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A Perfect Weekend in New York Just Before September 11, 2001
By Melissa Papke
Aug 14, 2011, 2:08pm



Our return flight from the city of New York landed in Long Beach, California, a mere five hours before the attacks on our nation.  Hers my story of a long, wonderful weekend trip to New York.

 

My grandmother was turning 103 and her daughter, my aunt, was celebrating her golden jubilee in the Catholic convent on the same da September 8, 2001.  There was a big party planned at a place on Long Island to celebrate both of their life achievements, and I really wanted to be there.

 

I was newly married to the man of my dreams and I wanted him to meet my extended family members in New York, especially my grandmother.  So on Thursday night before the party, we packed for a long weekend and boarded Jet Blue Airlines on the red-eye flight to New York.  My two sisters and their kids also joined us.  My husband, Brian, had never been to New York City, so we had a fun-filled, jam-packed weekend planned:  tour the city Friday, go to the party on Saturday, have a more intimate family visit with Grandma on Sunday afternoon at my auns home, and leave for home on Monday afternoon.

 

As soon as we arrived at our Long Island hotel early on Friday morning, we showered, had a quick breakfast, grabbed my 17-year old nephew, David, and headed to the train station.  Brian had things hd always wanted to do if he ever made it to New York: have a hot dog from a street vendor, take the train, see the subway, walk through Central Park, hail a taxi, see the Statue of Liberty, and go to the top ofa really tall buildin everything a tourist would want to do.  Since my family lives in New York and d been there before, I wanted this trip into the city to be all about him.

 

We got to the Long Island train station just in time to make the next train and save ourselves an hour wait.  After the 45-minute trip into the city, we exited at Penn Station into the city and a beautiful sunny day.  Our first stop was the hot dog vendor down the street.  We walked around a bit just so Brian could get a feel for the city before we hailed a cab and headed for Battery Park.  The cab driver, for whatever reason, was eager to get us out of his cab and dropped us at the wrong area for the boats out to Liberty Island.  By the time we found the right place, the last boat of the day had already left.  Wd have to wait until another day to see the Statue of Liberty.  We crossed the street and went over to the World Trade Center to have a look around.  Brian was stunned by the enormity of the buildings.

 

Now, m terrified of heights and riding an elevator so going to the top of a really high building wast my idea of fun.  Since d already decided that this day in the city was all about my husband, I put a smile on my face, gritted my teeth, and held my breath as we paid $13.50 each for the tickets to the observation deck of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  Brian held my hands in his and stared into my eyes trying to keep me calm as the express elevator climbed and climbed to the observation deck on the 107th floor.  We walked around, looked through the telescopes, watched a movie on the history of the buildings, and even pressed a couple of commemorative pennies in one of those little machines.

 

Just when I was beyond ready to get back down to earth, Brian discovered an escalator that went all the way up to the rooftop observation deck.    So up we went!  Ugh!  It was a clear, beautiful day and the view was amazing!  We had another rooftop visitor who was willing to help us commemorate our moment on the top of the tower by taking a photograph of us with the city in the background.  I took a photo mosaic of the view from the edge of the north tower ove  a total of nine or ten photos that would make one big, long scene once they were pieced together.  Finally, just over an hour or so later, we touched ground again (much to my relief), found my nephew, and moved out into the city again.  Brian and my nephew took a peek in a subway and were lucky enough to see a few of the morecolorfu New Yorkers who hang out down there.  From there it was over to Central Park for a walk and then to the local touristy restaurant, Jekyl and Hyds, for dinner.  A late train and another taxi delivered us back at our hotel just after 1:00 a.m.

 

Saturday was spent at the part and what a party it was!  Is not every day you see someone you know live to be 10 especially one who has it all together like my grandmother!  We had a blast and Brian even made a game out of remembering all the names of my relatives.

 

Sunday was busy!  We woke up at 5 a.m., took a quick shower, grabbed my nephew and headed to the train station.  Since we weret able to see the Statue of Liberty on Friday, we wanted to spend the morning seeing it before our afternoon with Grandma and a few other relatives.  Back at Battery Park, we made the second boat to Liberty Island, which was a bonus since the passengers on the first two boats each day get a ticket for access into the crown!  Little did we know the wait would be so long!  After two and a half hours of creeping up the stairs one by one, we made it to the crown.  Not a small feat for me considering my claustrophobia and the tiny stairway up to the crown, but I did it!

 

We took pictures, had a hot dog, and made it back to Battery Park where we grabbed a taxi and headed back to Penn Station.  An hour or so later we were back on Long Island taking yet another taxi to my grandmothes apartment in Lindenhurst.  We spent the afternoon with her looking through some very old, vintage photographs while she described in great detail the names that belonged with each of the faces and each occasion!  From there we all went to my auns home where we had a barbeque, leftover birthday cake from the day before, and generally just enjoyed the day and each othes company.

 

Monday we had a leisurely morning and headed back to the airport to catch an afternoon flight back to Long Beach, California.  The afternoon sky had turned cloudy and inclement weather in the east delayed our take off.  Our pilot taxied us out onto the tarmac and into line for take off, where we sat for just over four hours!  Our pilot informed us that if we waited in line, our chances were good for taking off that night.  If we went back to the terminal, chances are our flight would most likely be rescheduled for the next morning after the weather cleared.  With very patient passengers and a great crew, we waited for our turn and took off into the West.  We finally landed back home in California just after 12:30 a.m. PS only five hours before the first terrorist attack on our nation.

 

My telephone startled me awake on Tuesday morning at 7:15 a.m.  It was my sister telling me to turn on the television.  When I saw what was happening, I could hardly believe it!  I was now witnessing the collapse of a building that we stood on top of just four days earlier!  One of my first thoughts was of all the people we had come into contact with during our tour of the observation deck and I hoped they all made it out.    What if this had happened when we were there?  What if someone we knew was killed?  What i  What i What i

 

It was a difficult morning.  My husband had already left for work, but we cried together on the telephone and thanked God for getting us home safely.  Brian came home early that day so we could hold each other and thank God again that we were together.  My boss called everyone to let us know the office would be closed because of what was happening in our nation.  We spent the day, and countless weeks and months afterward, wondering what happened?  How could this happen in the United States?

 

Our safe little world where nothing drastic ever happens was shattered that day.

 

I had never imagined that I would have a reason to go to the top of the World Trade Center tower.  I never had a reason to until I married Brian.  The butterflies that took up residence in my stomach that day didt want to go to the top of the tower, but I wouldt trade that day or what we did while we were in New York for all the tea in China.

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