As we come upon and pass the 11th anniversary of destruction of the World Trade Centers, I often think back on my love affair with them. For me, it started when I was a kid, and my cousin was visiting from Ireland with her boyfriend. I was allowed to go into the city with them to Observatory. Contrary to popular opinion, we New Yorkers didn’t make a point of doing the tourist thing ever, still don’t, so for me this was a whole new adventure. We drove from our little house in Kew Gardens to Downtown and parked right around the corner (probably illegally.) And we stood in line, bought our tickets, and went up. I don’t remember much about getting up there, but the view, oh boy was that spectacular! An unobstructed view in all directions. It was just breathtaking, and I was secretly convinced I could see our house, although I never let on.
Later, in the late 80’s and early 90’s the affair continued when I worked across the street in the World Financial Center. I was one of the first people to call 911 in 1993 when the first bombing happened. I was working in a financial services company, on the 33rd floor of One World Financial Center. I vividly remember it being lunchtime, and I was pretty much alone in the large room that all the brokers and cold callers worked in, which we called the Boardroom. The plexiglas windows facing the Trade Center bowed in, for just a split second, then the faint rumble and bang, then the thin, wisp-like column of grey smoke rising up out of entrance to the parking garage. I was simply stunned. I called 911, and just waited for everyone to come back from lunch. No one was allowed back up that day though, and we walked down 33 flights of stairs. I was young, in shape and healthy, but I swear my calves were sore for about a week after that. The masses of people streaming into the streets was amazing, and as I looked back, I remembered that the little man that parked our car under the Marriott hotel, in the underground parking garage, was probably down there. When the garage finally re-opened much later, I never saw that little man again. I still to this day don’t know what happened to him. And we were back at work the following Monday. Back to the grind, as though nothing had happened. We are New Yorkers after all and a little car explosion wasn’t going to stop our commerce from moving forward!
Then, in the late 90’s I worked in the Trade Center again, this time on a floor in the 80’s, for a man named Lindsay Coates Herkness, III. He was a bachelor man about town, with all kinds of social obligations. His clients were the “Ladies Who Lunch” and their husbands, children or lovers. His family was old and socially known, his clients adored him, and he was one of the most self obsessed and demanding bosses I had ever worked for. But, he liked me, and gave me a great job, and allowed me to learn many, many things. His man whom he called Emi, or Haji when he was being mischievous, was a fascinating little Indian man, who did all of Lindsay’s personal work, and who’s wife was the housekeeper in Lindsay’s apartment. I left that job amicably for a much better one in Midtown at a mutual fund company, and had minimal contact with the team Downtown again, until one day, I got a phone call at home from Lindsay, saying, he had heard I was not working, and would I like to come back to work with him? I graciously declined, I was in the middle of the wonderful haze of planning a wedding and moving out of state, and to this day I never regret making that decision. You see in the days following September 11th, my Mom sent me a link to a story in the Daily News, which featured Emi walking Lindsay’s bloodhound Beau, wandering with a leaf from a magazine with a picture of Lindsay, trying to find out where the boss was. Lindsay was on one of the floors that the second plane flew into. He had been evacuated, and was on his way down the stairs and heard the all clear and said, “I’m going back to the office, this is the World trade Center, its indestructible.” I know if it were me working for him, I would have gone back with him, to disastrous result. So you see, the “what if?” echoes in my head all the time. And I do admit that there isn’t a day, still, that the ins and outs of daily life there wanders through my brain. There was even a period of time, that I would catch a glimpse of him. At the airport, walking down the street, one an escalator. Thankfully that has stopped now.
What most of the wide world doesn’t know about the Trade Center is the life that we lived in and around them. It was a humming hive of industry, and business, and every day lives. I often wonder what happened to the Amish farmer, with the oddly high-pitched voice that used to come into the City once a week for the Farmers Market that was on the Church Street entrance of the buildings. Many is the weekend of food I bought there, as well as the loveliest of garden fresh flowers. There were many weekend dinners that were born in my head at that Farmers Market. In the early years that I worked at the Trade Center, they weren’t so hot to look at inside. But, after the first bombing, things got freshened up. There were new restaurants and stores that weren’t there before. It got fancy stores and new cafes. It even got a “Hot Dog Haven”… and the lines were unbelievably long to get your order.
Life in and near the Trade Centers was vibrant, we had CD101.9 come in to do Jazz Wednesdays on the plaza between the Towers. There were different offerings every day during the summer, and they were all highly attended. I saw Tuck and Patty there, and all kinds of wonderful musicians, at lunchtime.
The thing I take away and remember every year was the Woolworth’s that was on the main level. I decked out my very first grown up apartment from that store, and bought all my first apartment Christmas decorations. I still have the frosted and glittered glass ornaments, as well as the old fashioned looking but brand new (at the time) paper angels. My entire young adulthood was spent there, and even though much of it I left behind, I was terribly devastated when it all came down. It is part of my identity and lives in my blood. And it’s completely gone, all except the E train station. It is the terminus of the E train, and in my year back in New York, when I worked at Citigroup, I took the train there each day, and walking out into the turn-styles, my brain tricked me each day, I kept thinking I’ll walk out and there will be the newsstand, and then the escalator up to the street, and I’ll be back in my old comfy building, my routine. And every single morning I was jarred into realizing they’re not there any more.