For my birthday, the family took me to the 1 World Trade Center observation deck (it's called the One World Observatory, which gives it a bit of a utopian vibe).
Now, I've written before about the Empire State Building and 30 Rock observation decks. I have to say, 1WTC is the most impressive of them all — largely because it was designed from scratch to use the latest technologies.
The elevator ride alone is reason to go. It acts as a time machine of sorts, providing a visual history of lower Manhattan as you soar up more than 100 stories.
At the top, you watch another video of New York. Then the screen lifts up and you realize you're staring out at the city from the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
For an extra $15, you get an iPad thingie that identifies all the landmarks you're looking it. If you tap on the screen, it will zoom in and describe the sight in more detail (the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building...even Roosevelt Island).
The device had a little bit of trouble pinpointing the direction we were looking at. (I wish it had a way to snap back to your current view.) Still, it was pretty cool. But if you prefer plain-old humans, there are guides on the floor who give information on the various landmarks visible behind them.
The tickets to get into the observatory are $32. That's not cheap, but it's exactly the same price as the Empire State Building. 30 Rock is currently $30, so I guess it's now positioning itself as the bargain observation deck. (When I wrote about this before, it was the more expensive option.)
The 1WTC building itself is more impressive close up than from a distance. On a clear day, the blue panels seem to fade into the firmament.
The street artist Banksy famously derided 1WTC as "vanilla" and "something they would build in Canada."
That may be true, but it has a certain grace to it. I feel like it's settling into the skyline quite nicely.
We also visited the site of the old towers, which is now a pair of reflecting pools. I've heard that tourists taking selfies in front of the memorial is a common occurrence, irking some New Yorkers. Sure enough, I saw quite a few people bust out their selfie sticks while we were there.
We took our family photo in front of 1WTC instead. (And we have no selfie stick, so Kelly had to suffice.)
We also encountered street vendors who were selling guidebooks about Sept. 11. To get people to buy their books, they would flip through the pages and tell you about the destruction and carnage of that day. Elliot listened with keen interest. I know many parents who deliberately haven't told their kids about Sept. 11, so this experience might have been a shock for them.
I understand the impulse to shield kids from this tragedy. But the act of coming down here to visit a gleaming new building — it gives the sense that healing has begun.
To these kids, Sept. 11 will always be history. Something that can't be forgotten, but also something fuzzy and distant. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.