I lived in New York City for 13 years but I only went into the World Trade Center once. And that was before I even lived in the city.
I moved to New York in 1985 but my first and last personal encounter with the twin towers came in 1980.
I was 27 years old. And I was living in Vermont among a group of young people who mostly came originally from the New York area.
One guy in our community was going to get married to a girl who was an architect who lived in the City. And the wedding was going to be in New Jersey, just over the river. So the whole escapade was a big deal for me having spent little time in New York except for the occasional day trip.
It was early September, which always is a superb season in New York. The wedding was going to be on Saturday. But we all went down on Thursday and, among our group of 5 or 6 guys, we were each going to go our separate ways during the day and meet at the top of the Trade Center at 7 in the evening.
I had lunch with an old girlfriend from college and then wandered around town like a dumb tourist. At about 6:30 I boarded the elevator up to Windows on the World, the famous restaurant at the very top of the North Tower, the one that was hit first on 9/11.
It was well-known as perhaps the most unusual restaurant in the world, the “highest” on the planet at the time, one-quarter mile up in the air on the 110th floor.
And for a hayseed from Vermont it was an indisputable thrill – “the big city”, the bustling restaurant, the well-dressed people, the sense of wealth, power and elegance.
It was a perfect evening – a stunning azure sky with just a few clouds to add interest, with a sun setting red-orange over New Jersey. I ordered a beer and just soaked up the ambiance. Awesome! You could look north over the city and then west to see the whole harbor, the Statue of Liberty, the ports, the bridges, and probably 20 miles into Jersey. Utterly fantastic. I will never forget it.
I was completely jazzed. For a while I couldn’t have cared less if my friends never showed up. I checked my watch from time to time, and by seven, they had not arrived. So I ordered another beer and waited, kept my eye on the elevator for my buddies.
By about 7:20 I was getting antsy because I am a punctual person. And I sure didn’t want to lose my mates. So I went over and stood by the windows that looked onto the South Tower. And if you never have been at the top of one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, with another twin tower the exact same dimension just 200 feet away, and you look down the face of the other building to the ground and, well, it was something I had never experienced before in my life and few people surely ever have. It was like some kind of surreal photoshopped image that you would see in a video game.
The exaggerated sense of height and space and distance was mesmerizing, almost dizzying. It was like the definition of “perspective” the way the side of the other building narrowed as it plummeted toward the ground where the people were even smaller than “ants”. Indeed they were just specks.
And as I stood thunderstruck by this unique view, feeling quite happy with the way my day had turned out, I looked across to the top of the South Tower and noticed that there were people walking on an observation deck on the roof of the building.
And having very good eyes, there I spotted my friends.