COMMENTARY: Strolling of the Great White Way… Back When Twin Towers Dominated Lower Manhattan

by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
COMMENTARY: Strolling of the Great White Way… Back When Twin Towers Dominated Lower Manhattan
Images of nearly empty New York City streets, empty Broadway theaters enduring a long hiatus, unique family owned shops and restaurants that will never reopen. This is the legacy of COVID-19.    Despite a late start, ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo clamped down, closed the state, and now continues to bear fruit by limiting gatherings. 
  Bars and the beach have horrendous penchants for stirring continued mass COVID infections. Professional and collegiate sports have tip toed to tentative re-starts with limited capacity, mask requirements, and social distancing.    Indoor cinemas have nearly relighted their marquees, but from lobby, concession stand to auditorium , precautions have been taken to prevent guest and employee spread. Although among the last to reopen, cinemas have not reported a COVID case. Nor have drive ins which reemerged in the spring and summer as replacements for indoor cinemas.   Concerts and live shows still have not returned. They have expensive break even "nuts," meaning that you can't run at 25% or 50% capacity. Theme parks reopened mid summer at limited capacity. Now, they scramble to make up some of their lost season by keeping the coasters and other rides looping through Halloween.   Coronavirus has been accompanied by reemergence of racial divisions sparked by unequal treatment of races by law enforcement. Blue lives matter equally and so do everyone's.

The terror attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon (despite an assortment of conspiracy theories) which point at overlook clues or coincidences brought the country together like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The same will not be said for the coronavirus outbreaks which remain elusive for finding a healing therapy. 

An election year which began after the winning of the last presidential contest in 2016 touts "get ugly" media cries. What's uncharted is casting votes in a social distancing epidemic.    All of the gloom, fear and anxiety deserve a FLASHBACK to a joyful New York City adventure, one which had to overcome a blizzard challenge.   Put yourself on those 1990's sidewalks and allow your mind to drift "somewhere in time."  Careful. You might want to stay there. 


Blaring carols, the ringing of bells, the hurry to wrap-up shopping, and the thoughts about a Happy New Year inevitably take me a veteran film/theatre writer back to a snowy few days after a special New Year. Accompanied by a bus load of thespians and professors, I journeyed through a treacherous blizzard on a Greyhound bus to New York City for an M.U. Theatre individualistic version of a Broadway adventure.

The trip almost did not move beyond Huntington due to snow fall. One bus slipped off the road in Charleston before making it to the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center gathering spot. A professor’s incredible idea to open the green room the night before the bus’ 7 o’clock a.m. arrival provided a party-like atmosphere before leaving to NYC. But as the hours ticked past 8, then 9, and then 10, the troupe began to wonder if any of us would see the shows, the live trapings, or the spiraling landmarks that either indelibly stamped 42nd Street or NYC in both your eyes and ears.

When the Greyhound finally arrived at MU, it was nearly 2 p.m.. We were supposed to have been in ‘the city that never sleeps’ by seven. Anyone who had bought advance tickets for a Wednesday night show was, well, not going to make it. In fact, the surging questions as we boarded the bus fortunately equipped with a VCR were making it intact through the snow, a few students making their Thursday morning auditions, and my then soon to be fiancée and I making a date for a tour of the “Guiding Light” (her favorite soap) studios during a taping.

