HOBOKEN, N.J.—Happy hour draws crowds of young professionals to Wayne Hobson's corner bar, a block from the train tunnel and ferry dock that link this gentrified old port on the Hudson River to the island of Manhattan.
On warm summer evenings, Hobson's friends snag seats around the sidewalk tables. They eye the commuters walking past, argue about the Yankees or plan weekends at the Jersey Shore.
Fifty-three people from Hoboken died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. This mile-square city of 38,000 lost more of its residents in the terrorist attacks than any place except New York City. And all of them were young.
Many of their brief lives intersected by day over trading desks in the twin towers and by night over beers at Hobson's, where the long litany of the dead only begins with its owner, Wayne Hobson.
The victims of 9/11 left spouses and children behind in Hoboken, but even more often, they left fiances with wedding dresses to return. Because Hoboken, with its cheaper housing, booming bar scene and quick commute to Manhattan, is such a magnet for young people, the average age of the city's dead was 32--eight years younger than the average victim of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It's very sad, because they were just starting their lives," Hoboken Mayor David Roberts said.
They were people like Wayne Hobson, 36, an energy broker by day for Cantor Fitzgerald and bar owner by night, who was thinking of starting a family with his wife of four years.
There was Doug DiStefano, 24, a part-time bartender at Hobson's who took a job at Cantor, high in the trade center's north tower, only three weeks before 9/11.
There was Tommy Knox, 31, another Cantor broker, who met his wife when he tended bar and she waited tables at Hobson's. "Our story was a Hobson's love story," said Nancy Knox, 31.
And there are those they left behind, like Hobson regular Doug Edwards, 33, who not only lost a legion of friends in the trade center but also lost his mother on American Airlines Flight 77 when it plowed into the Pentagon that day.
And Edwards' roommate, Pat Hannaford, 29, lost his brother Kevin, 32, another Cantor broker.
"A year ago, out on a night like this, there would be another six or seven guys who are not here now," Pat Hannaford said as he and the survivors from his circle of friends drank another round of Beck's beer late on an August night.
Such losses had a special resonance in Hoboken, where so many of the young residents led increasingly successful lives filled with promise, optimism and ambition. They had few cares. They thought they had plenty of time.
"Before Sept. 11, you felt there was never a better time and place in the world than the one you were living in," Pete Bavoso, 32, said one recent evening at Hobson's. "Everyone was making good money. It was like, `How much better can this get?'"
WTC `was the town mill'
Many earned that good life at the twin towers. "For Hoboken, the World Trade Center was like the factory to the small town. It was the town mill," Bavoso said.
In recent years, the short train or ferry commute across the Hudson to Manhattan's financial district helped transform Hoboken. The hometown of Frank Sinatra and the scruffy setting for the Marlon Brando classic "On the Waterfront" went from a blue-collar immigrant stronghold of dockworkers and shipbuilders to a white-collar yuppie colony.
What didn't change is what one resident called Hoboken's "seaport karma," a hard-working, hard-drinking spirit still evident in the city's ubiquitous bars. Indeed, on 9/11, Hoboken's bars opened early and stayed packed for weeks after because "no one wanted to be alone in their apartments," said Barney Finnegan, the owner of the Nag's Head bar.