The best views of the remains of the World Trade Center are not from the streets of lower Manhattan. They are from the window of the PATH train as it snakes its way from the terminal en route to New Jersey.
The train winds right past the still empty hole, construction constantly delayed by conflict and confusion. The area is filled with cranes and construction equipment, but it feels as somber as a memorial. For about ten seconds, the train slides slowly by, as if the tracks were purposely built to give the passengers the best possible view. The brief portion of the ride reminds me of the Universal Studios tram driving past the old Earthquake attraction, although the destruction here was not manufactured in a warehouse in Burbank.
Soon after Flight 11 (first plane) hit the North Tower on 9/11, the PATH station was shut down by order from PATH’s deputy director, Victoria Cross Kelly, and Richie Moran who commanded the PATH system at the Journal Square Transportation Center.
With the station destroyed, service to Lower Manhattan was suspended for over two years. Cleanup of the Exchange Place station was needed after the attacks. As well, the downtown Hudson tubes had been flooded, which destroyed the track infrastructure. The Exchange Place station re-opened in June 2003. PATH service to Lower Manhattan was restored when a temporary station opened on November 23, 2003. The inaugural train was the same one that had been used for the evacuation.
The temporary PATH station was designed by Port Authority chief architect Robert I. Davidson and constructed at a cost of $323 million. The station features a canopy entrance along Church Street and a 118-by-12 foot mosaic mural, “Iridescent Lightning,” by Giulio Candussio of the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli in Spilimbergo, Italy. The station is also adorned with opaque panel walls inscribed with inspirational quotes attesting to the greatness and resilience of New York City. These panels partially shield the World Trade Center site from view.
Jersey City, New Jersey is a growing community directly across the river. Many of the big financial corporations have offices here, some moving after 9/11, others because the rents are cheaper.
I am in Jersey City to meet some friends at a riverside restaurant with great views of Manhattan. The five guys at the table next to us talk loudly about stock options. The view of the skyline is stunning. It always amused me that the way to see the grand skyscrapers of Manhattan is to go to Brooklyn or Queens or… New Jersey.
As the sun set, the metal and windows of these towering office structures reflect the light, as if haughty and dismissive of God himself. “Your Sun is bright, but our steel and glass buildings will make it shine even MORE beautifully.”
The stubborn edifices put on a show, as if to outdo the Sun. They change colors, like a proud peacock. Depending on the angle of the sun, the skyline turns purple, then orange, then red, then yellow, then green. The hubris of these metalic structures has no bounds. Even when the Sun goes dark, the skyline remains lit by the human invention of electrical light.
Man is powerful.
On the way back to New York, the PATH train present us with a repeat view of the remains of the Twin Towers, now at night, now lit by the same man-made lighting that made the city seem so majestic from New Jersey, only here the brightness illuminates only destruction.
Man is powerful, but not always good.