Susan Ryder has one regret . . .
It was just before I left Connecticut and eight of us had decided to treat ourselves to dinner at Windows on the World, the revolving restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center in New York City. At the last minute I pulled out citing fiscal prudence. Shortly thereafter I was leaving the east coast to backpack across the continent and decided that my money would be better reserved for that. My friends were disappointed, but accepted that they weren’t going to change my mind.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t been to the Twin Towers before, I told myself. And it wasn’t like I hadn’t seen the view from the top in spite of my dislike for heights. There are some things you must do in certain cities and a trip to the Observation Deck of the WTC fell into that category. I decided that I didn’t need to go up again and spend a lot of money to boot.
I used to spend weekends in Manhattan, courtesy of a friend who lived in a tiny apartment directly across from the United Nations on 1st & 42nd. Eileen was an Off-Off Broadway actress who spent periods of time performing out of town and generously gave me a key to her shoebox to come and go as I pleased. We’d met in London a few years earlier and kept in touch, which turned out to be a bonus for me.
My favourite time in the city was first thing Saturday morning. The weekday commuters were at home and the weekend tourists were yet to flock in, leaving the place briefly to native New Yorkers. Contrary to popular belief, I never found them unfriendly; quite the reverse, albeit brutally frank. Nor were they quiet, discreet discussion being unknown to them. And while it was often hilarious, I’m not going to talk about that today.
I went to the WTC on my first visit to the city. The financial district surrounding Wall Street has a definite ambience that doesn’t disappear when the markets close. It emits an atmosphere of power and wealth, particularly in those golden Reagan years. I found it enthralling. And the Twin Towers hovered over it all.
It’s difficult to describe just how big they were to anyone who never saw them up close and impersonal. In order to see the top while standing directly in front, I had to lean so far back I felt sick and even then, I still couldn’t see it. On paper, they were two very tall building blocks. In reality, they were majestic.
Fifteen years later I watched them disintegrate after the terrorist attacks that fateful September morning. Thankfully, I never lost a personal friend that day, but I’ll never know if any of the casual friends with whom I never kept in touch were among the fatalities. I do know of people who lost loved ones though, including the little girl who waited after school for the dad who would never collect her and the young man who started his first job in the South Tower that morning, who deliberately arrived early in order to make a good impression.
I also know that my blood boiled the next day when I heard the mother of a senior Epsom Girls’ Grammar School student report that some of her daughter’s Muslim classmates openly clapped and cheered the acts of terror. It is fair to suggest that these students will almost certainly have been echoing their parents’ beliefs, which begs the question as to the suitability of their residency. If you think that’s harsh, too bad. It is madness to bestow residency, let alone citizenship, upon anyone who would sympathise with terrorism against western culture.
I don’t think I met a New Yorker who liked the Twin Towers. In fact they loved to hate them, “butt ugly” being the descriptive term of choice. But I bet they’d give anything to be able to whinge about them again.
My friends had a wonderful time at Windows on the World that evening and were quick to let me know. I still believe I made the right decision at the time but, having said that, I’ve never missed out on anything appealing since. Life is too short for self-denial.
But after the Towers were destroyed, I was resolute. I decided that there were too many good memories upon which to dwell from those great days, as opposed to regretting an evening I never had, in a restaurant I never visited.
I wouldn’t give those murderers the satisfaction.
* * Read Susan Ryder’s column here every Tuesday. * *