Fortunately, despite sloshing along on an unknown to the driver and us closed portion of interstate, before 9 a.m. Thursday morning, we would see the skyline of New York City approaching as we neared the crossover from Jersey. The spiral of the Empire State Building beamed and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood steadfastly in the cold winter winds. One wondered if on top of those towers, the strong arctic winds would inject a swing and sway into the lives of those denizens who worked on the upper floors.
After checking in at the Hotel Edison, it was shower, shave and change before heading for an oblique destination that would be the studio where “The Guiding Light” was taped. Having a bit of wanderlust after sitting through the long bus trek, Patty Sunshine (no, this is not her real name, but wouldn’t it go well with the “Little Mary Sunshine” production?) and I set forth on foot for the studio. Following a mile of dodging, asking questions, grabbing a drink and darting about, we stood at the entrance of a drab warehouse of six or seven stories with few windows and what appeared to be only one entrance.
However, by opening the doors, we knew we had found the place where the iconic soap opera (politically correctness deems it an ‘afternoon drama’) was brought to life. A guard prevented anyone unknown from getting past his desk and taking one of two elevators. He checked a guest list, called upstairs to a publicity person, and only then allowed us to take the ride upward.
A publicist met us and showed us where the writers and other staffers performed essential duties. We were still one floor away from the studio. But, the video control room for the ‘action’ on the next floor was here. I was impressed that the production people and directors could work with their cast and crew without being able to look out up on them. Actually, maybe someone planned things that way: The directors and control room personnel would see the performances just like home viewers.
When taken up there, we would watch various scenes shot of a show to be aired days later. We would also see a meticulously arranged wardrobe and props collection from prior shows, each labeled with specifics as to when it was used and by whom.
At the time, my surprise was that the various sets were all so close together i.e. that which on the tube appeared as a living room was only a few feet from a mock up of a restaurant. Too, the actors worked in close quarters to the cameras and production people, generally, achieving a doable scene from a run through and first take.
Perhaps too quickly, the glimpse at television legend would revert to the more conventional --- sitting down and doing a couple of interviews. Then, like Santa on his sleigh, we were off to find Rockefeller Center and meet the troupe for a taping of Conan, then to the St. James for “Tommy”, a late night meal at the Roxy, an all too short early morning of sleep, and by 10 a.m. off to search for discounted tickets to shows.
Within an hour, we grabbed a couple for “She Loves Me” and later Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 34th Floor”. Somehow, without use of the feared subway, we found our way from the Plaza side of Central Park on foot to an acting studio in the East Village, where we arrived early (a shock in the Apple)!
Riding the subway back with friends increased our confidence of venturing out together on the tubes. Soon, we would make a fateful decision to skip a backstage tour of the Met for a visit to the tallest buildings in the world.
Seeking to avoid a mishap and ending up in Brooklyn, we exited one stop short of the Trade Center. The mistake allowed us to gaze at the towers as we strolled hand in hand through the snow and caught glimpses of the security put in place following the basement bombing.
Once inside the Tower complex, we found the underground mall enticing, but with tickets to a Broadway matinee, we hurried onward to catch a ride to the top. Security separated tourists heading for the observation decks from workers and visitors. The latter swarmed in lines around ‘local’ elevator banks, while those of us heading for the 110th floor followed ropes around to the two big lifts that ran straight to the top.
I can not remember any metal detectors, but my mind half thinks that a cursory examination occurred. In fact, the mere presence of so many security personnel made the portal to the top of the world both eerie and thrilling.
At that time Sunshine and I would make another spontaneously glorious decision --- could we kiss to the top of the tower ? No, not on the top, but start a kiss on the first floor and keep it going until the door opened on the 110th floor?
Suffice to say that by boarding in the back of the car, we would hold the smooch until we reached the top. In fact, no one except me has to my knowledge written about such a vertical kiss. Perhaps, for awhile, we joined others with a ‘record’ of kissing to the top of the World Trade Center.
But,  after that 1990s trip, no one else will  have the opportunity to claim such a foolhardy romantic public display of affection. Who knows, maybe Sunshine and I were the only couple to kiss to the top of the WTC. Or could a couple have boarded the observatory elevator around 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001? If so, one hopes that two intertwined stars have appeared forever bathing the sky in light that exemplifies their eternal embrace.
Despite the pleasurable shows in a city that never sleeps, it’s the towers (and Sunshine's loving face) that now stick in my mind. History has decreed   that kiss to the top of the now destroyed tower must remain with me until Heaven opens its doors.