|Dangerspouse Rides Again|
Garage - Track
Sept. 11, 2010 - 3:22 p.m.
The Two Towers
Did you ever miss Something Big and regret it? Even though you probably shouldn't?
Years ago I worked in the World Trade Center. Twice, actually.
The first time I was a punk college kid, full of shit. I had a night job teaching wine courses at the International Wine Center in midtown Manhattan, on nights I wasn't cooking in restaurants. The pay was awful, but it was all you could drink. After a year I lied my way into a similar position downtown at "Windows on the World" restaurant, at the top of 1-World Trade Center. They had a world famous wine collection, world famous wine director (Kevin Zraly) and world famous prices. That only lasted a few months. They wouldn't let me drink.
Then after I graduated I took a temporary job as...well actually, I'm not sure what you'd call it. I worked for Cargill Investor Services counting up obscene amounts of money that obscenely rich vultures made each day trading on the New York Commodities Exchange. Which was 8 floors below our office in one of the World Trade towers. It took no skill other than the ability to count, suppress indignation, and chew bile. I was basically a high altitude Bob Cratchett. That lasted until someone saw fit to hire me in the field of my degree (fools).
A year after that I flushed my degree down the toilet and took a Vow of Poverty (ie: went into radio). But I still lived right across the water in Jersey City and would pop into NY whenever I could. For the social and cultural events I couldn't afford.
I always liked the World Trade Center. A funny thing about it: when you stood at the base and looked up, it really didn't look very tall. I know that must sound odd (or insane), but it's true. I don't know if it was an optical illusion, the inherent inability humans have judging aerial distances, or my brain shutting down in alarm when presented with something tremendously monumental (the excuse I give when I fall asleep during sex). But either way, the closer you got to the thing the more it shrunk.
Inside, it was America in 1/3 scale. That is to say, a gigantic mall with lots of unemployed people huddled in the shadows that no one ever admitted to seeing. There were tremendous restaurants too, in addition to that famous "Windows" up in the nosebleed section.
But my favorite part was the PATH Train escalator in the basement. Seriously, what an escalator! I think it may have been the longest in the world at the time. The base was something like a half a mile under the bedrock, so far down you were always bumping into Chilean miners hiding from their wives. People would actually doze off on the long ride up, and you'd see them jerk and stagger when their step reached the top...and they didn't step.
Not far behind on the Impress-o-Meter were the elevators. They were insanely, even painfully, fast. They had to be if your office was on the 824'th floor and you had to be at work by 9. You stepped in, pressed your floor, and a low hum would start. Whisps of smoke would seep under the door crack, like the space shuttle when it's about to take off, and suddenly: whoooooooosh!. Your knees buckled, fluids started draining out of your eyes, and your ears popped, all at once. If you took a car to the observation deck at the top of the building, it went so fast that when you arrived your watch was a tenth of a second behind because of relativity.
Nine years ago today, I was a radio traffic reporter for what was then "Shadow Traffic". Shadow's - now Westwood One's - studios are in New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, right next to the Meadowlands Sports Complex where the NY Giants and NY Jets play (even though they won't admit it). It's on an upper floor, and the kitchen and window studios look out over the NYC skyline.
My shift back then was from 3 am to 9:05 am. Except on Tuesdays, when at 9 am I took over the last 3 hours of the 1010WINS morning guy's shift so he could do some managerial stuff, like payroll and scheduling.
September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday morning. At around 8:50am I was just coming out of my studio to take over from the 1010WINS guy down the hall when I heard a commotion breaking out in the producers' area.
Our traffic producers sit in front of a long bank of monitors, police scanners, intra-net feeds from state transportation agencies, etc. We have cameras mounted over busy roads all around the region that can zoom in and pan over long distances. Tip: don't pick your nose if you're ever driving up the Gowanus Expressway from the Belt to the Brooklyn Bridge. Just sayin'.
Anyway, the producers are normally as indolent and apathetic as the rest of us, and you don't hear much other than snores coming from that part of the building on any given morning unless one of them gets a birthday strip-o-gram or something. So to hear them roused into something that sounded like action was a curiosity. I diverted to see what was up.
"What's up?" I asked.
"It sounds like a commuter plane may have hit one of the World Trade Center towers" a producer said. "Or maybe a helicopter. Not sure yet. We just heard something about it on the scanner. I'm gonna see if we can get a look."
He dialed up the camera we had at the Holland Tunnel with one hand while stuffing a jelly donut into his face with the other.
"Wow" he said as he swung the camera up and around. "It looks like the top of the World Trade Center's on fire."
"I bet it was O.J." I said. "He probably thinks he can get away with anything now."
The producer laughed and started dialing up our East River cameras to get a different view.
Meanwhile, the 1010WINS reporter I was supposed to relieve at 9am walked over and told me he was going to stay on the air. The World Trade Center fire might cause big traffic problems in lower Manhattan, or at least subway disruptions, and he wanted to reap the glory by reporting it. (Ok, he didn't say that last bit specifically. But I know how this business works.)
That was fine with me. It was a beautiful sunny day and I'd be just as happy leaving work early to spend it on my motorcycle. All I had to do was file my last report at 9:05 and I could do just that.
More announcers started filing in to the producer's pen to gawk at the monitors as their own morning drive shifts ended.
