WA: I’ve always believed that thoughtful people don’t really take the tabloids seriously. They’re basically a form of entertainment. I enjoy them as much as the next New Yorker.
NY: But do you think New York has gotten meaner?
WA: When you travel around the country, you see what a tough town New York is: rude, competitive, a town where good, logical ideas are ignored in favor of unworkable ones. And yet, all these other towns are so dead and boring compared to New York.
NY: If you could live forever in the New York of one of the past four decades, which decade would it be?
WA: I can’t go back earlier than that, right? Okay, ’cause I just want to add, parenthetically, the period leading up to World War II, that was really the time to be here. But, I guess, the seventies. There were a lot of good movies in the seventies, and politically we weren’t completely in the toilet.
NY: Were you in the city on September 11?
WA: Yes, I remember exactly where. Someone in my house—I lived on 92nd Street then—said, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center,” and then we turned on a television set and then another one crashed, and we saw that. Two days later I was scheduled to go to Europe. A lot of people canceled going to Europe, there was a lot of fear. I wasn’t afraid, not because I’m anything but a major coward, but I was flying privately. I didn’t think that I could be hijacked. And because I went and I was a New Yorker, I became the spokesman for New York City and September 11. And I was on all the Sunday-morning news shows in France and England and Italy. I was suddenly on their versions of Face the Nation. And they were asking me, is this going to be the end of all humor? (They have a way of putting these things in European countries.) Is this the end of New York? And I said no, not at all. Not for a minute. I feel I was completely right. If you drop a person in New York City now and you drop them before September 11 and they didn’t know, they wouldn’t know the difference. I felt New York would metabolize it, and it would go on. New York would be the same vibrant city. And it is.