Chapter 20: A Southern Boy’s Reflections on New York on September 11th

This is a repost from Lostinthe21stCentury.com, my other blog, from back in May.  September 11th seemed like a good day to visit it again.

New posts for this blog are under construction and coming soon…

I am blessed to be able to go to New York at least 3 or 4 times a year- for either business or pleasure.  I can say, with no shame, guilt or qualification that I love New York.  As I have said before, I’ve had my love affairs with London and Paris, but I always come home to New York as my favorite city.  It is the most alive place I have ever been.

I know people go to New York to escape where they are from or who they may have been before.  That’s part of the magic.  Nothing is as it really seems.  From Broadway to the Bronx, you create your own reality in New York.  But it is always alive and you can’t hide from life in New York.  At least not easily.

In other parts of the country, you can isolate yourself.  You can’t do that in New York.  You can only have so much delivered.  You have to go out.  And when you go out, life smacks you in the face.

See, one of the reasons New York is both so Democratic and democratic is that you can’t help but interact with people who are different from you.  You are all in it–life in New York– together wether you like it or not.  You run into a multitude of diversity on the subway.  Walking down the block to the bodega on the corner.  Sure, each neighborhood is a unique little space, but you still aren’t isolated from the bigger space.  This makes you think and understand the people are both different, but the same, and that you need to work together to make life better for all of us.

One of the reasons the South other parts of the country can be so inbred and ignorant of diversity is that it’s so easy in those places to only socialize with “people like you”.   That type of isolation can only happen in New York if you are very, very rich.  And even then, with the influx of so much New Money, it’s still more diverse than it once was…

That’s why September 11th will always haunt that city.  It was a flash point that is still real and raw.  New York always goes on and goes forward.   Nothing stops New York.  But this last trip to New York, I was more aware of how September 11th still haunts the city than I had been in some time.

See, the last few years, when have been in New York on business, I usually stay at the Embassy Suites at the World Financial Center.  It looks out over the river and is a rather peaceful hotel.  This time, it was full, so I had to stay elsewhere.

This time,  I was staying in a hotel that barely survived that horrible day 9 years ago.  I was at the Millenium Hilton, which is right across the street from the World Trade Center site.  It was heavily damaged that day and it was questionable if it would ever re-open.  It did, about a year and a half later, after being stripped to the  concrete and steel frame and being completely redone.  I read almost 90% of the former Hotel employees returned to work there when it reopened.  This week I was amazed to hear some of the less than sensitive guests-usually European tourists- trying to quiz them in the dining room.  They all claimed to have been off that day….It’s scary to think people now just see this all as a tourist attraction.

My room, this week at the Millenium Hilton, looked directly down on the World Trade Center site.  Looking down on the site brought a lot of new thoughts and perspective to me.  I’ve been walking past the World Trade Center site for 9 years now and it just seemed a big construction site.  A curiosity.  It had been there so long it had become impersonal.

I’ve always been thrown, geographically speaking, since 9-11, when going back to the Financial District.  I still can’t get my bearings without the Trade Centers.  They were such a defining part of my journey when I first started going to New York.

When I first started going to New York on business, I always stayed at the Marriott World Trade Center.  I would leave my room to walk through the lobby into the South Tower of the Trade Center and walk across the Sky Bridge over West End Avenue into the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center.  From there, I could easily go to my company Headquarters.

It was kind of heady stuff for a little boy from Danville, VA and I never lost my sense of awe of the Trade Centers and being a little part of the Financial District and this amazing part of New York.  I loved staying at the Marriott World Trade Center and going to the Mall under the Trade center to pick up things I might have forgotten, or to just waste time,  or to catch the Subway there uptown to Broadway shows.  It was all so self contained and safe.  And in retrospect, very un-New York.  It was safe, but sterile.  We all know now, that was an illusion.

This week for the first time, I faced the ruins of all that.  Literally.  My room at the Hilton Millenium looked down on the World Trade Center site and the construction there.  I was happy to see that, for the first time in years, progress was being made on rebuilding the site.  But as I looked more closely and I became more disturbed.

When I checked in, the front desk said to try my room, but they would move me if it was disturbing.  I quickly saw why they said that.

I went to my room and opened the drapes.  Looking down from the 38th Floor of the Hilton, I could clearly see the footprints of the North and South Towers of the Trade Center.  I could see where the Marriott had been.   I had last stayed at the Marriott two months before it all came down.  For the first time, I could see what had been.  My geographic disorientation was gone and I was re-oriented to the way it had been.  It all came back to me.  And it all become more real than it had been for years…

I didn’t sleep well this trip.  Looking down on that site, I could not help but feel the presence of unquiet spirits.  I knew almost 3000 people, from waiters to stock brokers, from maids to Masters of the Universe, from Firemen to bellhops had died at the space I was looking down on from my, theoretically, safe luxury hotel.  I felt their spirits and their energy still in the air.  It has not settled yet.  I wonder if it ever will.

But New York is not a settled town.  It’s an old town built on top of layers of loss.  It’s rare to see so much space exposed-especially in the old part of New York downtown.  Maybe that is where the energy comes from.  The wound that is still open and not yet glossed over.  The evidence and the knowledge is still exposed that life is fast and fragile and we are all, no matter our social station, in it together.  And we ultimately need each other to make it all work.  I think that’s why I really love that town…

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3 Responses to Chapter 20: A Southern Boy’s Reflections on New York on September 11th

  1. Pingback: Chapter 21: A Southern Boy’s Reflections on New York on September 11th | My Southern Gothic Life « Lost in the 21st Century

  2. Renee says:

    I love what you said about all of us being in this together. Life is fragile and is faced better when you have others to share it with you.

  3. lynda says:

    My husband is a fanatic for NYC history. He reads everything from academic research to diaries of 18th century farmers. It is so true, NYC is built on layers of loss but it is also built on layers of glory and community. Every corner you turn reveals a new story.

    This summer I kayaked off lower Manhattan. Try bobbing on the waves at sea level to gain a very different perspective and fall in love with her again!

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