Little box

Every September 11th, I imagine the little box where I sat on the 51st floor of the South Tower. I remember the hallway, the break room, and the perpetual white noise of the HVAC system. Sometimes I think of the other reception desk I worked on the 54th floor, or the 100th floor of the North Tower, where I was also occasionally assigned, but mostly I think of 51 South. Glass on one side, door adjacent, wall behind me, fax machine to my right. There was a phone, a buzzer to let people in, and a rule against doing anything except staring through the glass into the lobby. My job was to greet, to answer calls, to be a human body so visitors getting off the elevator weren’t confused. It was a temporary job but I had a permanent ID with a picture. Every morning for six months I joined the throng of people in the elevator banks, traveling first to a floor somewhere in the 30s, and then taking another elevator to wherever I was working that day.

I sat in the box until about 10:30, when I got a 20 minute break – almost exactly the amount of time it took to take the elevators to the underground mall and make a quick circuit before heading back up. I did a lot of power walking at the time; I was very conscious of the dangers of a sedentary desk job: specifically, that I would gain weight. I developed a taste for the Jenny Craig energy bars they sold at the Duane Reade below Tower 2.

By lunchtime I was desperate to be outside, striding up Church Street or over to the water outside the Winter Garden. In the colder months I ate lunch inside, sitting a vacant cubicle next to a window so I could enjoy the view that was a privilege of working in the Towers. In high winds the walls creaked loudly like a pirate ship, which my coworkers assured me was normal. We joked that it was better that the buildings bend than break and crumble.

There were frequent fire drills, when we crowded the narrow stairwells linking each floor and listened to the fire marshal. He gave the usual warnings against taking elevators in cases of emergency, and we sighed and rolled our eyes the way anyone who works in an office tower might. And the way anyone might, we all imagined in vivid detail what a real emergency would look like, including the desperate unlikelihood of so many people evacuating quickly from buildings that high through the stairs.

My job at the World Trade Center ended in the Spring of 2001. It was only a temp job. But every year I remember.

Floral WTC Mural, January, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

Floral WTC Mural, January, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt