I love New York. I love the sights, the sounds, even the smell of New York. As a 19-year-old girl from the Midwest, moving to New York City in 1986 wasn’t merely an adventure, it was the equivalent of moving to a different planet.
The pace was fast, and unforgiving if you couldn’t keep up. Not only did I keep up, I learned to run. I embraced the city and she wrapped her arms around me and took me in as one of her own. I felt as if I were home for the first time in my life.
In 1993, that love affair ended when I moved to South Carolina. It was in a small newspaper office in Beaufort that I watched my beloved city and the rest of the country come to a grinding halt.
Sept. 11, 2001, started out as any other workday. Then my mother called and asked whether I had heard anything about a plane hitting one of the towers. At that point, I hadn’t, and I told her it most likely was a private plane.
She argued that it was a commercial flight, and I remember telling her that would be impossible. New York has very strict air-space rules regarding all aircraft.
I then tried to access CNN’s website, but I couldn’t. In fact, I was unable to get on any news website. I told my mother I would call her back and proceeded to my office’s break room, where we had a television.
My emotions ranged from disbelief to horror as I watched the attack on our country. I was filled with pride at our response to the devastation. New Yorkers came together with a calm and grace not normally associated with their persona.
Standing side by side to assist the wounded and displaced, everyone pitched in to help wherever they could. They were rattled but not defeated.
Ready to fight back and reclaim their city, officials put rebuilding plans in motion even as the recovery effort was under way. Caught off guard, they intended to take steps never to let this happen again.
In May 2002, while visiting family in upstate New York, I decided to take the train into the city with my children. My relatives disapproved and argued that the city no longer was safe. I went anyway.
My children were young when I moved away from the city. My youngest had not even been born yet. I did not want their impression of New York to be limited to the images seen on television during the past eight months. I made the right decision.
Our first stop was the Empire State Building. That’s where I first became aware things had taken on a different tone in New York. There always had been security guards here. They would mingle around, direct visitors and answer questions.
Now it was all business. Every bag was searched as people walked through metal detectors. When people set off the detectors, they were pulled from line and swiped with handheld detectors.
Outside, Homeland Security vehicles were everywhere. New York seemed determined not to let anything destroy it again.
Upon reaching the top of the Empire State Building, the second major change became evident. It was evening and we should have been able to see the Statue of Liberty. But the island was dark.
Fears of an attack on the statue spurred the decision to close Liberty Island to the public. It remained closed until 2006.
During the five years the island was closed to public access, improvements were made to enable quick evacuation in the event of an emergency.
While access to the pedestal was granted in 2006, the crown wasn’t reopened until July 4, 2009. Prior to the 9/11 attack, Liberty Island averaged 200,000 visitors per year. When it reopened in 2006, that number grew to 2.5 million visitors per year. This past December, I became one of the 2.5 million.
Visitors must pass two security stations in order to get into the statue. The first is before you even get on the ferry. If you think airport screening is tough, try to get onto Liberty Island.
Metal detectors and chemical detectors are employed to ensure nothing gets on the island that shouldn’t. You go through the exact same procedure once you are on Liberty Island, before you are allowed into Lady Liberty herself.
Much to my son’s amusement, I set off the detectors both times and had to be searched. I wasn’t mad – they were being thorough.
It was worth it. Pictures cannot convey the beauty of the statue in person or the sadness you feel as you look over the water toward lower Manhattan at the altered skyline.
Upon returning from Liberty Island, we walked to Ground Zero. Though I had returned to New York many times since 9/11, this was my first time back to where the towers had stood.
It was a bit disorienting not seeing the towers in the skyline as a guide, but I soon found myself in front of the construction zone. So many of those who perished when the towers fell were running in to help get others out. It was a humbling experience to stand there.
So many things have changed since the attacks. New York takes its security measures very seriously – it has to. I, for one, am glad it does. I feel safer there than I ever did before.
I feel a sense of pride as I watch the city rebuild what was taken from it and a renewed appreciation for the gifts that always have been there – gifts I simply had taken for granted. Most importantly, I still love New York.
Fox lives in Ludowici and is human resource manager for the Coastal Courier and Bryan County News.