Sunday, September 4, 2011

2 lights in the sky 911

2- Lights in the sky

We could see the flashes off the top of the South tower from our deck in Hoboken. Each evening when the sun's reflection vanished from the thousands of windows, the flashes started. This was 1992, a year before the first attempt to bring down the two towers of the World Trade Center, a less suspicious time that allowed us to ponder other possibilities.Flash after flash drew our attention there in the growing dark, with time later allowing us to realize these came from the thousands of cameras tourists used to capture the magnificent vision they saw from the observation deck of the South tower.It was a perpetual light show that paused only briefly during the aftermath of the first attack in 1993, then resumed after the tower's deck was renovated a short time later.While critics claimed the towers as too plain in their design, the shapes for many of us in northern New Jersey monuments in our lives, visible from the heart our state's three largest cities: Jersey City, Newark, even Paterson.Staring up at them from Hoboken's Pier A or the walkway in Jersey City's Liberty State Park, I was always in awe. Yet seeing them rise out of the landscape from a vantage point in Newark, or still more haunting, as part of the distant New York Skyline seen from Garret Mountain in Paterson, I sometimes saw them as something larger than constructions, icons of a generation, bearing the same mythical power as the pyramids. From the Jersey Side of the Hudson River, the two towers stood out from the landscape in a way their older sister; The Empire State Building did not. They climbed up from a cluster of pyramid-topped structures like monoliths from the 1969 movie "2001," markers to a future first contemplated in the exuberance of post World War Two, yet alien the way they towered over all else - the final testimony to American wealth and technological achievements.My grandfather and his children had also stood near Pier A in Hoboken to study the New York City side of the river, our family photo albums thick with snap shots of that landscape - the awe of which was evident even when both sides of the river had a stronger dedication to maritime uses, when ships were as thick as stars here. But the landscape my family saw no longer exists, with Hoboken, Jersey City, Weehawken and West New York embracing changes so vast as to change our lives forever. Yet for all the change we underwent, our mirror image across the Hudson River changed more dramatically still, with the southwestern shore of Manhattan shaped out of the leftovers from the World Trade Center's construction. Much of what I saw in my viewing of lower Manhattan in 2001 did not exist in 1961, with places such as Battery Park City rising up out of the river along with the World Trade Center - as the dirt from the 70-foot deep foundations helped expand Manhattan Island's reach by 23.5 acres.For those of us, whom lived or worked in Hoboken during the 1970s, the birth of the World Trade Center was nearly as dramatic as its death in 2001. As a New York City messenger in 1969 to 1970, I saw the construction of the North tower from the Manhattan side. But for the rest of that decade, I worked as a truck driver, coming into Hoboken weekly to witness the miracle that transpired on the far side of the river, the South tower climbing story by story to match its already established sister, followed by the stubble of other World Trade Center buildings at their feet during the next five years. We saw the sixty-eight miles of steel inch skyward, like the ribs of some mythological giant. We needed no one to translate for us the massive figures of construction materials used to fill out those bones. We could easily believe reports that the towers used more power in one day than most American cities, or for that matter, had more telephones, computers, light fixtures and elevators than most towns or cities. Few entities had such a dramatic or public birth, as millions of people witnessed the process, although this number was easily dwarfed by the millions who managed to witness their death on Sept. 11.But it was not until the 1990s that I became intimate with the two towers, spending hours each week at their feet scribbling out journal entries as I waited for my wife to get out of work, one of the many that settled on the concrete benches, sipping coffee and dunking donuts as rush hour sent its millions down escalators to the PATH trains underneath or wandered into the more than three million square feet of stores. Like many, I witnessed the antics of James Graseck, who for 20 years, serenaded the commuters each Thursday with his classical violin, dressed in a full tuxedo or a flowing white open-at-the-throat blouse. More than 50,000 people worked in the towers alone. Many of the thousands of bankers, Wall Street brokers and others who worked in and around the building later feared for Graseck's life as if for a family member.Yet for most of the 1990s, I lived and worked with those towers as the backdrop of my daily life on the Jersey side of the Hudson River, each day the towers providing an additional aspect no single photograph could ever capture. Their tops often found cover in low-lying clouds, making their eventual loss in columns of smoke hauntingly ironic. From the Jersey side, You could not tell that one twin was slightly taller than the other, despite the same number of floors.From the Jersey side, the character of the twin towers changed daily and depended sharply on the angle at which they were viewed. The towers from Pier A in Hoboken stood amid a cluster of buildings, but from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, they stood as part of a wall marking a vast canyon along that side of the river, with sail boats floating at their feet. More northerly visions of the towers gave them an even different appearance, such as from the palisades of Weehawken where the towers formed the last link in a massive chain of Manhattan buildings, the massive testimony to just how magnificent Manhattan was. Whereas New Yorkers may have celebrated having the towers on their side of the Hudson, we alone on the Jersey side could fully appreciate their beauty, the reflection of the towers on the water, the shimmer of sunset on their 43,000 windows. We sailed towards it by ferry in the morning and away from it at night, thousands of our residents flocking to its PATH tubes in a daily ritual.Had not the New Jersey legislature put up a fuss in the early 1960s to have the location changed to the Hudson River side of the river, it is unlikely the towers would have ever been built, nor seen the blessing of then President John F. Kennedy. Since 1973 - when the towers were finished - every U.S. President has paid it a visit, with President Ronald Reagan using it twice to watch the July 4th fireworks.Invisible to us from our distance, of course, were the remarkable statistics: the eighty-seven tons of food delivered daily to the towers, the 30,000 cups of coffee issued from basement cafes, the seventeen babies born there, or the three dozen movies filmed on or around the towers - the most famous of which was the 1976 remake of King Kong. When Frenchman Pillipe Petit strung his tight rope between the two towers in 1974, we could have seen nothing from our position, nor would George Willig - climbing up the side of one tower - have been visible to us.Something fundamental changed in our relationship to the World Trade Center when terrorists struck the building for the first time in 1993 and we saw plumes of black smoke rising from the top of the towers - helicopters swirling around it like buzzing bees in a desperate attempt to rescue people from the roof. The 1,300 pounds of explosives that ripped up through the garage area stole more than 400 parking spaces, took the lives of six people, injuring a 1,000 more.Windows on the World with its vast collection of rare wine - stayed closed for some time after that, but the flashes continued from the observation deck within months. Although Jersey City was the center of the investigation and the eventual place in which the terrorists were arrested, we felt no guilt, and within a short time, for most of us, the memory faded and we returned to our observations of the towers.During summers in the mid-1990s, we sat on our roof top deck and often watched parade of airplanes that used the Hudson River as a kind of navigating tool - the endless parade of weekend commercial airliners making their final approach or caught in a holding pattern for one of the three area airports, each passing the twin towers.It was this vision that struck me on Sept. 11, when from the top of a roof in Secaucus, I witnessed the second attack airliner making its turn over Newark, a dark shape against the morning sky making a similar approach - an approach that proved final for its passengers and the many victims of the South tower which it hit moments later.

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