Before 9/11, I worked in the World Financial Center, directly across the street from the World Trade Center. My office windows faced the Hudson but the World Trade Center was a big part of my life — my bank and my dentist were there, I shopped there, bought lunch there, saw concerts there and walked through it several times every day.
I was very fortunate — and have not once, ever, ever regretted — that I was not there that Tuesday. I was still in Brooklyn driving down to our office in New Jersey, and I turned around and went home.
On September 12, I took the R train to the Promenade in Brooklyn (the conductor saying, “This train will terminate at Court Street, due to police activity,” as if anyone on the train didn’t know what was going on), and I sat on the Promenade and tried to write down every single thing I remembered about the WTC.
Monday night, it was raining, and I almost took the long route around over the north bridge. If I ever do go back to work at WFC, I won’t be able to go from the train to the office without going outside, which was a nice perk in bad weather.
But instead I walked out the south bridge and across Liberty Street, past the garage entrance, the stupidly fortified entrance to the garage the terrorists hit the last time, across the traffic lanes of Liberty Street that used to run westbound and were closed after 1993, unless you made a U turn at Greenwich the way the taxis did.
Up the sidewalk and through the revolving doors, skipping the handicap entrance with the annoying delay that ensured no one ever used it to bypass the revolving doors. Across the ugly green carpet with the card-swipe turnstiles on the left for the elevators and the ludicrous plastic Grecian columns around the building directory listings. Tourists so often sitting there, exhausted. The flashbulb from the take-your-photo-on-line guy up on the second floor lobby where you wait to go up to the observation deck. I never did go back up there; every time I thought about it I looked at the line and said, “I’ll go another time.”
Through the revolving doors into the concourse, into the headwind created by the air pressure difference. A right turn at the ATMs past Radio Shack and the shoeshine place, past the newstand by the entrance to the IRT local.
A left past the clothing stories, the Coach leather store, beside the odd railings that marked the handicap ramp and the Bath and Body Works whose corner entrance I’d cut through if I entered the building from Church Street, near that spot in 4 WTC where the Movenpick was “about to open” for a year or so, but never did. If you went that way you came out by Sam Goody on Liberty, where I used to tell people to walk five blocks to J&R and save three dollars a CD. And you exited onto Liberty where all those awful suburban-mall pseudo-pushcarts were stationed.
But I went the other way, towards PATH Square with the enormous escalator bank, a right turn past the bigger newsstand where I’d get a Daily News on rehearsal nights. ATMs and phones on the right, then the Warner store, and the entrance to the N/R, with the escalators to the uptown side that never, ever worked.
The exit from the Concourse to the E train [the floor and the staircase here are the only surviving part of the WTC, which you can see now by exiting the E at WTC and leaving through the doors at the southern edge of the station to the PATH train area].
Or I could have continued past the HSBC ATMs, facing the stairs that led up to my dentist in 5 WTC, with the filthy public bathrooms off to the left behind the escalators. Duane Reade, Sbarro just redesigned as a buffet. Fine & Shapiro where the rotisserie chicken tasted like sand, the tiny sushi place. On the right, the bread store and the photo place on the corner. The late lamented Lechters. The watch store by the escalators on the hallway from Borders to the N/R entrance. Those escalators went up to the actual HSBC branch — my branch is gone — good thing I never got that safety deposit box — I wonder if [the branch manager] is OK? [She was.] Krispy Kreme on Church Street where I bought donuts when my team was working weekends. Borders with the travel books downstairs in that tiny spot, and the crowded cafe upstairs where booked some decent music and had a $2.99 rack where I bought a bunch of Speed the Plough albums one night after work.
And the plaza, that ugly slab of concrete, baking in the sun every summer and cut with vicious winds every winter. Surrounded by those incredibly ugly buildings that made it obvious all the design money and energy was spent on buildings 1 and 2. Awful muzak playing from loudspeakers all the time, trying to make the tourists feel at home.
Lucy Kaplansky and Guy Davis and John Gorka, concerts on the plaza, lunchtime getting a salad and lemonade from the Cosi stand by the Customs House [6 WTC]. The metal tables and chairs around the north edge of the plaza. The memorial for the 1993 bombing, the fountain and teh concentric benches around it. The two staircases down to Liberty Street from the plaza on each side of Tower Two, which were closed for years for no apparent reason.
Crossing Church Street in the morning, across the river of people flooding out of the southeast corner of 4 WTC, heading to the financial district. The wedge of granite next to that exit that people sat on. The ugly brown tile inside, the photo kiosk where I got my pictures developed before I bought a digital camera. The miniature Au Bon Pain where I’d throw the Times out in the morning because there were so few trash cans in the concourse, another pointless attempt at security.
The southern entrance to the N/R closed at 7.30 p.m., so if I left work late I knew I’d have to walk down to the entrance by Borders. The handwritten signs on the doors telling people that the uptown trains were across the stret. The gratings above were bent into a concave shape by the greenmarket trucks parking on them until they were finally replaced. The pedestrian tunnels under the tracks were just redone with new mosaics.
At the exit from the concourse to 2 WTC, the Store Of Knowledge that closed, and the coffee shop that replaced Barnes & Noble, the one with the weird metal chairs that looked ugly but were quite comfortable. The south bridge over West Street, which was a sea of mud and construction until they finally redid it earlier this year. The footbridge escalator never worked in the rain, and every day I bought fruit from the guy who had a stand right outside. Traffic cops at the corner of Liberty and West, and trucks barely making the turn, leaving scars on the concrete of the fortified garage entrance. And the north bridge, with that little side exit that lead out onto that corner of the concourse where people would smoke, like a balcony over West Street. The tube-shaped bridge to 7 WTC, and the outdoor escalator next to it leading down to Vesey Street. The wasteland of the streets below, long cold forbidding walks to West Street. But you could walk all the way from my building [1 WFC] to Chambers Street without ever going outside.
In 1997 we looked at office space in 2 WTC. It was raining that day and the long windows were like vertical rivers of rainwater. The whole floor (a low floor, in the teens I think) was empty, so you could walk around the core and see that the building was not all that large. The corridors of the occupied floors were ugly and dirty, ill maintained grey panels and cheap carpet, names of companies you’d never heard of, combination locks on the bathrooms.
The pathetic lighted signs with the ’70s WTC typeface knocked out of brown metal, the same (two-dimensional) dimensions as the towers. The PATH P over the door near Sam Goody. The dorky Downtown Alliance info stand outside. The cabs lined up on Liberty. The chains blocking off the westbound lanes of Liberty and the southbound lanes of Church, closed after 1993, where they had the Greenmarket. It used to be parking but they banned that for, ha, security.
I didn’t like the WTC. It was ugly and badly designed, and I would much preferred to have had the neighborhood that was destroyed for it. And I’m completely disgusted at the process that seems to be repeating the same mistakes in the same spot. But I do miss them.
Tomorrow, some history.