In August of 1995, Wonder Woman’s parents, who could not believe that the long-haired schmuck their daughter was dating was so much of a rube that he had never in all of his 25 years of living in the Northeast been to New York City, decided to take their daughter and said rube on a whirlwind tour of Manhattan Island.
We drove from Philly to Jersey, then took the ferry across the Hudson. The picture shown above, as awful and grainy as it is (I wasn’t into photography back then), is basically the first view I ever had of New York City.
Once we reached the other side, we drove off the ferry, and our first stop was the World Trade Center. My mother-in-law waited in the car while my father-in-law took us inside and up to the observatory. I could not believe how huge the city was (nor how huge the towers were).
We worked our way north, stopping at various noteworthy locations along the way, and at one point posed for this photo.
I immediately fell in love with New York City; in fact, WW and I drove back down in my P.O.S. Hyundai just a few days later in order to attend a taping of “The Late Show with David Letterman” during which Van Halen was the musical guest. (Another story for another time.)
In the six years that followed, I went to New York City every chance I got. When 9/11 happened, I felt my gut wrenched in a way that I don’t think it would have been had I never spent any time there. If you’ve never been there, you can’t fathom what the place is like, and I believe that anyone who had spent time there prior to 9/11 probably experienced the destruction of the Towers in a more visceral way than those who had never been.
In October of 2001, Wonder Woman and I had plans to celebrate our third wedding anniversary by spending the first weekend of that month in New York City with her parents, as well her brother and his wife, who were celebrating their seventh anniversary. My father-in-law, at the time, worked in the Bronx, and commuted there from Philadelphia by train every day. He was in the Bronx on 9/11, and I dare say that he experienced the destruction of the Towers in a more visceral way than most people. We had made our plans well in advance, and in the immediate wake of the attacks, we looked to him to decide whether or not we’d still go through with them. He said we should, so we did. I’m glad he chose that way.
Being in Manhattan three-and-a-half weeks after the Towers fell was beyond surreal. The walls outside the train stations were covered with pictures of people who were missing, and there was a general pall on the city. It felt like a different place.
We saw Bjork perform at Radio City Music Hall our first night in town. Before the show, we went to the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller center, and from there, we saw the beams of light that shone in place of the fallen towers. It was almost impossible to believe they were gone.
The next day, we went down to “Ground Zero.” The air was still filled with smoke and irritants, and it doesn’t surprise me that many workers developed respiratory problems, because three-and-a-half weeks after the attacks, the air quality was such that I was coughing and my eyes were watering.
As you would imagine, standing there and looking at the wreckage … the damage to all the surrounding buildings … it drove it home in a way the television can’t. The magnitude of it all was just mind-boggling. A massive piece of the world — one of its most recognizable, iconic pieces, at that — had been summarily deleted. It stretched the limits of human comprehension.
In recent days, while marking the eighth anniversary of the tragedy, I’ve often heard people say, or seen them write, “We must never forget.” I understand the sentiment behind those words, but I honestly don’t know if the words themselves are apropos; how could anyone ever forget? Is that even possible?
I know I could never forget, even if I wanted to. Fortunately, I’ll also never forget what it was like when the Towers were still there.