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Windows on the World

BY RUSS TALL CHIEF Modified: September 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm •  Published: September 6, 2011

This essay is my recollection of an event I attended at the World Trade Center during the Spring before 9/11.

Stepping out of the back seat of the yellow cab, the rusty door takes a bite out of my new black leather shoe.

“Watch your step—the door eats shoes,” I warn my date as she slips out of the cab, adjusting her foot in her black and white “downtown” heels. The warm, spring weather winds tug at her thin black cocktail dress.

We squeeze into the glass revolving doors together taking tiny steps until the doors open into the immense marble lobby of One World Trade Center. The air is electric as workers and tourists hustle through security checkpoints, and in and out of elevators. A crimson carpet leads us to the spacious mirrored elevator where we scramble in along with several couples also clad in their chic New York evening attire. The elevator doors hiss shut.

“Next stop, the top of the world,” the elevator attendant announces.

Silence falls over the elevator guests as we rocket up a quarter of a mile toward “Windows on the World,” as the restaurant on the top floor of One World Trade Center is known. The digital numbers in the elevator flutter by at nearly ten floors per second. An older, very sophisticated couple, stands nonchalantly in silence. A younger couple, who obviously is visiting from out of town, giggles nervously. My date and I make faces at each other to try to pop our ears until reach the 107th floor.

I feel like we are in Willy Wonka's elevator about to burst through the roof of the chocolate factory when the doors open to a silver-leafed dome doorway. A human-sized Statue of Liberty poises motionlessly at the entrance. We start to walk past the still model when she turns to us and asks, “Is this your first time at the World Trade Center?”

I jump a foot into the air, raising my current elevation to 1,315 feet. When I gather my composure, I answer, “No, but this is our first time at Windows on the World.”

“Enjoy the view,” bids the young woman, who, my guess, is an aspiring actress who would rather be playing the role of Lady Macbeth than Lady Liberty.

We accept Champagne from a tuxedoed cocktail waitress and stroll into the highly polished and mirrored dining room for the promotional party hosted by the restaurant. The posh décor is an aesthetic feast inspired by the colors of the different times of the day, from warm pink and orange sunrises to crisp, clear starry nights. From bouillabaisse and Chardonnays to filet mignon and cabernet sauvignon, fragrant aromas from foods and wines from around the world dance on our noses.

“There are 700 wines on the wine list,” someone murmurs.

I wonder why the restaurant, which receives 1,000 or more calls for reservations everyday, even needs a promotional party. But I work in public relations, so it's my role, indeed my obligation, to sample the champagnes and hors d'oeuvres, whether I ever plan to return for dinner or drinks. My date, having an innate sense of style and taste that I was not blessed with, must attend promotions such as these with me in order to provide me with an educated critique, which I recite to others later as my own insightful observations.

Celebrity look-alikes, such as Marilyn Monroe, Prince, Cher, and Michael Jackson mingle in mellow lighting with party planners, media, and other “fabulous” socialites. The enormous panoramic windows that appear to be truly “windows on the world” surround us on all sides.

My date drags me to every wall of the restaurant and bar to look out over the majestic Manhattan skyline. To the east, Wall Street and the Stock Exchange wind down after a busy Thursday. Ellis Island sleeps in New York Harbor to the south. And as we look out across the Hudson River to the west, the big numberless, red neon clock on the New Jersey shoreline glows 7 p.m. The streets of Manhattan below look like streams of glittering light gently flowing through symmetrical valleys—with the exception of the curvilinear Broadway, the old Algonquian trade route once called the Wiechakaekeck Trail, later called “The Great White Way” after streetlights were installed. From the World Trade Center at the southern tip of Manhattan climbing 11 miles to the northern tip of the island, the choir of hundreds of buildings sings a constant crescendo in perfect dissonance.

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