"Vests!" yelled our minder. I dropped my backpack and fumbled with the gaping armholes and Velcro flaps. Why do fluoro vests come only in XXXL sizes? Surely if you're that big you're already high-vis.
"Glasses!" yelled our minder, handing out Bono-esque plastic safety shades. "And get your helmets. No helmet, no go!"
At Ground Zero, a group of media stood in their unflattering bright pullovers, adjusting hard hats and gazing up at the building before them.
"United we stand. 9/11/2001" read a massive banner in front of an American flag. United we walked by, towards the concrete columns and whining power tools punctuating construction of New York's tallest building.
Ten years have passed, and from the ashes of the Twin Towers, the Freedom Tower now pierces the Manhattan skyline. On Monday, a new beam made it taller than the Empire State Building and thus the tallest skyscraper in Manhattan. It will be a year before it is finished.
As a construction elevator groaned its way up the tower I stared at its noticeboard. It was a patchwork of patriotism, plastered with stickers and flags. There were photos of firefighters who'd died in the attacks, slogans, bald eagles and ubiquitous US flags. I was surprised to see several stickers protesting the building of an Islamic cultural centre a few blocks away. The stickers said, "No Ground Zero Mosque".
Never mind it's not a mosque and isn't at Ground Zero. Sometimes patriotism is blind.
Sometimes, too, I wondered just what exactly everyone was celebrating.
The Freedom Tower is undoubtedly a symbol of America's resilience, its people's ability to support each other and overcome devastation. But for many, it's a "we showed them", an angry middle finger raised from the Manhattan skyline at al Qaeda.
Is that really progress? I'm not sure. I'm just not sure it's a healthy attitude. As one construction worker pointed out, for New Yorkers the tower is a constant reminder of the buildings and people they lost.
It was a big week for al Qaeda anniversaries; Wednesday marked a year since Osama bin Laden was shot dead by US Navy Seals. Instead of a sombre message or press conference, Barack Obama released an election campaign TV ad heralding his decision to order the strike. No doubting bin Laden's evil, it still seems odd and primal; the world's most powerful leader politicising and effectively bragging about killing someone. But I guess Obama showed him.
And I don't think the guys building the Freedom Tower are too likely to complain. As I waited for an elevator down, a construction shift finished, and several dozen workers in steel-toed boots and worn jeans strode to the concrete waiting platform. Most had stickers on their helmets. Patriot patches, US flags, and anti-Mosque stickers.
"Ohhh media, eh? You guys been filming the tower?" joked the class clown, a heavy-set guy with massive shoulders and a sweatshirt caked in chalky dust. His helmet didn't have stickers, but the whole thing had been decorated with a US flag motif. Red, blue, stars and stripes.
His tone turned from attention seeking, to a little more serious. He turned his eyes down and said, "Yeah ... we showed the f***ers."