the forerunner to a diagnosis that has profoundly changed his life.
Alan came to NY for a 2 week visit in February this year and now cannot go back home. For some reason the over stimulating environment of New York – the bustle, sounds, the pace and the physical challenges of living in New York are beneficial to Parkinson sufferers. Within a week of his visit the symptons had started to diminish.
The problem for Alan, a former accountant, was how to return to New York, and find a job so that he could move his family back here. This has proved no easy task. New York, like so much of the US, is still feeling the brunt of the global financial crisis. Employment is difficult for all – if you’re older and disabled it is bloody nigh impossible!
Alan’s answer to this problem is to start a business. He is in the process of setting up as a travel guide to the aged, the infirm and the disabled – a niche market he understands totally.
He asks me whether His Nibs and I would be interest in being guinea pigs for his first trial walking tour of the World Trade Centre and Wall Street financial district. We were keen as were our two close friends with whom we were travelling.
So two days later we all met Alan and his daughter, Hayley, at the appointed time and place. The next one and a half to two hours are spent slowly meandering around the WTC site and NY’s financial district. We end up in a pub in a museum having a beer and giving Alan a SWOT analysis of the tour.
The great thing about local guides is the passion for their home town. A mixture of historical fact, personal input and old fashioned gossip is an essential requirement for a guide to give a successful two hour live stand-up. They personalise the bricks and mortar, making what you see come alive. Alan lost loved ones on 9/11. Unlike many who are still unable, he can talk about it.
I have always been uneasy about visiting ground zero when in NY, but the one thing I’ve noticed since my last visit to New York two years ago, is the growing pride New Yorkers are expressing at the reconstruction of the WTC site. Everyone asks you have you been to ground zero yet and, if so, what do you think of it. They want to know. It is a little weird as if the city needs constant approval by outsiders of what is being done. They shouldn’t need reassurance but are constantly seeking it. Construction is going ahead at break neck speed. Crews work 24/7 at the site, buildings are being erected at a floor per week. The whole site is taking shape.
It is almost ten years and New Yorkers seem to be coming to the realisation that until the site is finished it remains a weeping wound. The care taken with the design of ground zero is evident. The innovative visitors’ centre and the memorial are gobsmackingly beautiful. The city will be better when there is no longer a hoarding, a cement truck, a construction worker or a crane to be seen in the area. And so New Yorkers continue to confront and overcome a most traumatic part of their history which they are doing with passion, gritty determination, great gusto and reverence tinged with both sadness and humour.
And so to Alan Jackowitz. Alan’s enthusiasm and optimism in setting up this new venture is infectious. Professional obstacles, and there are many, can be overcome because he’s already overcome so many personal ones. What he is facing at a personal level the city has been facing for ten years as a community.
Alan, as the city has done, goes forth to face what can only be described as the most daunting task with great courage and humour, well aware of what must be done if his business is to succeed.
New York is one of my three favourite cities in the world. It is constantly re-inventing itself, one of the reasons why it continues to appeal and stay relevant; it never settles for a moment, and there is an unfailing optimism, a genuine fundamental belief that anything and everything is possible. Alan Jackowitz is the personification of that belief.
For those who may be interested in contacting Alan Jackowitz of SLOW AFOOT, he can be contacted on: