Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The World Trade Center: A Remembrance

I will have more to say about the taxi strike, but since yesterday was the 6th anniversary of 9/11 I thought it would be appropriate to observe that occasion before delving again into the politics of the taxi industry. So here goes...

It has become an annual event for me, deep in the night of Sept. 11th, to stop driving my cab for awhile and take a reverential break down at Ground Zero. I did so last night.

The area looks different than it did a year ago, and this is a good thing. Construction has finally begun for the new buildings. Numerous cranes are down in "the pit" and the streets all around the place are torn up to make way for new pipelines and God knows what. The rebuilding process is underway at last.

Due to the nature of the current construction, there's not as much space available at Ground Zero itself as there has been in the past for people to display pictures of loved ones lost in the tragedy. In fact, there were not nearly as many mementos in place as there were last year, probably because the commemoration ceremonies took place a couple of blocks south of Ground Zero at Liberty Street this year. But the ones that were there stirred deep emotions in me.

I have found that I cannot let go of 9/11. I cannot dismiss it mentally as something that just happened. The awful significance of the event is too disturbing. And I cannot forget the stories I have heard, and continue to hear, from many passengers in my cab. (To read some of them, click here.)

Also, I miss the towers themselves. I still see them in my mind whenever I drive past Ground Zero. When I get a fare to the nearby residential complex called Battery Park City I still sometimes think of heading over to the North Tower where the Windows of the World restaurant used to be to look for my next ride. I picture the driveway where I used to wait for people who had just dined up in the clouds and I remember how I never tired of stepping out of my cab and just looking up and marveling at the sheer size of the structures.

Perhaps when the new World Trade Center is built I will begin to not care so much that the old one is gone. But perhaps not. Perhaps it's more likely that anyone who had ever been to the Twin Towers will have a permanent bond to the memory of the place.

And having said that, I'd like to share with you some unadulterated nostalgia regarding the World Trade Center, if you will indulge me. It's something that happened in the spring of 1972...

I lived in those days in a dive called the Hadson Hotel on W. 31st Street. It was a less than charming place with shared bathrooms, but for $70 a month it served its purpose, which was to live cheaply, if not well. But I did have a view of Herald Square from my window, plus I knew I would never starve - there were plenty of cockroaches available. So I had no complaints.

One lovely Saturday afternoon in May my friend Judy Huelsman and I decided to take a bike ride from the Hadson down into lower Manhattan along the Hudson River. It was a great day for a ride. Not only was the weather perfect on that particular day, but the city was all but empty. There's nothing like a deserted Manhattan to give the people who didn't leave a sense of entitlement. It's as if the empty buildings belong to you. As it turned out, that would be an understatement for us that afternoon.

We pedaled along enjoying the air and the sights until, about forty minutes into our journey, we came to the area of the sparkling, new World Trade Center on the south side of Vesey Street. This was a brand new and utterly magnificent sight to us, since we lived and worked uptown and never got to the lower end of the island. So we were taking it in with the same awe that tourists would have who were seeing it for the very first time, our jaws dropping, so to speak.

At that time the North Tower had been completed and was partially occupied, but the interior of the South Tower was still under construction and was unoccupied. So since the area was partially in operation, it wasn't closed off to the public as a construction sight normally would be. Thus we were able to park our bikes and wander around without anyone kicking us out. Not that anyone was around who would kick us out. The place was deserted.

We walked along and found ourselves approaching the South Tower. We pulled on the handle of one of the doors. To our surprise, the door opened! We entered the building. We walked around the unfinished lobby. We walked up and down a flight of stairs. After a minute or two we realized that there was no one else around. Apparently we had the entire South Tower all to ourselves!

We reacted like children who had gained control of an amusement park, calling out to each other from one end of the massive lobby to the other and fooling around. And then we found the elevators. We pushed the button. The door opened! We entered and pushed 33. The door closed and... up we went! The elevators were working! What would we see when we got up there? We had no idea.

The door opened and we looked out at what at that time was the 33rd floor of the South Tower. It was bare from one side of the building to the other. The interior walls had not yet been constructed, so we could walk around the entirety of the floor without obstructions. Which we did. But, of course, the coolest thing was simply to look out the windows. Since we were able to move around from one side of the tower to the other, we could view the skyline, the harbor, and the Statue of Liberty - all of New York City - from every conceivable angle.

And when we decided we'd had enough of the 33rd floor, we went back to the elevator and went higher up to get an even better view. And that's how we spent the next hour - riding the elevators (quite a thrill by itself, as the elevators in the WTC had enormous thrust) and getting off and on at whichever floors we desired. And then finally, having other things that needed to be done that day, we rode back down to the lobby, got back on our bikes, and pedaled away.

And we never saw a soul.
For one afternoon in May of 1972, my friend and I had one of the Twin Towers all to ourselves.
It was one of the best days of my life.

And perhaps clicking here for Pictures From A Taxi will make this one of the best days of your life... well, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement...


John said...

Everyone in the world knows what they were doing when they herd the news.
I was working as a cash in transit security guard when the news hit the Irish Times news desk.Thought it must have been a small plane...All day long office workers were glued to television sets.For us who were not there it seemed like a movie,surely Arnie would appear and say "Its OK".
This did not happen,many people from all nations died,so many Irish in the towers and the fire service.
The pipers played for many weeks!

What caused such fury we will never know.
Blood of innocent people will never right a wrong.
Speak to people, let them unload their grief,by sharing you releive them of pain.But don't carry their hurt,leave it in a quiet place.
Soon the new building will rise up to the clouds and tomorrow will be a new day.

4min said...

wow, what similar memories this brings up, not particularly for wtc at all, but for all the places i've seen where i shouldn't have been.

there is a new trend or adventure sport i suppose, people are into called urban exploration, and i think you stumbled on a mother load in 72.

look up:

Forgotten NY, a man tours around new york and talks about its history everywhere. forgotten ny's site is on my side bar.

and also Danny Lyons, a photographer who took pictures all over downtown ny before the area was demolished for trade center construction.

Mike S said...

Great post. As an inspector of steel structural components my one great regret was not getting to enjoy the view from the towers under construction.

Anonymous said...

Say, I used to live in the Hadson Hotel from the Spring of 1971 until I escaped in January 1972. Were we neighbors? I lived on the 11th floor with a bunch of Scientologists who worked at the Hotel Martinique, another Manhattan hell-hole next door.


G.S. said...

Cathy - wow, quite possibly. Please send me an email at And thanks for the comment. I had to do some searching to figure out where I'd mentioned the Hadson Hotel, but here it is.