Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9-11-01 Remembered

Today I think about what happened six years ago, and all that has happened since. This piece today is not about the political aspect or thinking about the pros and cons of the Iraq war. I hate thinking about politics, and I rarely discuss them. Unlike some of my fellow chess bloggers I will not write about politics or religion. Heck, I don't even like to talk about chess politics! So this is simply a rambling piece with a definite NY bias. Though I wasn't born and raised in New York, I've spent over half my life here so I consider myself a New Yorker. And yes there is chess in this piece too. An event like this impacts all parts of one's life, and chess is a big part of mine.

9/11/01 is day I'll certainly never forget. People of my generation remember where they were when John K Kennedy was shot. Today's generation will remember where they were when the four planes crashed into the WTC, Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. I remember the day well. It was beautiful and sunny. Since I hadn't started my chess classes yet, I was out riding my bike with friends, and it was only because someone on the ride was listening to the the radio that we had any idea that something unusual was happening. It wasn't until I got back from that ride and saw the images on television that I could understand the magnitude of those events. Getting second hand information from a guy with a little radio didn't make it clear what had happened.

A part of my work scenery and chess history was destroyed that day. It also changed some of my teaching experiences when I ended out replacing a NYC police officer who taught at one school. Fortunately he was not lost that day, but his job got a lot harder, and he was working 12 hour days seven days a week. He had no time to be teaching a game he loved to kids. I know chess people who had worked at the World Trade Center. They survived except the dad of a young kid who played in a number of the scholastic events I directed in Westchester and Fairfield counties. Today I watched some of the memorial ceramony. It's raining today, and watching the families leave their flowers and carrying the photos of their loved ones I felt like the heavens were crying with us. I didn't know Colin's dad too well since more often then not it was mom who brought him to tournaments or picked him up after chess club. I didn't listen to every single name being read, I did wait to hear Colin's dad's name being read. Steve, I know that Colin and the rest of your family misses you very much.

I worked for 12 years in lower Manhattan. I can remember looking out the windows of 1 New York Plaza from the 42nd floor. The view of the World Trade Center from our data center window was such that you could only see one tower. It was an interesting perspective. I had always wanted to take a picture from there since it was an odd view, but being wrapped up in my first real job that had prospects for an actual career, I never go around to it.

I left that job after a year and a half, and moved a few blocks north. Every morning I'd get off the subway at Fulton St. As I'd come up the stairs the twin towers loomed ahead. Architecturally they really were pretty boring buildings. New York City has far more magnificent buildings, however there was something impressive and imposing about these giant twins that I would see every morning. Also they were a major part of the New York sky line. No matter how many times I fly into NY or drive over bridges with the spectacular view of Manhattan, I never tire of it. But the hole in the skyline also leaves a hole in my heart. I remember one of the first times I came back into Manhattan to play chess after 9/11 I looked down Seventh Avenue and could see the World Financial Center. It was really weird seeing that instead of the towers.

In 1992 I got "downsized" right out of my 10 year career as a data center operations manager. Despite having been miserable for the last couple of years on the job, it still was a big blow to me. I was making very good money, I had 4 weeks of paid vacation, and very good benefits. My job was like a comfy old pair of shoes that one knows aren't meeting the needs of her tired feet, but can't bear to part with. I hated the job, but when one is making good money and have 10+ years with a company, it's hard to let go.

Even though I officially my last day had been August 31st, 1992 I was given outplacemnt assistance and I still had a cubicle and a phone to work from for many months to follow. I was downtown in 1993 when the first bombing occurred. I can remember seeing the smoke pouring out, and wondering what the hell was going on. My husband had come downtown to shop at J&R and grab a bite to eat with me. I remember the two of us sitting in the Burger King on Liberty St. across the street from the Trade Center, eating lunch and watching the firefighters and police scurrying around.

