Monday, February 20, 2017

Presidents' Day

Presidents' Day is not one of those holidays that usually holds or creates lot of memories. The greeting card industry has been hard put to create cards for the occasion. Who would you give the card to? That's what they say, so there is no Presidents' Day section that appears in CVS after Valentine's Day. St. Patrick's day takes over.

I can think of three Presidents' Days that hold somewhat memorable events in my life. And I think one of them was really George Washington's birthday before he and Abraham Lincoln were conflated into one holiday honoring their birthdays, in what is really earmarked as a day to sell cars, appliances, and whatever else the American consumer might need.

A 'Pepper and Salt' cartoon in Saturday's WSJ depicts an angelic Abe and an angelic George sitting on a heavenly cloud with Abe telling George, "What we did for our country was pretty amazing, but wat we did for retailers exceeds my wildest dreams." Any day off from work is a good day, and commerce is good. To be embraced.

It wasn't until I was reading a piece in today's NYT about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing by Sarah Maslin Nir and Nikita Stewart, two reporters who I know were not around in 1993 to remember the event first hand. Not a requirement to do a story, though.

The article was spawned by the recent death of the blind Muslim cleric, Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted of planning attacks that never came about. Attacks that were aimed at New York City's infrastructure of buildings, and tunnels. The sheikh, 78, passed away in a federal prison in North Carolina. He had been sentenced to life in prison.

The story, 'Cleric's Death Stirs Memories of a Seminal Attack,' recounts memories and quotes from Port Authority officials who were in 1 World Trade Center at the time of the blast, on February 26, 1993. The port Authority had its headquarters in
1 WTC.

At the time, my office was on the 27th floor of 622 Third Avenue, at 40-41st Streets, and we could plainly see the smoke coming from the building, hearing reports that a 'transformer went.' It was a grey, almost snowy day. As the day wore, on theories of terrorism were creeping into the possibilities of what happened.

February 26 was not Presidents' Day, but Presidents' Day 1999 was around the time the company I worked for, Empire BlueCross BlueChield had moved its offices from 622 Third Avenue into
1 World Trade Center.

I distinctly remember the Presidents' Day of 1999 because we had off, but I decided, like some other people, to come in a day early and spend some time to unpack, and get a little set up in our new digs. My cubicle was a decent size, and faced south, rimming the windows. We were on the 29th floor, having taken 10 floors in the building, 400,000 square feet. Each floor in the Trade Center towers were about an acre. I remember some of the other people I encountered that day as we setup. I also remember looking at our space and thinking that it was more than decent, and that I could easily put in another 10 years in the company I had then already worked 31 years for.

Incredibly, the 1993 bombing only killed six people. They were memorialized by a plaque that I never took a look at. Some had, but I don't even remember where they placed it.

My ten-year plan was certainly interrupted on September 11, 2001 when I sardonically joke we became a lower Manhattan airport. I distinctly remember that there were people coming down the stairs from floors above us who were talking about having already gone through an evacuation in 1993.

Some of the 10 floors that Empire had leased were still vacant from the 1993 bombing. Specifically a large tenant, the accounting firm Deloitte, never moved back in, instead opting for replacement space in the World Financial Center on the other side of West Street. Thus, we were in space that was vacant for six years. I think we got in for $29 a square foot.

Many at Empire were not at all happy about moving into the Trade Center. It was felt we were moving into a building with a bull's-eye on its roof. Some senior staff were giddy about taking floors near the top, providing themselves with spectacular views. One vice president was a little more practical and said lower floors were better because staff would not lose so much time getting on and off elevator changes to get to their job. Luckily, that view held, and the 10, mostly contiguous floors we had, didn't go above the 33rd floor. One elevator trip was all that was needed.

There were also those who believed we were moving into the safest building in New York. Security was greatly enhanced at the site since the 1993 bombing. The place was believed to be Fort Knox.

I'm not a student of military tactics, but I remember reading that as soon as there were airplanes that could launch attacks, forts were no longer strategically important. And certainly, the trench warfare of WW I would be completely useless against aerial attack. So, while the Trade Center security was being tightened so tight that no one was going to get a bomb-filled Ryder Truck into the building's basement, someone in a cave somewhere was planning to fly planes into it, rather than enter the fort on wheels. The rest is history.

I never did get that 10 years in. The circumstances of 9/11, combined with the fatal workplace shootings of 9/16/2002, upset the apple cart so much that by 2004 I was out of there completely.

I recently read that Spotify, the digital music company, has signed a lease for space in one of the Trade Center replacement buildings, 400,000 square feet at $80 and change a square foot. They were getting too crammed in their space in Chelsea.

Imagine, a digital music company takes as much space as a major health insurer. I hope someone there gets their 10 years in.

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