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October 2001

Remembrances: The World Trade Center

By Susan Frederick

I lived in the New York metropolitan area and worked in New York City for most of my life until about 11 years ago.

Before they built the World Trade Center, the area was a sort-of electronics and porcelain outlet- packed with little stores offering marvelous bargains on these sorts of goods. I remember being upset when the porcelain stores closed because I collected horse statues as a child and the stores my mother and I frequented were closing.

From about 1973 through 1990 I went through the WTC many, many times. I shopped in the stores- there was a great little flower stand and when I was single, and had money for such things, I would stop and buy myself bouquets on the way home to my little apartment.

I have pictures of myself and my dearest cousin on top of the World Trade Center from about 1974. It was very cold- winter- windy- icy. She had little tolerance for the cold, so there is one picture of me smiling and three of Jackie grimacing. She now lives is the warm climate of New Hampshire. And we have both inside and outside photos. On the windows of the WTC there were labeled outlines of the various sites you could see from those windows. What a marvelous idea- so we could know what we were looking at. I tried to photograph those outlines, but all I got were lots of pictures of the view. Those pictures have gained value for me now.

The PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson Line) trains went from deep beneath the WTC (well below the subway level) to Jersey City and Hoboken, New Jersey. At the bottom of the long escalators to the lowest concourse there was a newsstand right in the center.. When I was dieting (which was always!) I would debate with myself whether or not I would buy a candy bar when I purchased my evening paper. At least 50% of the time the candy bar won : People who own newsstands in New York make a good steady living.

The owners rarely change. I think of that bald-headed man I purchased those terrible candy bars from- along with the scandal-sheet New York Post. Was he working the morning or the night shift Tuesday?

Last November I gleefully took my dear 12 year old daughter to the World Trade Center to purchase Broadway show tickets at the TKTS 1/2 price booth. We went there both because I wanted her to see that marvelous building and because the line for those tickets was always shorter at the WTC booth than at the one uptown. As usual on a line in NYC, we talked to people, asked advice on shows, watched the lines of tourists stream by. People were cheerful- it was holiday time and Manhattan is an enchanted place to be during the holidays. We got fine box seats for "Kiss Me Kate."

After purchasing our theatre tickets, we ate sushi and California rolls in a little restaurant between the PATH train escalators and the subway entrance. We had fun. They sold the food on the first floor and then you walked up narrow steps to a tiny dining room. There was a public rest room (rare in NY).

That lower level of the WTC was powered, through the PATH tunnels, not by New York power, but by electricity from New Jersey. Consequently, whenever there was a blackout in NYC they still had power down there. There was a commuters' bar on that level and when the rest of the City was dark it was a party down there.

The first time I had quail was in Windows On The World. I also had crawfish there for the first time. In the dark ages when no one back east had ever heard of crawfish, they put this southern "delicacy" on the menu.

I often met friends for breakfast in a casual restaurant on the 40th floor. In the winter I regularly braved the icy wind along with 1000s of other commuters running across a WTC plaza towards the east side IRT subway. Once I slipped and fell on black ice and was immediately lifted by two businessmen who stood me upright and without a word continued on their trek, as did I.

The buildings themselves were just beautiful-built at a time when NYC was about to declare bankruptcy and the State of NY was not in much better shape. There was very little work for construction trades in NYC and great time was spent on those towers. They were a tribute to beauty of design and craftsmanship. The white marble, chrome and glass lobby was many stories tall and everything in them, from the elevators to the cathedral-shaped windows to the hanging snowflake Christmas decorations, was larger than life. It sparkled. You knew that every night cleaning crews were in there cleaning and polishing to make it a beautiful environment in which to work. And every time I had a question, every time I was looking for a restaurant or an office or just a particular exit everyone who worked in those buildings always seemed ready to assist.

Standing at the base of Fifth Avenue, by the Washington Square Park Arch, looking south down West Broadway, there was the WTC. It was the easiest landmark to find in NYC. You could see it from all over town. When I worked in the Village I was on my way to lunch at a little cafe just north of West Broadway. It was raining and I had an umbrella. A fellow with a pile of record albums under one arm got under the umbrella with me and asked where the WTC was. I pointed south saying, "See those two buildings?" He asked if I would accompany him. He was a gopher from an L.A. record company in NYC making a delivery. I walked most of the way down with him- it didn't take long. He gave me a Barbara Streisand album as a gift. I'd missed lunch, but the rain had stopped and I returned to work refreshed by the encounter- with the WTC looming over my shoulder.

I watched them film parts of King Kong there.

I am very lucky in that no one I am close to was in the WTC yesterday.

But all those shops, all those restaurants, were full of nice people with whom I had enjoyed interacting. Craftsmen were at work maintaining the structure. People I met years ago, but never really got to know were probably up in those offices. All those tourists we saw last year, and ourselves, were not unlike the tourists in the buildings yesterday.

I just feel like a piece of my life has been toppled over and is laying strewn around. My thoughts here are in no particular order, but that is how they have been coming to me. When my daughter woke we went through my old photos looking for WTC ones. I wish I had more, I never did get our photos from last year developed. I am not sure whether or not I photographed Courtney there. I hope I did.

 

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