When the towers fell -- why does it feel like it was just a while ago? -- I was fast-walking around my neighborhood as I did most mornings. Pretty soon I noticed clusters of folks huddling on sidewalks and gesturing with obvious agitation. Somebody told me that a small plane had crashed into a building.
I rushed up to my apartment and turned on the TV. Up until that moment I had envisioned a single-motor small plane from Teterboro airport in New Jersey running into a skyscraper. But what I was seeing on my TV screen was incredible: a commercial plane carrying more than 100 passengers had deliberately crashed into one of the two World Trade Center towers. The tower, what was once a tower, was spewing dark smoke, puffs of dust and flames.
And just then, the camera showed another plane flying directly into the second tower. It crumpled into a side of the tower, slicing it. The upper floors exploded and fire engulfed the top of the building. People were running away from the buildings in every direction. Debris, crumbling hunks of concrete, plaster, pieces of metal, broken pipes, everything that had been up, that held up the towers, was raining down, burying the people and buildings below. Thousands were still trapped in the towers, and finding no way out, no hope, no rescue, desperately sought an exit and jumped through the glass walls and out the windows to the earth below. Then the buildings crumpled, collapsed on themselves, first one, then the other, and there was nothing left standing, only giant clouds of smoke and dust and death.
Those of us who live in New York, within sight of the empty space where the towers once stood, have lived with that day for nine years. We have lived almost every day with that sense of surreal fear and horrific destruction and sudden death that could come upon us any day, without notice.
It isn't the first attempted terrorist plot against the city since 9/11. We've had 11 other attempts or attempts of attempts, but none of them has come so close as the car bomb that was made to destroy people and buildings in such an iconic place as Times Square, crossroads of the world.
This one looked amateurish, and the commentators and their experts on cable and network news at first played it down -- everyone did. Maybe it was a "lone wolf." Maybe it was a right-wing nut, Chris Matthews offered on his show, "Hardball," on Monday. But we had a hunch -- and we certainly know now -- that it wasn't a lone wolf, it wasn't a right-wing nut, it wasn't a crazy malcontent like the guy who flew his little plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, some months ago.
No, this was real. It was "a terrorist plot aimed at murdering Americans," said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. today. He announced that the bomb suspect, Faisal Shahzad, 30, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, was charged with five counts including conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. Shahzad was caught in the nick of time, just before the Dubai-bound Emirates Boeing 777 carrying him was to take off from the runway at Kennedy Airport.
Plain and simple, this was probably an international conspiracy, cooked up in Pakistan, to blow us up, to bring destruction to the heart of New York City.
But the subways are running, the restaurants are packed, yellow cabs are cruising Manhattan's busy streets, buses are rolling along, office workers are lining up just about right now, at the start of the evening rush hour, to hop the subway or the Metro North or the Path to New Jersey, and Times Square is bustling with locals and tourists.
New Yorkers boast constantly about how tough we are. True. We have no choice. Most of us can't afford taxis to ferry us about the city, so we go underground, where police officers with sniffing dogs patrol subway cars and station platforms, where things could go dark in the blink of an eye.
We walk without craning our necks for suspicious characters. We go about our business as if we lived on an island paradise, but in the back of our minds, there's a sense of vigilance. We watch the quirky guy with the bulging backpack in the train and we keep an eye out for packages left unattended, just as they tell us to do in the subways and airports.
But we try not to think about that too much. We live in a bubble that way. We believe we will survive.
Today we've watched the Washington brass, from President Obama on down, parceling out information to the media on what happened and what's happening and what may or may not be happening. Links are being made to terrorists in Pakistan, where the failed car bomber was born and visited often, and links are made to the usual suspects -- the Taliban, Al Qaeda. Praise was lavished on the alert vendors who spotted the bomb car parked illegally on West 45th Street early Saturday evening, when Times Square was a caldron of people going to the theater, clubs and restaurants. Praise, too, to the NYPD, the nation's finest, and all the agencies, local and federal, who got into the act quickly and collared the guy.
But leave it to a true-blue city cop, Ray Kelly, the police commissioner, to bring it all home.
"New York is America, and they want to come back to kill us," he said at a news conference, his voice raspy and tough, a New Yorker's voice. It was a warning -- to all of us, but mostly to them.
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