For a good part of my life, those twin towers in Lower Manhattan represented a new kind of architecture and a great transportation hub for those of us who didn’t work at what was once the World Trade Center, but knew what it symbolized.
For a couple of years prior to Sept. of 2001, I had worked across the street, at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, and really got into the New York City way of life when it came to community to and from work. I’d catch the PATH at Newark Penn Station and would hear the conductor say, every morning, ‘World Trade Center train, next stop, Harrison.’
And like so many things that become routine, there wasn’t much to it. The World Trade Center would be the sixth and final stop on that 22-minute daily ride. It would be Newark, Harrison, Journal Square, Grove Street, Exchange Place and finally, the WTC. I remember the conductor saying that the first car door would never open at Exchange Place. Why I remember that to this day, I have no idea.
Upon getting off the train at the WTC would be the frantic rush up some tall escalators. At each level would be the smell of Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee, or the fragrance of pastry at Au Bon Pain. At the main level, you could sense the hustle and bustle as the main doors to the tower would be in sight. In particular, there was a huge Victoria Secret store right before the main entrance. Once outside, there were the vendors, selling everything for what seemingly was $5.00.
During the 2000 World Series between the Yankees and Mets, you couldn’t imagine all the stuff that was on sale outside the towers every day. I must have purchased more hats and tee-shirts than the average fan, and I don’t like either team. It was special to be a part of that era, and while I’m not trying to convey a sense of innocence in the early part of the 21st Century, in retrospect, it was a different time.
As I walked the block or so to work, I could always hear that Frank Sinatra song in my head ‘My Kind of Town.’ (I also liked ‘Together, Forever’ by Rick Astley, but for a different reason back then).
But I digress.
I worked in an underground training site at 1 Chase Manhattan. It was actually a few levels below the subway, and I always remember finding it weird hearing the subway ABOVE me. But, again, you get used to the sounds and, like I said, it was New York City, so anything goes.
I used to love looking up at the towers and getting dizzy. (Sounds stupid, I know).
For reasons I’ll never quite comprehend, I completed the project in Lower Manhattan I was working on in early August of 2001. I was actually supposed to meet some friends for dinner at the restaurant on the top floor of the WTC on Sept. 12.
Well, we all know what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. I was home that day, most of us recall where we were and what we were doing, similar to Nov. 22, 1963, if we’re old enough.
Lower Manhattan had become one of my favorite places to work, or just visit. It took me about two months before I would go back after the attacks, but on the day after Thanksgiving in 2001, I did head downtown once again. To call it eerie was a gross understatement.
I remember seeing the smoke still rising from the site and hearing the s0unds of water putting out the fires which still burned. The entire area was boarded up, but it was clear where I was standing. I could see the Century 21, which was always my starting point when getting off the PATH train.
People stood, watched and cried. Others treated the police in the area as heroes, as they should. There were street vendors, selling things, but mostly sad reminders of what had happened.
Two weeks after that visit, I went on my first flight, post-9-11. I remember the National Guard walking through Newark Airport as I was headed to Cleveland to go see a Browns game the next day. The security was crazy, they made me open my lap top and run a program after going through the security line.
I would spend New Year’s Eve 2002 and 2003 at a hotel in Lower Manhattan, near the site, as a way of respecting what once was and would be again. Sort of saying a new year is coming, and one day, this place will thrive again.
I remember taking the first PATH train back to the World Trade Center when the station re-opened in early November of 2003. I’ve visited numerous times since, watching it from what we all knew as Ground Zero to becoming a construction site. And eventually, the sounds of 24 hour construction led to new buildings rising.
And on May 10, 2013, the final piece of One World Trade Center, the 40-ton spire, made its way to the very top of what is now the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. I watched the spire become affixed on television, but then decided I had to go see the building again, myself, just to admire it.
May 10, 2013, weather wise, was very reminiscent of a morning 4,259 days earlier.
We’ll never forget that day, but watching the New York City Skyline reignite with such passion and energy gives up hope.
Thank you to all the workers who made this happen.
Thank you to all Americans who wouldn’t let this country fall short.
Thank you, especially, to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
As Memorial Day approaches, this is a time to be grateful.
God Bless America.