Sept 11This has been a good, busy, familiar kind of weekend. Today we created two, simultaneous outdoor reading rooms along 125th Street with terrific partners in Harlem. Tomorrow, we go to Chinatown to launch a residency with our DRAW cart. Good stuff for New Yorkers to do together.

But this weekend is special. Five years ago tonight, I was all nerves, at the wheel of a truck, on the eve of launching the Uni Project in Lower Manhattan on Sept 11, 2011. Today, that drive is just a day in the office. Back then, it felt like the invasion of Normandy.

I don’t look back much—we’re working on great stuff around the bend. But I want to take note of five amazing years. There are so many beautiful people who have joined us along the way, and you can see their faces on our web site. A special salute to Ken Gordon, who rose at dawn five years ago to help us unload the first Uni. (He is now the treasurer of our nonprofit.) Above all, Leslie, my partner in all things—she has demanded, willed, and when necessary driven a truck, so that we could create over 400 reading rooms so far. Without her, both my life and the city of New York would be a smaller place.

Below is a blog post I wrote five years ago on the eve of our launch. It was written after several hours guiding a truck into Lower Manhattan, past police check points, to deliver the first Uni reading room.

Here’s to another five years of this adventure.


The Uni is home

The Uni arrived in New York tonight. It is now staged a block away from the New Amsterdam Market where it will be put into service for the first time tomorrow on Sep. 11.

On the ride downtown tonight, at the third NYPD checkpoint, I hoisted the roll-up door on the Penske to reveal again the columns of shelves, books, bright yellow cones, and a Yoko Ono Wish Tree. One of the officers, flashlight held at his head said, “Sarge, come take a look at this one.”

They were silent as I answered the very same questions I’ve been answering for over a year as we brought this crazy project to life: “what is it? a kind of portable reading room, books and learning things, for kids but yeah for adults too. It can go outside.” I was really tired now and rambling.

More silence and poking at the yellow benches. I waited. The sky was illuminated with two familiar beams of light, now so close, they merged in the clouds above.

“You’re doing this book thing tomorrow morning?” His light hit on a open box of children’s picture books. “And kids can come?”

“Yes, anyone in the neighborhood really, if they want.”

“That’s decent. Good luck. Carry on. LET HIM THROUGH!”

Driving the last few blocks on completely deserted streets where I once lived, I felt something welling up in me, and not just exhaustion.

We don’t say it so much, but I think, to Leslie and me, the Uni is a project ten years in the making, as of tomorrow morning.

However you choose to spend tomorrow (Sept 11), for whatever reason and in whatever memory, make it meaningful. That’s about the best anyone can do with the days we have.

Uni night before

The first Uni reading room, arriving by truck on Sept 10, 2011.

The Uni portable reading room for NYC launched on the morning of Sept. 11, 2011.

The Uni, a portable reading room for NYC, launched on the morning of Sept. 11, 2011.