Sept. 11 probably started out just like any other day for the electricians working at the World Trade Center. Many probably grabbed a bagel and coffee at their favorite deli on the way to work. They took the same service elevators to job sites on one of the 110 floors in the Twin Towers.
At the job, Giants fans whined about their team's loss the night before to the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. Yankees fans rubbed the pennant run of their Bronx Bombers in the faces of fans of their cross-town rivals, the New York Mets.
Some of the new guys on the jobs may have just been sent on coffee runs when something went horribly wrong. Within 18 minutes of each other, two jetliners crashed into two irreplaceable icons of the New York skyline.
Suddenly, a lot of things weren't so important any more to the electrical workers in those buildings. Forget about the distributor shorting an order by a few locknuts, the squirrelly conduit run installed by a new apprentice or the picky-picky electrical inspector who would be on the job later in the day. Forget about jobs running behind, or union versus nonunion issues. Those workers had to get themselves out of the buildings alive.
At press time, the IBEW Local No. 3 Web site said well over 200 Local No. 3 members were working at the World Trade Center at the time of the attack and that 16 union members were missing and presumed dead. For one electrical apprentice, it was his first day on the job. One is too many; 16 are unfathomable. Among the missing and presumed dead is Michael Lowe, a truck driver for Liberty Electrical Supply, Brooklyn, N.Y. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those lost.
I was born in Brooklyn 44 years ago, not all that far from where the World Trade Center would be built one day. I still remember the windy winter day when my father took my two brothers and me to see the construction of the World Trade Center. Looking out over the vast construction site, he said in a monumental tone reserved for just such an occasion, “Boys, this will be the tallest building in the world when it is finished.”
We loved it. The hole in the ground was huge. The steel girders were huge. Even the bolts lying around the job site were huge to us, much bigger than any bolt we ever found in my dad's workshop.
From that day on, the World Trade Center was always a special place for me. I would get there occasionally on business, while working in Manhattan for this magazine, or passing through its subterranean subway tunnels after work on the way to a night out on the town.
The Twin Towers were just a long subway ride from the magazine's offices in McGraw-Hill's Rockefeller Center office building, where I worked for eight years. I remember the day when GE Lighting had a press conference in the posh Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the one of the towers to show off the lighting job it had just finished at the newly refurbished Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, but the day of the event it was so foggy, no one could see a thing.
The World Trade Center was always a great place to take people visiting New York for the first time to see the city. Love or hate New York, the views from the observation deck were unforgettable.
The Twin Towers never looked more magnificent to me than the Sunday morning when I saw them glimmering in the bright morning sunshine with the other 20,000-plus runners on the Verranzano Narrows Bridge at the start of the 1999 New York Marathon. I also always loved to see the World Trade Center, that familiar touchstone, on my many airplane flights back home to Newark Airport.
It's gone now. Utterly, imponderably gone.
In light of these tragic events, it seems strange how much a building can mean to us, whether it's the first house you buy, an office that you helped build or in this case, one of the best-known landmarks in the world.
The electrical workers buried in the rubble weren't thinking of the World Trade Center in those terms. To them, it started out as just another day on the job.