Randy raised his flute of champagne. “Happy Anniversary,” he said with a smile. I raised mine in return. We touched glasses. It was June 7th, 2000. Randy and I sat in “Windows on the World”, the sky top restaurant in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
“I can’t believe we’re 106 stories up,” I said, looking out, but not quite able to look down. It was high, unsettling, scary high.
Small planes and helicopters flew below us. The Hudson River flowed in the distance with tugboats, ocean liners, and barges. The sky darkened and lights from buildings and bridges came on, giving a fairytale feel to the evening. It was like dining in heaven.
Waiters bustled about in crisp white uniforms. They were formal, but welcoming.
All around couples and families and large parties talked and laughed and took pictures. Every so often the flash of a camera went off as people posed to commemorate a birthday or anniversary or just being in one of the most famous restaurants on the planet.
Joseph was our waiter. He was thin and wiry with brown hair and a mustache. He looked to be in his early forties. When he learned it was our anniversary, he kept the wine flowing.
“Where are you folks from?” he asked, refilling our glasses. He had a New York accent and I could tell he’d grown up around the city. “We’re from Connecticut,” I answered. “What about you?”
He smiled. “I’m from Queens. I live with my wife and two daughters.”
That night Randy and I dined on steak and lobster. Everything was delicious. Before dessert, my husband presented me with a mauve-colored jewelry box. I opened it to find a beautiful ring to celebrate our 20 years together. I slipped it on my finger.
I had no idea my husband had gone to all this trouble to make this night so special. We’d only been to this restaurant once before. I told Randy we had to come back. This place was too cool not to visit every year. We should bring our boys. Randy agreed.
At that moment Joseph appeared with a small chocolate cake inscribed with “Happy Anniversary” in gold letters. A sparkler lit the top.
I blew out the flame thinking what a perfect end to a perfect evening. When we realized we couldn’t finish it all, Joseph took the cake away. He returned with it in a small gold cardboard box. “You can’t leave this behind,” he said with a wink.
We thanked him, vowing to return. Maybe we’d see him again.
“Come back anytime,” he said, “but I usually work the morning weekday shift. I’m up with the birds. They called me tonight to fill in.”
That was our last visit to the World Trade Center. I still remember the solid feel of those buildings. The elevators would whoosh to the top in seconds. Everything seemed so massive, so indestructible.
Many people, including myself, couldn’t walk too close to those windows. The distance to the street was unimaginable.
“Windows on the World” has been gone many years now. And yet it still exists in my mind like a ghost-ship. I can still hear the clink of glasses and murmur of voices. I still see the cameras flash as people pose to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and just-happy-to-be-alive days.
No one could have imagined what was to come. It was like we were celebrating the end of an era, although we had no way of knowing.
Sometimes I think of Joseph. I hope he was one of the lucky ones. I hope he wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was a nice guy from Queens with a wife and two daughters.
Someone told me there’s a site that lists the waitstaff from “Windows on the World” who perished. But I could never bring myself to look.
The ring Randy gave me is a beautiful reminder of a beautiful evening. But it’s also a reminder of time gone by. And its a reminder of Joseph. We said our goodbyes to him that night and vowed to maybe come for breakfast someday.
“You do that,” he said with a bright smile and wave. “I’ll be right here.”
Were you ever in this wonderful restaurant or the World Trade Center? Comments are always welcome!! And if you like, please share… thank you.
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