Archive for the ‘etc.’ Category.

20 Years Ago Today on September 11...

... I was in Manhattan on a business trip from Seattle.  Ironically, I was running an aviation-related startup and in town to try to convince my investors to fund a new round based on improvements in the commercial aviation business.   Perhaps the least important death that day was of my company.

Along with everyone in the country, we watched with horror though via direct line-of-sight from the penthouse hotel balcony of our wealthy investor.  What we did not know, but would learn over the following months, was how many friends we had that died that day, not surprising in retrospect given that my wife and I were both about a decade out of Harvard b-school and many of our college friends worked in the WTC.  Perhaps our closes friend who died was actually just in for a random training session, a dumb class he did not really even want to attend.  I have thought about that often since, and it has made me more likely to resist meetings and trips that are worthless but where there is pressure to show up (do the Germans have a word for that?)

The rest of the day we spent interacting with jittery people on the street who would literally flatten on the ground when a military jet flew low, something that happened a lot that day.  At one point a wall of humanity covered in dust made it to our part of the island, refugees who were in and around the buildings when they collapsed.  The scene that night in Manhattan was weird, like a post-apocalyptic Charlton Heston movie.  Never before or since in my lifetime has Manhattan ever been so quiet at night.  Everyone was leaving the island, and no one was being allowed to enter.  We finally found a place to eat on Broadway near Times Square, where a car would drive by maybe once every 5 minutes.

Fortunately for us we found a friend wandering around Central Park who lived out West too and had the last rent car in Manhattan.  We drove all the way across the country, though the first bit was the hardest.  Out of some weird security concern, we were told that cars were only be allowed to exit the island via one road, but they could not tell us which one it was.  We circumnavigated Manhattan getting this same response at each bridge and tunnel, until someone finally told us the only way out was up north via the GW bridge.  When we got to the Jersey side, it again looked like a zombie movie or something, with miles and miles of cars stopped coming into the city and empty roads going out.

[as a side-note to this, growing up in the 70's I was treated to any number of movies that portrayed Harlem as some kind of blighted no-go zone to be avoided by all white people -- but the Harlem of the 2001 was just another place, certainly not wildly prosperous but not necessarily to be avoided either, certainly better looking than the Robert Moses-destroyed Bronx.  I appreciated the opportunity to have my perceptions changed.  Though to be fair in the 1970's Central Park was portrayed as a no-go zone too and today is is one of my favorite urban spaced in the world].

The Ken Burns series on New York has a good add-on episode entirely dedicated to the WTC -- from conception to construction to destruction, with a high-wire crossing in the middle (if you have not seen the documentary Man on Wire about this, it is well worth the view).  I have spent time in the buildings, and I think they had a mixed legacy architecturally.  I thought the interiors sucked, with long waits for elevators and crappy views via too-small windows (the exception being Windows on the World, for a while the highest-grossing restaurant in the world and a place I was fortunate enough to experience once).  The exteriors worked for me as sculpture, and I thought they were beautiful especially from a boat on the water.