As I watched all of this unfolding I thought back on a job interview I had in one of the towers. It was a temporary job with Citi Bank to train tellers in the new banking computer system. If I had gotten the job I would have been working there in one of the towers as a trainer. That was just one of many job interviews that I went on that never panned out. I do believe things happen for a reason, and that was a job rejection that I can be very thankful for.

As New Yorkers who live or work in Manhattan we rarely take the time to do the touristy things that out of towners do. Since moving here in 1977, I never went to the top the Empire State Building. I did that as kid when visiting my aunt. I never went to the observation deck of the World Trade Center. The first time I was ever on the observation deck level was for the Kasparov-Anand World Championship match. Ironically enough that would start on Tuesday Sept. 11th, 1995. Six years to the day of 9/11/2001.

I still have the program and poster from that event. I collect a lot of chess related stuff. Posters and programs end out in my possession, but many of them I end out getting rid of because paper items don't interest me as much as my beloved chess pins and medals. However these items got stashed, and did not get given away or sold. These will not end out on Ebay.

The World Trade Center also holds a lot of chess playing memories for me. I played in the Commercial Chess League for many years. I played for Exxon and Solomon Brothers when I worked at those two companies, and I also played on some of the alumni teams that consisted of players who were no longer working for a company with a team in the league. We played our matches either at home (our company offices) or away (the opponent's company offices). When you played on an alumni team all of your matches were away games. I played a number of matches at the World Trade Center against The Port Authority and Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

My last match there was April 18, 2001 against Blue Cross. The reason I remember the date is because several months after 9/11 I found my visitor's badge from April 18th. Security had been tightened tremendously after the truck bombing of 1993. You had to show photo ID and being photographed and issued a temporary ID for your visit. They allowed you to keep the badge, and I guess being the pack rat I am it got tossed into a drawer as a souvenir from a successful match.

It was a match that we were outrated on every board. I was on Board Two playing a 1900 player. The match score was 1.5 - 1.5 with just my game still going on. Blue Cross only had to win or draw the match to win the division. My team was just playing for pride. I guess pride is a good enough reason at times. This was probably my hardest fought game I ever played in the league. I had played a hard fought 64 move game that I managed to win, despite the fact that my opponent at one point had two passed pawns sitting on my 7th rank. Looking at the game today as I was putting into Chess Publisher, I was amazed I had pulled it out. It certainly was one of my better defensive efforts and after I had gotten rid of both of the annoying passed pawns, it came down to an ending with my queen and 4 pawns against his two rooks and 3 pawns. It was one of those positions that I was glad the time limit had been G/120, not G/30. I don't think I could have held the position with so little time. Winning the game also allowed us to pull out the match, and costing Blue Cross clear first.

Commercial Chess League
White: Kenneth Eng 1921 vs Black: Polly Wright 1700

After 9/11/01 I wondered if Ken had gotten out in time. I had heard from others that he indeed was alive. I was immensely relieved to see him the following February at the US Amateur Team East. I still don't know whether he was at work that day, or whether he has some harrowing tale to tell about getting out on time. Outside of passing him in the corridors outside the playing room of various tournaments we've both played in, I've had no contact with him. Perhaps one day we'll cross paths gain over the chessboard, and I will find out about his day on that particular Tuesday.


Vleeptron Dude said...

Hi Polly!

May I please filch your image of the Intel chess match poster? I don't want to wallow in this miserable anniversary, but Susan P's commenters left such interesting things, I'd like to post about it, and the Intel poster is so striking and -- in retro -- so eery and haunting.

I live in western Massachusetts, in a picture postcard river valley of forests and mountains, which is almost entirely Skyscraper-Free. You can drive around for days and the only skyscraper you ever see are 2 or 3 awkward, ridiculous insults against Nature on the campus of the University of Massachusetts.

I know one of them pretty well. I took a math course high up in the Graduate Research Center, and then, when I briefly proved I was a worse Go player than I am a chess player, the local Go club played in the faculty club in the penthouse.

