They say that everything is relative. I was thinking about that today as I was walking to work. I went in later than normal due to an appointment I had in Midtown this morning so it was sometime after 10 a.m. that I came up from the Fulton Street subway station and began the long walk over to the World Financial Center.
Lower Manhattan is a ghost town. But everything is relative, so in relation to a true ghost town, of course Lower Manhattan is nothing of the sort; but in relation to what it was prior to 9/11, it is. These streets that used to be teeming with people through the working day now barely moves. Then I have to remind myself of the 40,000-some people that used to work in The Towers and surrounding buildings that are located elsewhere. Not to mention the 100,000 or so that used to go through the WTC everyday, thousands pouring off of the escalators coming up from the PATH trains – tourists, commuters, shoppers, visitors. Take that many people out of an area and it inevitably will make the remaining parts feel practically deserted.
My walk to the office takes me on almost the same route I used to take when I worked at 100 Church Street back in 1999-2000. Up from the Fulton Street station, down Fulton between the church and the Millennium Hilton (a strange, skinny, black modern-looking building that I was shocked to hear it survived the collapse of the WTC). I cross Church Street on the same pedestrian crossing zones that I used to take that would put you right in front of The Towers. The courtyard had been right in front with its giant fountain and the benches where I used to eat lunch on nice days. There had been a Krispy Kreme on the corner next to a huge Borders bookstore – two places I frequented at least once a week. Now there’s nothing there but a fence. I used to love the view down Fulton Street looking towards Church, but now I find it depressing. There’s such a giant void.like someone came and took out some of my favorite things about New York.
What used to be exhilarating is now difficult. What was found has now been lost. I focus on the ground when I walk because I do not want to have to look at the reality. I’m afraid of forgetting what it was like – I have such fond memories that I’m afraid will fade away into nothing.
Across Church Street, I keep my eyes on the church which was opposite the WTC. It is the church where George Washington went to pray the morning he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States. That church was here long before The Towers were ever thought of, and I can’t help but marvel at the fact that it still stands even after all that happened. There is not a mark on it. They say it was protected by the trees that stand around it. I think it was the Hand of God.
I begin the walk down Vesey Street. There are tourists everywhere staring at the site through rips and tears in the netting that covers the fence around the WTC. They stare and take pictures of nothing. Something about that strikes me as terribly odd. “What are you taking pictures of?!” I want to scream at them, “There’s nothing there!” In logic, I understand why they’re there but there’s something in me that just can’t see the reasoning in taking pictures of it. Do people take pictures of a plot of ground where a house once stood after it’s burned down? You take pictures because you want to freeze a happy moment in time – no one takes pictures at a funeral, to me this seems just as inappropriate. Buy pictures of The Towers before 9/11, or come back and take pictures of it after they’ve restored the area. Right now it’s still too full of emptiness and devastation. But the Tourists don’t have a clue. They should listen to the stories of some of my friends and coworkers that were there.
Now I have to cross over West Street on foot – come rain or sleet or snow. It used to be that once you got into the WTC, you could walk all the way over to the World Financial Center without ever having to set foot outside again. Not anymore. The pedestrian bridge is gone along with so many other things. They’re rebuilding a bridge, but it won’t be the same – although I will be glad to have a way to get across without contending with the traffic – especially in the rain which seems to only fall horizontally down here.
The Winter Garden is eerily the same, although I haven’t quite gotten used to the marble stairs that lead up to where the pedestrian bridge used to connect from the North Tower of the WTC. Now it’s just a giant wall of glass, probably 3 times my height with a giant banner across it which reads: “From Recovery to Renewal”. Tourists gather at this glass wall and continue to stare at the same nothing they saw from the walk over here. At least in here, when they take pictures, it’s worth it. The whole building is basically a giant dome of glass. The sun beats in, and the rain pits itself against the windows. The palm trees (also 9/11 survivors) stand tall and proud. The Winter Garden is once again full of shops and restaurants and has fabulous views of the Hudon River from its lower doors and windows. Our office windows also face the river which truly is a treat to look at all day.
I’m sure all this will grow easier as time goes on, after all, I’ve only been doing this commute again for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I need to keep my eyes focused on the church, the trees, the river, and their Creator.