was down at Ground Zero last night. It was not by plan. I had a dentist appointment on Rector Street, a few blocks from the construction site. After my visit, I wandered up the street.
It was 6 p.m. and the sun was setting over the Hudson. The soft evening light was soothing, dreamy even. One World Trade Center, still better known as the Freedom Tower, rose up between the steeples of Trinity Church. Huge panes of mirrored glass windows glowed on the rising girth; construction cranes teetered on its top. Even at this stage, the building was commanding and formidable.
I stood like a tourist and stared. Then I walked up close and peered through construction netting and into a deep hole a block long. Backhoes and excavating diggers lifted dirt and arranged iron girding. Further up the site I could make out a scattering of green foliage, some of the 200 white oak trees planted around Memorial Plaza. In just a few days the plaza would be open for the anniversary.
Men in hardhats directed heavy equipment and chatted to each other. One of them approached and waved me off the construction netting.
“Tourists over on the sidewalk,” he told me, pointing to a crowd behind an orange barricade.
“I’m no tourist,” I said. “I live here.”
“Oh,” he replied, pausing. “That’s different.”
“Yeah, I was just at the dentist. I never come down here. But I was so close I thought I should check it out. It’s been awhile.”
We gave each other a knowing look.
“I’ve been watching the tower go up from Brooklyn. It’s really amazing from the B train going across the Manhattan Bridge. From there you can see it rise on the skyline.”
He was taken in by my enthusiasm and his tone became casual.
“We have crews working around the clock,” he said. “We finish a floor a week. Lots of guys call in sick. They’re just tired. I’m tired too. But we have to get it done.”
I looked up at 1 World Trade and remarked on its beauty.
“I’m amazed how it already exudes a gravitas. Tonight with the sun setting in this light it looks simply glorious.”
“Yes, architecturally it’s quite a building. I was just on the 98th floor, that’s where we are right now. I’m in charge of all those cranes on the top.” He stretched his arm and pointed up to the diagonal rigging teetered on the buildings’ uppermost edge.
“Funny, I never look up at it like this,” he continued. “I’m up there all day putting this thing together. I never stop to look back at it.”
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders. Then he surveyed the area.
“We’re expecting more than 15,000 people on the anniversary. Everyone’s going to be here.”
How much do you have to have done before the opening?
“Memorial Plaza, most of the museum. We’ve got the trees in, the walkways down. Tested the waterfalls. Funny the wind was blowing on our last test and everyone got soaking wet. The things you don’t think about,” he said laughing. “At least it doesn’t leak.”
He kept talking to me as the sun left the sky. We were two shadowy figures surrounded by the last lingering light of day.
“To be honest with you,” he said, looking over at the tourists. “I don’t know why anyone comes down here. I mean, why would you want a picture of that?” He looked over at a group in front of a bronze mural of firefighters and the burning towers.
I couldn’t answer.
“Even when this whole thing is done, you won’t find me down here. I was here when it happened. That was enough.”
We both stood in silence, briefly reliving a moment we both shared.
“Nope, when I’m done, I’m never coming back.”
Then silently, he turned and walked away. I stayed in the dark for a bit longer, then headed home to Brooklyn.