Outside, It’s America

March 7th, 2008

Ready Dot Gov Frankly, I’m surprised shit isn’t tossed at that thing more often.

Military Island — a red, white and blue neon-stiped, brush-steel box — sits astride a wedge-shaped slab of concrete between at 43d Street between Seventh and Broadway. It is, quite literally, The Crossroads of the World. There are no fences, no barricades, no sentries or guards. It’s exposed to pedestrian traffic, and never more than a few feet from the street.

So frankly, I’m surprised it took so long.

* * *

I heard the helicopters as I slipped out of my dreams, and crawled from my bed But even though I caught something about an explosion on NPR as I brewed the morning coffee, I didn’t put it together. These days, an explosion isn’t much of a headline.

It wasn’t until I was just a few feet from the northwest entrance of my office, there on 44th & Broadway, that I connected the dots: helicopters, satellite trucks, canine patrols, barricades, police tape.

‘Oh!’ I thought. ‘The bombing was here.’

This afternoon, I passed the recruitment center on my way to the subway. The front window was shattered. The door was bent from its frame. But Uncle Sam was still there, pointing evil-eyed from his perch. “I want you!” The building was ringed in police tape and blue uniforms. Tourists stopped, gawked, and snapped photos on their cell phones. Otherwise, though, the city pulsed onward.

Times Square bomb threats began just two days after September 11, 2001, moments after we’d wrapped our first news meeting. I’ll never forget racing down twentynine flights of stairs, stuck behind two of my heavier set colleagues waiting to hear the rumble of the building’s collapse and thinking, ‘If I die because these guys are out of shape…”

It doesn’t take much to rattle our nerves there: thunder, the rumble of a truck, a backfire. A few sirens are really all it takes to raise my alert.

It’s a change, to be sure, but it doesn’t change how I approach life. I don’t avoid the subways any more than I avoided traveling in the Middle East a few months ago. And not because I buy any of that “If I don’t do such and such then the terrorists have won.” No, I look at it a bit more broadly than that; it’s not black and white. I mean, some of culture’s greatest heros have been rebels: Han Solo, Guy Fawkes, Neo. It’s really just a question of perspective. I mean, Rumsfeld and Saddam where pretty tight when we needed help with Iran.

And so we walk on, not because anyone has won, but because we’ve all lost. Whether the explosion was caused by a bonafide “terrorist,” or just some deadbeat doesn’t even matter. With a thousand channels, 60° Februarys, four dollar gallons of gas and three trillion dollar war bills, I’m pretty sure it isn’t a question of whether, but when.

As the sun set on Manhattan, I received an email from a colleague in Connecticut.

“I hope everything is well in NYC!”

‘Just another day in the big city,’ I thought.

I logged off, pulled on my coat, and rode the elevator to the lobby. I dialed up U2 as I stepped into the fray. I sang beneath my breath as I turned west from the mash up of lights and crowds and chaos, “Outside, it’s America.”