World Trade Center

For a New Yorker who was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, I don’t have a harrowing or even very interesting story. I was not near the Towers; I was not near death. I did not see the planes. My life was not saved by a delayed train or by bringing my child to school or by voting in the mayoral primary or by stopping for coffee or by a heroic act by a fellow New Yorker.

I was at my desk in Midtown when the planes hit. As word spread, I gathered with coworkers to watch, horrified, on the news as the Towers burned and then fell, as the Pentagon smoldered. With thousands of others, I walked to Queens over the 59th Street Bridge, and then I got a ride home from a coworker. It was a sad, even terrifying day for me, but not a particularly dangerous one.

Eight years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I find myself still in awe of the brave passengers who crashed their plane in Pennsylvania. Still in awe of the firefighters who climbed the Towers to rescue my friends, relatives and neighbors despite the obvious dangers in doing so. Still in awe of the ordinary citizens who, simply by being employed in New York’s two tallest office buildings, became unwitting soldiers in our constant battle against hatred and destruction. Still in awe of the scores of volunteers who sifted through the rubble while I watched on TV from the safety and comfort of my home and my family.

empire-state-building

The photo above is the view out of one of the windows in my office today.

I never appreciated the Empire State Building when I was a kid. I think I must have been about 16 before I even went inside for the first time. And even as a young adult I took it for granted. In my defense, though, the countless movies, the millions of postcards, and the urban legends about killing people with pennies have unfortunately had the collective effect of turning the building into something of a cliche.

But after September 11, 2001, well, without getting too weepy, the Empire State Building took on a new significance. Not just by retaking its crown as the city’s tallest building and as the true anchor of the New York skyline, but by truly embodying the best of New York. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s brash. Looking at the skyline in a certain way (literally or figuratively), you could even see the Empire State Building as a giant middle finger extended to the rest of the world. But it has the game to back up the trash talk. And it’s so much more than just brute strength and attitude; it’s a beautiful and elegant example of New York architecture at its best.

The building has had its share of tragedy, including a deadly accidental plane crash in 1945 and the almost-as-unforgivable 1976 King Kong remake starring Jeff Bridges.

But for the past two years I’ve been lucky enough to see it up close every day as part of my commute, and I’ve come to truly appreciate both its gargantuan scale and its quiet grace.

(Side note: You know that old joke about something being so big it has its own zip code? It probably originated with the Empire State Building, which does in fact have its own zip code: 10118.)

(Side note, take 2: Several years ago I was in St. Louis for the day and saw a restaurant called the Empire Steak Building. Needless to say I had no choice but to eat there. Sadly, I hear the place is no longer in business.)

Every morning, when I walk into my 28th-floor office, the first thing I see is the view we have of the ESB. It’s not a bad way to start the day. This winter has been an especially overcast one with very few sunny days. (I’m speaking literally here, about the local weather, but if you want to take it as a metaphor for the country’s woes, I won’t stop you.) Needless to say I’ve been enjoying the sunnier skies this week, and the great view of New York’s middle finger.


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