World Trade Center Lobby in 2000 ~ Image via Wikipedia
I moved from New York to Amherst, MA in 1999. Hence, I was practicing the piano in Amherst when the towers were hit, only to be told the news when meeting a friend for lunch. We went out anyway, spending the entire time glued to a big-screen TV.
The disaster had a personal impact the day I saw the stark gray image of the deceased Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department Chaplain, being carried from the collapsed remains of one of the towers. When he removed his helmet inside the burning structure, he was hit on the head by falling debris. He had been administering last rites.
Mychal Judge had attended my piano trio’s first concert in New York, where he signed the guest book.
While living in New York City, I visited the World Trade Center many times to shop, stop for lunch, and enjoy the unparalleled view of the city from the observation deck. (It took 2 elevators to reach the top. The trip was so fast, it was unbelievable.)
There was more than one wonderful bookstore to see. Once, while walking along a low wall built inside a store on the main concourse, I discovered On the Road with Charles Kuralt. The wall was less than knee-high, permanently installed near a wall of floor-to-ceiling shelves, exactly the width of a paperback. Books were placed along the wall, end to end, face up for easy browsing.
This is the best subway book ever. It contains short stories about people Kuralt met on backroads all over the country. When riding a train, you can read an entire story without the total concentration needed for a Russian novel, then get off at your stop. Every story in the book is upbeat and fascinating.
One of the coffee shops in the WTC served very bad grilled cheese sandwiches. But they also featured chopped chicken livers! Soooooo good.
The observation deck on the 110th floor was truly wonderful, especially compared to those of the Empire State Building (where I visited the deck on the 86th floor. There is a second deck on 102.) and The Riverside Church (where the observation platforms have since been closed for safety reasons).
In addition to the height above the city, one thing that made the WTC deck special was the decals affixed to the windows. They were silhouettes of the major buildings, placed in line visually, every one labelled. All you needed to do was look through the outline, out to the building it represented, and you felt like an expert!
Another thing I loved about that deck was being so far above the other buildings, getting the feeling that I could pick them up like movers in a game and place them anywhere. Want to see the Chrysler Building next to the Empire State? No problem! Different areas of the city, like Soho and Greenwich Village, had a geographical place in my head in relation to the rest of the city for the first time.
From the road
After playing auditions and recitals for singers in Pennsylvania, I would stay overnight and return to New York on the bus the following morning. On one of the bus lines, the driver was always the same. She called her regular customers by name and exchanged recipes with them. (No city bus driver would have time to exchange recipes!)
On one trip, the bus neared a regular’s home, but he wasn’t waiting by the road, as he usually was. The driver stopped in front, and out sprinted a man in a suit, coat over one shoulder. briefcase in the other hand. I pictured a small boy late for the school bus, wearing his jacket by just one sleeve, lunch bucket trailing behind.
The passengers were friendly to each other. The chatted, sat back, and relaxed for quite some distance. And then…
The second everyone spotted the World Trade Center, everyone’s ‘tude changed immediately, even though there was plenty of time left during the trip. Welcome to New York! Sit up, knot the tie, organize the briefcase, don the jacket, and put on the “don’t mess with me!” face for the city.
The PATH train
For 6 years, I passed through the World Trade Center nearly every day. Working at 50th St. and working out a block from Macy’s on 34th, I traveled back and forth from Jersey City. The PATH is down a few levels below the main concourse. On the way into the city, stopping at the WTC requires ascending one escalator, then choosing from one of several escalators in a horizontal arrangement up to the next level.
After 9/11, when watching the movies “Working Girl” and “What About Bob?,” I burst into tears. In “Working Girl,” the Staten Island Ferry comes in with the twin towers in the background. And at the beginning of “What About Bob?,” there is that hysterical scene where he takes the stairs to one of the top floors! (I think it’s 105. Why? He’s afraid of elevators. What better setting for that scene?) When Bob (Bill Murray) is ready to leave his psychiatrist’s office (Richard Dreyfus), he takes “baby steps,” hurls himself onto the elevator, and the doors close. You breathe a sigh of relief at his success. And then he screams. I laughed at first, and then cried because it was the WTC.
In one of these movies, there was a shot of the escalator bank I mentioned earlier. It was totally unexpected, and I responded by feeling shock and crying because none of that is there any more.
In the city
The World Trade Center provided instant directional confirmation. Sometimes when you spend time in an unfamiliar neighborhood, you can lose your sense of direction. Either you get turned around from riding the subway, or forget which way to turn upon exiting a building. When the twin towers were still standing, all you had to do was look up. They were way at one end of Manhattan Island, so there was no ambiguity at all. The Empire State and Chrysler Buildings provide less clarity.
A Catholic web site in tribute to Mychal Judge ~ quotes, prayers, photos, links to biographies
The New Yorker ~ online table of contents to 9/12/11 issue ~ some articles available to nonsubscribers
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