Funny thing about undistinguished skyscrapers. They may be ugly from the outside, but the view from the penthouse is always startlingly spectacular. It's by far the most gorgeous view of my postcard valley anybody ever gets.

And as you said, the view of New Jersey from the observation deck of the WTC -- nothing else like it in my entire NYC experience.

Funny thing about our Go club. Its members were The Usual Suspects -- slightly bored, slightly adventurous chess nerds looking for an exotic thrill and challenge. We thought we were hot. One math prof even took a year's sabbatical and lived with a Japanese Go Master to get better. (So now the prof also teaches Japanese.)

Then refugees from Southeast Asia began being resettled in Happy Valley. And their teenage kids found our local Go Club.

And they just wiped the floor with the old chess nerds. The old chess nerds never knew what hit them. There are REALLY levels of that game the nerds had never suspected. (About 99 percent of advanced Go lit is all in Japanese, Chinese and Korean. Learn it or lose.)

Polly said...

Please by all means feel free to borrow the image. I would just ask that you let people know where it came from.

State Universities seem to be good for ugly insults against nature. SUNY Alabny has these 4 ugly highrise dorms that are the corners of the center of the campus. Not that Albany is beautiful to begin with, but still....

My first tournament was in the student center at UMASS up on a high floor, so the view was nice even though my chess back then was ugly.

Vleeptron Dude said...

Not as ugly as mine. Here, be Nancy Drew: I was on the high school chess team because __________ .

The other non-mystery is why state universities' architecture is so undistinguished or even ghastly.

U-Mass is a mile from Amherst College, and Smith College is in my town; down the road is Mount Holyoke College. That green stuff you're walking on on these campuses isn't grass. It's Money.

At an Ivy or 7 Sisters or well-endowed private college, any new building must pass the approval of powerful, wealthy and super-involved alumni/alumnae. They won't even consider a new building unless the design is by some world-class architect like I.M. Pei or Philip Johnston. And even then, the wealthy alumni/ae fight and squabble over the design and its impact on their beloved campus-scape for years.

These schools love to say: "We don't need your money." It's common for them to turn down a gift of a new building if the alumni/ae don't approve of how it will change the campus.

A big public university is like a beggar which can't be a chooser, and pretty much has to take whatever building anybody offers it . And the architect and contractor are chosen by a process of political favoritism and often downright corruption.

First comes the Big Ugly New Building. Then, after it's built, come the flaws, the overruns, the notorious goof-ups, the safety mistakes. (An elevator at the U-Mass high-rise dorm just had a plummet -- fortunately, with no students inside.) Then come the Grand Jury indictments.

The campuses of Smith, Mount Holyoke and Amherst, both the 19th-century stuff and the modern additions, are dreamy and idyllic. Isn't money wonderful? Sometimes it is, really. Smith just got a new Engineering Department building from a nice fat check from IBM.

Vleeptron Dude said...

Oh, uhhh ... preppie ... what was your prep school? Northfield/Mount Hermon? (I forget which was which gender, I think they're integrated now.) I came up here by accident, but one of the things that made me throw out the anchor and stay was our big Industry -- schools, education.

I got a phone call from Australia one day, the radio news wanted to interview me. The young Ozzie producer girl was practically weeping with nostalgia, she'd gone to Northfield / Mount Hermon, and had haunted downtown Northampton, and gone to the movies at the Northfield Drive-In. Happiest days of her etc etc

Polly said...

I attended Stoneleigh Burnham in Greefield. Northfiled was a big rival in sports. They merged with Mount Herman i think around 1971 or 1972. Stoneleigh has stuck to single sex education. I think they're one the hold outs against coeducation.

I actually had started a chess club at the school, and we played a few social matches against some of the boys schools. It was more an excuse to go to the boys school for dinner, and play some chess.

The other girls on the team were more interested in the social aspect while I tried to see how many of the boys I could beat in the course of an evening. I think I went undefeated. I knock a kid off in 10 moves, and then challenge the next one.

Those matches were classic "big fish in the little pond" situation.