Friday, February 26, 2010

Memories of NYC

Today is Friday, 26 February 2010.

On this date in 1993, also a Friday, at 12.18pm EST, a truck bomb exploded in the garage beneath the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Six were killed and 1,042 injured. I was working at my desk in our apartment on Staten Island when the first flash came across 1010 WINS, the all-news radio station. I immediately phoned my wife, and then went to the attic with field glasses. Across the sunny blue harbor, I saw smoke rising above the WTC, and a dozen or more helicopters circling it.

I was meeting my wife for dinner. Upon arriving at the ferry terminal at the southern tip of Manhattan, I walked up Broadway toward the WTC, but was soon turned back by police cordons. I met my wife at her office in Soho, and we walked to Shima, our favourite Japanese restaurant, just east of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. (For dessert, we each always had the same: green tea ice cream for her, and uni (sea urchin) for me.)

After dinner, we walked about for a while, and then took a cab down Broadway. Police cordons stopped us at Chambers Street. As we walked to the ferry, we beheld a sight unique to New Yorkers: no window whatever in the Twin Towers was lit, as the helicopters continued to dance attendance, their searchlights playing across the dark facades.

I think of another night, on the ferry to Staten Island, a stormy summer night, as we sat on the boat’s stern and watched Manhattan recede. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck the TV/radio mast atop the North Tower. A few years later, I saw a photo of that moment, taken from Greenwich Village looking south, in The New York Times.

I recall a weekday afternoon; it must have been late ‘80s, when I escorted visiting friends to the observation deck of the WTC, which I believe was in the North Tower. Sipping boxed chardonnay from the concession stand, one looked down to see the “ants” crawling across the Plaza. Later, I saw an episode of The Simpsons, wherein the family looks down, only to see a parking cop booting their vehicle.

When we were preparing to move from NYC to Tulsa in 1997, my wife had made, at a cart in the WTC commercial concourse, a small brass plate, to be affixed next to the front door of our new residence, engraved “Embassy of New York City”.

My wife’s last job before moving to Tulsa was at a business library in Newark; she commuted by the PATH train under the Hudson from the WTC. Each evening, I’d leave my office a few steps off Wall Street, and walk over to meet her. We discovered, tucked into a corner behind a bank of escalators, a pleasant, unpretentious bar and grille, whose appointments were beginning to show their age. Clientele was mostly blue-collar and Wall Street support staff. We would stop for cocktails, a couple of evenings a week, before walking to the ferry. In one of the books I have about 9/11, a picture of the ruined interior of that bar.

We lived then in a renovated 1890 carriage house, on the hill above the St. George Ferry terminal; it had been built for a Russian nobleman who owned an importing business.

The WTC should never have been built. It lost money for the taxpayers of New York and New Jersey every year but the last, when it had been leased to a private sector operator. It was the brain child of David Rockefeller, whose Chase Manhattan Bank had built a skyscraper in the Wall Street area; Rockefeller saw the WTC as a mechanism for increasing the value of his building.

Ironically, the downtown Tulsa skyline is dominated by the Bank of Oklahoma building, a scaled-down version of one of the Twin Towers.


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