I watched the smoke rising up from from the North Tower for a few more minutes before having to get back and file my report. 'I wonder if the heat will end up damaging any of the wines upstairs at 'Windows'?' I thought. 'Nahhh. They'll get the flames out before they climb 30 more stories to the restaurant.'
I turned and went back down the hall towards my studio.
I got about 5 steps when everybody behind me back in the producer area screamed simultaneously.
Mere seconds after I turned away from the monitors, Plane #2 slammed into the South Tower.
And I missed it!
All I saw when I spun towards the screaming was more smoke and flames.
God damn it!
Oh well. I only had seconds to go before I had to be back on the air, so I couldn't worry about it. I ran into the studio, threw my headphones on, and started talking. I finished my report with something like "... if you're heading into Manhattan on this beautiful day to enjoy some of the sights, be aware we have some excitement going on downtown with a big police investigation at the World Trade Center. There might be some local street closures, so if you're heading that way take a subway or bus. Have a great day!" The end.
I flipped my mic off, packed up my gear, and walked down to the kitchen to look at the Trade Center from the window. It was surreal. In a horrid way, it was actually beautiful. The weather was perfect - not a cloud in the sky - and if you've ever seen Manhattan from across one of the rivers on a day like that, the sun reflects gold off many of the buildings. And today it looked like two candles were blazing merrily away at the tip of the island, as if it were on the end of a birthday cake made to represent the New York City skyline.
At that time, just minutes after the impacts, the enormity of what'd happened wasn't apparent. We knew it was bad - at this point no one thought it was an accident, like it seemed when the first plane hit - but nobody imagined yet that we were looking at a historical dividing line.
I hung around for a half an hour, just in case any station wanted extra reports and I was needed. But they didn't, at least not from me. So I headed home.
I drove down Route 3 to Route 46, and took 46 to Route 23. But they were doing repairs on the ramp to 23 and it was backing things up. Savvy traffic reporter that I am, I dove off beforehand and worked my way around on Riverview Drive, which I knew would re-connect me to 23 past the construction site.
The whole trip I was listening to 1010WINS to see what was happening downtown. Nobody knew, still, many specifics. But reports were coming in saying all the bridges and tunnels into and out of Manhattan were being closed down, and all air traffic around the country being grounded.
Fifteen minutes into my trip home, at just about 10 am, I was stopped at a red light on Riverview Drive. There were around 20 cars sitting with me at the same light.
Anchor: "We go live now to our reporter on the scene, News Newsguy."
Newsguy: "Oh my god, it looks like one of the towers just collapsed!"
Anchor: "Did you say one of the towers collapsed? Are you sure...?"
The light turned green.
People around me were getting out of their cars, staring back in at their radios as if they had just started spurting blood. Nobody who stayed in their cars honked.
"Can you fucking believe it?" the guy in the car next to me yelled over. "This is fucked up!"
It certainly was. I mean...if I'd stayed at work just FIFTEEN MINUTES LONGER I could have seen it happen LIVE.
I missed it again!
God DAMN it.
Don't get me wrong. It's not like I get some perverse pleasure out of watching people suffer horrendous tragedy.
It's just that, well...
See, here's the thing.
9/11 was granted almost immediate religious status in this country. It became an actual deity. You shall have no other gods before it, you shall not take its name in vain, the whole thing. If you don't worship it, its followers will smite you.
And its ground, for some undefined and undetermined distance, is now Holy Ground (including the Burger King, the brothel(s), the pawn shop, and the NEW glittering excess mall to be built exactly where the old one imploded at what is actually, technically, bulls-eye-dead-center Ground Zero).
Like all deities, anyone who was ever lucky enough to have been in their physical presence is also granted significant status. Imagine being there when Jesus got hammered (literally) and then 3 days later showing up in time to see him turn into a zombie. Or you're a shepherd holding your mule one night at the Dome of the Rock when an angel and a scruffy guy walk up to you and the angel says "Hey kid, I need your horse" and you say "It's not a horse, it's a donkey...or maybe a mule" and he says "Whatever, we need it. Muhammad here needs to fly it into heaven" and you say "But - ". But it's already too late. All you see is the horse's tail and a quick glint of asshole as they disappear overhead. In either scenario, you'd be famous! People would worship you as a Saint, almost as much as the deity you, through no fault of your own, bumped into.
So it was with 9/11. I knew guys who were going down to the bars in Hoboken the next week and getting laid strictly on the strength of their having seen the second plane hit. Or one of the towers come down. And we're talking lumpy, fat assed slobs who previously couldn't even get the tranny hookers outside the Lincoln Tunnel to take their money. But they were there. BINGO! They're in, giggity giggity!
And, of course, anyone who was there now has the Moral Infallibility card on all issues 9/11. You see them pop up in forums discussing the design of the Freedom Tower, FAA flight patterns over the City, or (now) the proposed Islamic community center. They invariably start their thread killer with: "Well I was THERE pal, and let me tell you -".
End of argument. How do you argue with a Saint? A Saint who "was there".
I am not a Saint.
I'm not a Saint because I didn't actually see when Something Big happened. I missed it. Twice. "I almost saw god" doesn't matter to god's acolytes.
And I regret that. I could have used a Feast Day, or my own order of nuns.
Oh well. At least I have NewWifey(tm). And I don't (usually) need to drive to a bar in Hoboken to nail her (figuratively).
The lord works in mysterious ways....
Have a great day, kids! Try not to collapse on me.