WTC & Me

It was a radio program, at the end of the 9/11/2002 workday, that brought some vague thoughts into focus. In it, mostly unnamed individuals spoke of their experiences with the World Trade Center and the area around it. Some remembered concerts and other events held between the towers. Others described views from them and of them. One called the towers her ďbed postsĒ since they appeared in that position from where she slept. Another spoke of pleasant walks through the area in the deserted quiet of 2:00 AM.

During the past year, I had, of course, thought of the few contacts I had had with the twin towers. Listening to people talk of their relationships with those buildings brought those memories forward. New York City is some 600 miles away and I have visited the towers only twice. They certainly were not as significant in my life as to those who peered from them daily or awoke to them each morning. But it seems they might have been more significant than I had acknowledged.

I don't believe that I followed construction of the towers closely but I know I was aware of it. I saw the movie version of Godspell shortly after its release and I remember the scene atop the unfinished World Trade Center better than any other part of the film. I donít believe that Iíve seen that movie since that first time and, until tonight, was not absolutely certain that my memory was correct. With memory stirred by the radio program, I stopped by a video rental store before going home but there was no Godspell to be found. Perhaps not surprisingly, neither of the young clerks at the store had ever heard of it. A web search validated my memory.

The first time I personally saw the towers was from a cruise ship returning from Bermuda in 1981. Julie, John, and I were on deck. Johnís grandmother, the real reason the trip had taken place, was in her cabin. It was early in the morning and the sun was rising as the ship slowly moved through the Narrows and approached Manhattan. The towers loomed ahead. At some point the two largest objects in our view, the sun and the WTC towers, became connected in our minds. With unfounded hope, we started talking about the possibility of seeing the sun bracketed by that pair of skyscrapers. The ship crept northward and the sun rose slowly. John will tell you that we controlled the ship and the sun with the power of our minds. I think pure luck had more to do with it but, whatever was behind it, we floated slowly past the towers with the sun at just the right height. I snapped off a few pictures.

The ship landed and we flew on to Columbus. In Columbus, we found that our expected ride home was delayed so we rented a car and headed toward the next meeting point in Hamilton. While we fed ourselves in a Hamilton restaurant, the rental sat out back with doors unlocked. Sure enough, when we got back to the car, the cameras were gone along with about a dozen rolls of film. Film of a wonderful cruise, much Bermuda sightseeing, and those well timed shots at the World Trade Center.

My next encounter was around 1986 or 1987 when I was in New York in support of a trade show at the Javits Center. I can't recall that trip without remembering our arrival at the hotel. Entrance to the lobby was through a revolving door. We arrived by taxi; I stepped into the door, and immediately felt someone at my back. Another person was in the revolving door compartment with me and I quickly assumed that my first big city mugging was in progress. Not so. In a voice that sounded nearly as scared as I felt, the man behind me hurried to let me know that he was there by accident. We checked in and were shown to the room that two of us would share. It was a bit larger than the wedge shaped area I had just shared with a stranger but then it had to hold two single beds and about half a dozen door locks. It did, but just barely.

As the show progressed, I became less and less useful until taking off in the afternoon became a reasonable idea. At that time Tickets-Tickets operated a couple of kiosks where half-price day-of-show theater tickets could be purchased. As further justification for an afternoon out, I would pick up ducats for myself and four or five co-workers who fancied a night at the theater.

I don't recall all of the details of the day but do remember ricocheting around the subway maze beneath Times Square, riding the wrong train, walking past Madison Square Garden, and emerging from underground somewhere around the Trade Center. Actually, I think it might have been in it. There was a Ticket-Tickets stand at Times Square nearer our hotel but I had been told that the one near the towers was the best. I found the kiosk, made my purchase, and then headed up and up to the observation level.

I'm sure my small Ohio town background amplified the sensations but this wasn't the first tower I'd looked out from. I had been to the top of Chicago's Sears and Hancock towers and had even looked down on Manhattan from the Empire State some years back. The view was splendid and the apparent size of ships provided a feel for the height. The tiny Statue of Liberty was something I had not anticipated but the real kicker was the other tower. Just when I was feeling that I was really above things and in the world's tallest building, I caught a view of its equal and was hit with the thrill of momentary disorientation. Every time I describe the towers or even think of them, that sensation of incredible yet not unequaled height is front and center.

By the way, the tickets I had bought were to La Cage Aux Folles. I knew nothing about it other than what I learned at the ticket booth; that it was a musical and quite popular. The number of tickets I needed was available and it met whatever other now forgotten guidelines I had been given. No one else in our group knew much either but we were all ready to enjoy a genuine Broadway play. I'm sure that most everyone knows that La Cage Aux Folles features a gay couple (It was the basis for The Birdcage, with Robin Williams.) but we knew none of that then. As the play's full tilt homosexual theme became apparent, I felt the others throwing glances my way with a "What have you got us into?" accusation behind them. I was rather unsure myself. But, in fairly short order, the quality of the production overcame our concerns about its subject matter and a good time was had by all.

In 1989, I visited the towers once more. This time I was in Newark on business as was the company service manager. Despite a job that had taken him throughout the U.S., he had never been in New York City and was set on heading across the river. To me, once was enough and I tried, unsuccessfully, to talk him out of it. At the end of the day, we headed toward the Holland Tunnel and the big city. We parked in a Port Authority garage at the edge of the river and headed down the stairs to street level, stepping over a sleeping man as we went. We stopped in a bar or two, had dinner, and did some gawking. Somewhere in there, we headed to the World Trade Center advertising, as we entered a cab, our ignorance of things Manhattan. The cab headed north for a few blocks and I eventually told the driver that I thought the WTC was in the opposite direction. He acknowledged the comment and circled around the next block. Coincidence or just New York?

At the top of the tower, I realized that my reluctance to enter the city had almost cost me another remarkable view. My earlier visit had been on a sunlit afternoon and the nighttime view was as different as...well, as different as night and day. I knew then and recognize even more today that I was quite fortunate to have visited those towers only twice and yet have experienced both the brightness of day and the glitter of night. The darkness did nothing to lessen that odd sensation of standing in a building far above the city and then seeing that buildingís duplicate at your side.

My entire experience with the two towers consists of two visits and a float by. Plus seeing a movie that pictured them just before their official birth. Not much when compared to those who strolled there in the wee hours or toiled there day after day. I canít explain why Iíve written this but Iím glad I did.