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Welcome back
: I kept telling myself, It’s just a train ride.

The last time I rode these tracks, as many of you know, was on the last PATH train into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Today, I returned. And I didn’t know how I’d react. I often feel as I live with a webcam pointed at my psyche, always watching, always recording the reaction to anything 9/11: today sunken, tomorrow angry, the next day tired, the next day numb, someday hopeful. So what will it be today?

Well, the first, best indication of my own reaction came when the train pulled into Jersey City and the conductor droned, “World Trade Center.” And I smiled. Relief. Even a touch of victory.

The midmorning train wasn’t crowded. One grizzly guy sat by the front window; a tourist/pilgrim with camera sat a few feet away. I kept my camera in my pocket; I dislike turning tragedy into tourism.

As we went under the river, a guy in a PATH reconstruction jacket came up to the front window to look. So did the rest of us. The tunnel — where rowboats navigated after the attacks — looked new and clean. And up ahead, we saw daylight. That, alone was shocking; this station always seemed as if it were a mile underground. Now, of course, there is nothing above.

The train halted just at the entrance, as if to let us get ready. The grizzly guy muttered, “Graveyard.” The rest stared ahead. I felt a clutch coming but then stopped.

It’s just a train ride.

There was no more enormity to it. I’ve felt the enormity again and again; have not stopped feeling it. We came out into the Trade Center site, with the floors chewed off by the devil himself, the scarred walls, the ramps, the yellow construction equipment. I’ve seen it from above. Now I see it from below. Same enormity.


The train takes a big loop around the site and then pulls into the station.

It’s odd that the authorities try to subtly stop us from looking even as millions are drawn to the site just to look. The new bridge over West Street, which also opened today, is designed to block the view. The grate and green canvas surrounding the site all but block it. In the new PATH station, there are huge, transluscent fabric walls with quotes about New York that don’t quite block the view but do block cameras. We can glance. We can’t stare.

“Something’s always happening here,” said Myrna Loy. “If you’re bored in New York, it’s your own fault.” It borders on bad taste to stare through that quote at the destruction and rebuilding. But, hey, this is New York; we love the edge.

So people stood and stared, of course. On the platform — pure, clean concrete — some stood. Up a level, more stared.

pathescalator.jpgAnd then came the escalators. Those were the most striking feature of the original station: So many stairs going so high, always moving, forever full. They symbolized New York business and ambition to me. And on That Morning, it was coming up those stairs and hearing silence — a sound never heard in this place — that made me realize something was wrong, very wrong.

Now there are fewer stairs. But they are back and they lead up to another level and then stairs take you up onto Church Street, right where the Borders Books used to be. When I was last here, I ran across that street as debris fell and a cop shouted for our lives, ordering us to run.

Now, I come up on the street and it’s crowded. Some are still staring. Some are rushing; real jobs, real lives. Some take pictures in front of the World Trade Center PATH signs (suitable for framing?).

The mood there seems to match my own: relieved, glad, a little triumphant.

The bustle’s back.

  • matt

    most excellent

  • Great post, Jeff. Makes me emotional, but it’s all good, as the kids say…

  • MC

    Thank you for taking us on that ride with you.

  • Inspector Callahan

    A related story.
    Being from Detroit, I had never been to NYC until June of 1999. We actually camped (camped??) in Jersey City at an RV Park / Marina. It was part of an east coast trip my wife and I took.
    We were 4 blocks from the Grove City station. I had never even been on a subway. We took the Path station from Grove Street, to the WTC site. I remember getting off of the train and thinking, “This must have been pandemonium back in 1993.”
    So, my first subway ride (they don’t have those in the Motor City!!) was to the World Trade Center, and the first building I ever saw up close in NYC was the World Trade Center.
    We’ve been going back annually ever since.
    TV (Harry)

  • O’McSomething

    Hey Jeff–Hope it is the first of many, many safe rides. Walked around the station yesterday on my break from work. Not a PATH rider, but often used to pick up a salad at the cafe at the bottom of the long, long escalators. I remember when they reopened the N/R stop on Cortland Street. It used to have an automatic door that opened up into the underground concourse. I was so glad to have my station open again, but where I used to walk past the WB Store, navigating the walking paths of thousands of people on their way home to Jersey (I work off-hours) and checking the Au Bon Pain to see if they had any of that good mushroom soup left, there was only a small stairway leading up to the sky. Every little piece of the victory reminds of so much lost.

  • It’s fairly common to block views from train stations because views distract passengers from walking off the platforms and leaving the station, and for smooth operations it is necessary for people to walk out of the station rapidly. (Of course, this may not be the reason here).

  • Jeff,
    Many thanks from a New Yorker exiled in Washington, DC. I appreciate being along for the trip. May it be the first of many, many safe ones for you.

  • But…if you decided to leave your camera in your pocket, how did we get these shots?
    While I understand the feeling behind not wanting to turn tragedy into terrorism, I think it’s a valid human desire to document strongly emotional scenes and moments.
    Nicely done essay.

  • Bob Sacamano

    During the mid-90s I lived in Hoboken, worked on Fulton Street, and took the PATH train to the World Trade Center every working day of the week.
    I saw some crazy things happen on those escalators — I once saw a woman give birth just feet from the top. I guess she had just made it up. There’s nothing much I can say about that which won’t sound cliched, so I won’t.
    God bless the men and women who have worked to restore a site that will always be haunted by the memories of that day.