Everyone has their recollections of September 11, 2001. I do too. I was working at the Associated Press Detroit Bureau and watched the terror on the little 19-inch TV before I was dispatched to Detroit-Metro Airport to cover a news conference. But that’s not what I want to recall today. I want to recall how, as a college student working at the New York City Comptroller’s office during the summer of 1970, I walked by the World Trade Center construction site every day during my lunch hour. Sometimes it was fascinating as I watched the construction crew fit together like Legos the distinctive superstructure panels. Other times it was hilarious. It was the summer of hot pants and it seemed as if every Wall Street secretary was wearing them to work. As they strolled down Church Street they stirred the juices of the lunching construction boys who wore big grins, offered to accompany them to the nether sections of the site for an I-beam nooner, or lustily shouted, “hey, Rocky Mountains!” The ladies invariably took no offense and generally laughed it off as they continued on their way.
Why do I tell you this story? Because it reminds me of the lives connected with the structures that remain the photographic symbols of that day of terror. It reminds me of the smiling, lascivious construction boys who spent their sweat and strength to build the World Trade Center to enable thousands of other people to pursue the careers that would provide them their livelihoods and abilities to finance their life’s dreams and goals, or simply a great bicycle for their son or daughter, or vacation for their family, or a meal at the best restaurant in town. It reminds me that workplaces like the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, corporate headquarters or the mom and pop corner store, are where we blithely drag our butts every day to do some sort of work we think will make the world a better place through a product or service or expert counsel or maybe make a kid happy by selling him or her a Snickers bar and a Coke. We perform our tasks believing we’re in a safe haven, except for maybe an unyielding boss or a co-worker heating up halibut in the microwave–not airborne bombs aimed at ending our peaceful lives.
I suppose one day, not soon, we’ll feel differently on the day now known as 911. But as long as I’m around I’ll always remember those guys I passed every day that summer of ’70 who built the Twin Towers and the people who lost their lives working there and those who lost their lives trying to save others. And most importantly, that our symbols…those buildings…were only inanimate containers of the living, breathing contributors to our society, taken from us by those aimed at destroying it.