Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11/16: Remembering the Twin Towers

The first thing we had in mind when we got to New York recently was visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (9/11 Memorial in short), which opened on the anniversary day five years ago, 

The Memorial consists of twin pools, each about an acre in size, surrounded by bronze parapets where names of the people killed in the attacks of 11 September 2001 and 26 February 1993 are inscribed.  The north and south pools are set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers, which were known then as One and Two World Trade Center (WTC), also as North and South Towers, respectively. 

The Twin Towers and The Sphere at the 9/11 Museum. Photo by the author.

The first item we saw upon entry to the Museum was a blow-up picture of the Twin Towers with the large metallic sculpture called The Sphere in the foreground. And as we gazed at it, memories of more than 30 years ago came flooding in.

In 1982, for six months, we commuted from upper west Manhattan via the A Express subway train to Cortlandt to get to the World Trade Center. We would get into the the express elevator to the 78th floor sky lobby where we'd transfer to the local elevator to get to our cubicle at the 89th floor. We were in training in health physics with Ebasco Services, the largest tenant then of Two WTC (South Tower), occupying 16 floors between the 77th and 93rd. 

Up and down these elevators became quite routine for the lunch breaks either at the ground floor or around the neighborhood, and for the rush to the PATH or to the subway stations nearby for those heading home to New Jersey or elsewhere in New York, respectively,

We were originally facing the windows through which we could see the canyon of buildings on Broadway. One time as we were looking at the view of buildings from our desk, we suddenly realized that the tower was swaying: the vertical frames of the windows were moving vis-a-vis the skyscraper in the distance.  That made us turn the table around, and henceforth, had our back to the windows as we pored through our training materials.

We remembered taking a picture of the Twin Towers before we left New York for a job training in Tennessee. There had also been other pictures that we took at the lobby where the giant tapestry of Joan Miro hang, and those at the top, where, on clear, sunny days, we could see the city and New Jersey as far as our eyes could reach.

The Twin Towers, Oct 1982. Photo by the author.
Our picture of the towers reminded us that on the day before 9/11, we were at the Austin J. Tobin Plaza, near The Sphere, and we had fun looking at two young Frenchmen trying to get a souvenir photo of themselves with the top of the towers as background. One of them had to lie down with a camera so that he can get the other one framed by the towers as he stood on the parapet around The Sphere. 

This sculptural piece, badly damaged, is installed at the Battery Park, We learned that it would be relocated within the 9/11 Memorial. 

The damaged The Sphere at Battery Park. Photo by the author.

On 9/11, we were preparing to leave our friend's house in Queens for the WTC because we wanted to buy a discounted ticket for a Broadway musical. I think it was The Producer, at a TKTs booth there to avoid the long queues at Times Square. We were having coffee and watching TV. When the first plane struck one of the towers, we thought an accident had just happened. We were all glued to the breaking news still unaware that these were terrorist attacks. When the towers came down, the young man in the house was almost in panic, deeply worried of  his friends who were working within the WTC complex. 

Subway trains to lower Manhattan were suspended that day. Some lines were opened the next day and we could get to the Penn Station on 34th Street. The Amtrak trains were running, and we decided to leave for Boston.

The train was full, and everybody it seemed had a newspaper to read. The headlines were all about the terror that hit the United States on 9/11: the attacks on the towers and the Pentagon, and an aborted one due to the heroic act of the passengers.

Relics from the towers at the 9/11 Museum. Photo by the author.

We felt the terrorist scare when we were approaching Providence, Rhode Island. Suddenly, without explanation, the train stopped on the tracks. The wait for it to resume running became stressful and tense. The mobile phones of passengers calling their friends or families provided the logical answer to our predicament. Our train was stopped because authorities were searching another train on the other track for suspected terrorists.

The parapet around the 9/11 Memorial pools. Photo by the author.

9/11 wrought a drastic change in the airport departure protocols. We were among the first to taste stricter security procedures from Boston to San Francisco on our way home to Manila a week after. We remember that our check-in baggage were selected for inspection in Boston, and we had a good laugh with the inspector regarding the large quantity of chocolate candies we were bringing home. They were very alert for pointed objects.  In San Francisco, a good friend who was on the same flight with us had a micro screw driver in his carry-on. He argued that it's something not easy to find in Manila, hence, as an accommodation, it was wrapped, tagged, and checked in, in a way, with the flight crew.

9/11 reverberates in every airport around the world. One can not even get a bottle of water past security. 

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