Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Two Friends I Lost

It seemed cheap to post a tribute to the buildings on September 11, when we were celebrating the lives of the heroes and victims of the attacks. I do want to talk about the two entities closest to me that I lost: the towers themselves. In the spirit of commemorating the lives of the victims, I will not discuss my experiences with either attack (you can read my 9/11 story elsewhere. I was on Wall Street in 1993.) but my joy at the buildings themselves.

Unless you had seen them in person, it's really hard to describe the dizzying heights. No other building in the world combined the height with a profile that had no setbacks: a sheer wall, more than a thousand feet high. It's not hard to imagine why George Willig felt the need to scale a tower. They were, in the world's of Edmund Hillary, there.

I grew up with those Towers. As I grew, they grew, taller and stronger. No longer was the Empire State Building to be the tallest tower in the world, indeed, even the Trade Center towers would soon lose that distinction. But for that brief moment, those two towers, as ugly as they were, gleamed with extra pride at the distinction.

January 2, in the early 80s, a young lady boarded the number 6 train at 59th Street, along with her mother, two brothers, and father. She wore white, a wedding gown that her mother wore nearly forty years earlier. Despite the odd glances, she was unabashed that she was riding a subway train to her wedding.

My sister was wed at City Hall (to be precise, the Municipal Building). The reception was at Windows On The World. We walked over after the ceremony, just before noon. It was raw and cold and the wind whipped off the World Trade Center plaza as it always seemed to do, even in the stillest, muggiest summer afternoon. We rode the elevators up, and were escorted to a private reception room as if we were royalty.

I think that was the moment that I truly fell in love with the buildings.

I would visit often, even just riding the subway to the shopping plaza underneath, and spend time wandering the lobby, the tall sky lobby, three stories high, beckoning and welcoming visitors about to ride an elevator faster and higher than they ever had before.

On a clear day, you could see all the way up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain, in Harriman (and vice versa, as I discovered). In a high wind, the floor swayed under you that you thought you were on a ferry or a plane.

The observation deck was wide and easily navigated even when crowded, unlike the Empire State Building which sacrificed space for commercial revenue. Along the windows were small wells that you could, if you snuck in and out quickly, stand in and pretend that you were standing outside the building.

Once you rode a short escalator, weather permitting, you could stand on the actual roof of the building, and gaze 360 degrees over a landscape that included planes taking off below you, as well as cargo ships entering the harbor past Lady Liberty. I imagine a medieval king would understand the impressiveness of surveying these lands from on high. It made one feel enlarged, emboldened. I don't think it was a coincidence that so many marriage proposals were made up there.

In the other tower was Windows On The World, a lovely restaurant in a quasi-Art Deco style that at night felt for all the world like you could touch the sky with your shrimp fork, and pluck a star to season your appetizer.

I dined here often. Sometimes as a lark, as young men and women filled with poetic notions are wont to do, my friends and I would dress up in our tuxedos and gowns and have a seven course dinner in the wine cellar, the Cellar In The Sky. The meal always ended up with a glass of champagne and a toast to the heavens for our happiness and long life.

Once in a while, we'd even coax a couple of our parents into coming along, on some pretext or other, only to celebrate an anniversary or birthday.

I would give much to have one last toast, roaring to the heavens about the immortality we believed these buildings conferred.

Goodbye, my old friends. A sweet rest awaits you in my memory.