Situated on an island, which I think it will one day cover, it rises like Venice, from the sea, and like the fairest of cities in the days of her glory, receives into its lap tribute of all the riches of the earth. — Frances Trollope, 1832
In the summer of 1999 I was offered an invitation I could not pass up.That winter, I traveled with two friends from college to visit two more who were living in Newark, New Jersey, with a beautiful view of the New York City skyline out their kitchen window.
Both sets of friends were married couples, and while my wife and I were dating at the time, she could not come with me. I felt I had to go, and she encouraged me to do so.
The occasion was New Year’s Eve; New Millennium Eve, in fact, and I was ready to celebrate it with a million more of my closest friends. The trip would only last a few days, but the memories will last a lifetime.
No first trip to New York would be complete without setting foot on Liberty Island. We approached by ferry from the New Jersey side, taking in an amazing view of the city and appreciating the symbolic welcome the lady statue has offered for over 100 years.
We were convinced by our host that a journey up the pedestal would offer great views, and that the monotonous, treacherous, climb up to Liberty’s crown was not worth the time spent in the line to get there. Another time, perhaps.
His wife worked in the World Trade Center, and we made our way there to say hello. We would not see her office, nor travel to the top, but even the beautiful, bustling, lobby was enough to impress me. The grand, open space gave hint to the overall size of the whole building. We would later buy tickets there to a Broadway musical on New Year’s Day. When we exited the building immediately after getting the tickets, I had no expectation that my feet would touch that floor never again. This is my own little piece of the old World Trade Center:
We didn’t have time to see everything a tourist generally would want to take in, but we did at least experience a few more NYC staples. Our travels to and from the city were by way of the PATH, the Port Authority’s light rail system from New Jersey to New York, but we did spend some time on the NY Subway as well. We rode in a cab. We stopped by the Guggenheim but it was already closed. We sat on some swings after going into Central Park after dark, something I would only recommend doing with a number of friends, one of whom is quite a tower, himself. We had some genuine New York Cheesecake. Other good eats included Il Palazzo in Little Italy, and Grey’s Papaya. I had to duck into the gift shop of the Hard Rock Café to add to my collection of their hurricane glasses.
Lunch on the 31st was in the heart of the city, at the ESPNZone, across from a building with a digital marquee displaying highlights from each century of the expiring millennium.…
1000-1099: Pope Urban II launches the First Crusade…Pueblo cliff dwellings appear in North America…
The recap continued through 1900-1999 and gave quite a perspective on our little place in time. So much of significance to humanity has happened in the past century, yet it happened in the blink of an eye within the millennium; even more miniscule on the whole timeline.
Late in the day we visited the iconic Empire State Building, finally getting a bird’s eye glimpse of Manhattan. On its observation deck we did the usual things–we posed for pictures, looked through the coin-operated viewers, and browsed the gift shop, where I bought my wife a snow globe. Seeing America’s largest city from one of its highest points was an experience I cannot accurately put into words. The World Trade Center towers glistened in the distance (picture at top).
A person could have felt very anxious at that time, knowing the city was a likely target for global terrorists, and fearing the possible impending doom of the “Y2K” computer crashes at midnight. But with a tremendous visible presence of law enforcement on the ground, and helicopters patrolling overhead, I had never felt safer in my life. I could not have imagined that less than two years later those twin giants on the horizon, sentries of the twilight, guardians of the sunset, would be gone.
Our next stop was Times Square, where we would wait, mostly standing and running out of things to talk about, for five hours. It was extremely cold, so much so that even those plastic novelty eyeglasses shaped like “2OOO” offered noticeable warmth, but other people had been waiting since before dawn on the final day of 1999. We met some new people there, saw just a little contraband liquor within the street barricades, and watched hour after hour the millennium fall away on the big screen down the street as cities (and uninhabited oceanspace) around the world to the east reached midnight. Finally it was our turn, and my thoughts were partly with my girlfriend back home, likely watching on TV as I celebrated, somewhere in the crowd.
Because we arrived so late in the day, we were up Broadway to the north, behind the cluster of advertisements upon which the famous crystal ball drops. We could see the ball at first, but it disappeared before our eyes about halfway through its descent. Nevertheless, we saw the fireworks and confetti, and heard the roar of the crowd. We hugged each other and we hugged strangers around us. Welcome to a brand new 1,000 years! There was no violence at all and the lights did not suddenly go out around us. We were fine. We were euphoric.
On the last night of our stay and first day of the new month, year, decade, century, and millennium, we attended our Broadway musical, Jekyll & Hyde, which ended its run in 2013. The actors were brilliant and the music was so good I came home with the CD. I enjoyed the twists on the classic story, and it blurred the line between good and evil.
The three of us who were visiting left the next morning and came back to Missouri. I for one returned with a new found love for my country’s biggest metropolis, and it inspired me to consider a career in advertising. The truth is, though, while I grew up within a short drive of downtown St. Louis, New York City is a bit overwhelming for me. I also decided I would miss certain things a little too much; the sun, stars, and trees to name a few. But Jen and I have vowed to go back, and I am eager to look into the grand fountains that now sink into the earth where I once bought a ticket to a Broadway show.
The 9/11 attacks on America left the Empire State Building with the unique distinction of being New York City’s tallest, not once but twice, and today it is twice unseated. The Statue of Liberty was closed for years after the attacks, and I wondered if I would ever again get the chance to see my country from her perspective. My friends who lived in New Jersey had moved back to the Midwest the summer before, and all people that I knew of who may have had a small personal connection to the tragedies of that day were ultimately, thankfully, safe and unharmed.
For breathtaking views from the very top of the new One World Trade Center, visit Time Magazine’s View from the Top, and if you’re really not squeamish about heights, watch the video about how they did it.