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What do you do, exactly, on the day the world might be ending?
First, of course, you rush to the nearest television, scramble for a radio, evacuate the building, try not to get stampeded, emerge into the blinding sunlight, look up into the sky, run for your life.
But after that—after you’ve milled on the street for hours with thousands of co-workers or neighbors, after the rumors of explosions at the Capitol, the State Department, the White House have dissipated and it seems as if maybe nothing else is going to blow up today—what do you do then?
That was a question thousands of District residents were awkwardly contemplating Tuesday, even as the acrid scent of smoke from the burning Pentagon building across the Potomac drifted through the air. There is no manual on how you’re supposed to feel or behave in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in America’s history. Nobody has any practice in the appropriate etiquette. Forget about consulting your mother, your priest, your 1-800 psychic—the phone lines are all jammed.
Do you go shopping for groceries at the Safeway, because, after all, you are running out of milk and if the world is not indeed ending you will need something for your cereal tomorrow morning?
Do you stroll Eastern Market in search of a restaurant where, just maybe, because it’s kind of like a snow day, you might be able to get a seat without the usual interminable wait?
Do you, if you’re unlucky enough to be an Arab-American today, head for the nearest mosque in search of some spiritual fortification against what could well be a coming storm of hostility? Or, if you’re a Jew, do you worry that a new round of Israel-bashing might erupt?
Do you forge ahead with your plans for a mass demonstration against the World Bank and IMF?
Do you go out at night to hit the bars and dance and drink?
None of those choices felt quite right, of course. Just as sitting transfixed in front of the television, watching the endless video loop of the World Trade Center towers collapsing, didn’t feel quite real. Just as words—”horrific,” “unimaginable,” “evil,” “retaliate,” “God bless America”—didn’t feel wholly adequate to the task of expressing the feeling of utter hollowness that had overtaken our souls.
It was another day that will live in infamy. Across the District, there were countless snapshots of how people, outwardly unscathed, tried to cope. —Howard Witt
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
Anti-globalization activists learned to deal with terrorism, too.
By Jason Cherkis
Noel Petrie woke up Tuesday morning, flicked on the television, and saw the Pentagon in flames. Her uncle works in the Pentagon.
She sat in her Mount Pleasant house, watching those horrifying images—the charred bricks, the blown-out windows, the fire and rescue workers everywhere, the steady stream of Defense Department employees running away from the raging fires. The TV was saying that a hijacked American Airlines plane had crashed into the nation’s military headquarters. Petrie thought about her uncle. Where was he?
Petrie, 25, called her father, a former Navy officer. He could make some calls, she figured. He would find out. So she waited and waited. For two hours, maybe three—it seemed like forever.
Finally, at noon, her father called. Her uncle was safe, he said. “Everything that I saw, I took with a grain of salt,” Petrie said. “I was hoping everything was OK. It was just tense.”
Soon, Petrie started to worry about something else—something she’d been planning for, day and night, for several months. Something else, she feared, that might not survive the terrorist attack. As a local organizer involved in the upcoming World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) protests, she fretted that just as those hijacked jets had turned skyscrapers into rubble, they had the potential to pulverize the anti-globalization movement’s next stop.
Even if the World Bank and IMF decide to go ahead with their Sept. 29-30 meetings in Washington—a possibility that seemed increasingly doubtful on Wednesday—all the banners and puppets and bullhorns in the world might not be enough to salvage the planned protests from Tuesday’s wreckage.
The enthusiasm of many who planned to participate in the protests has suddenly evaporated. The willingness of the American public to even listen to the protesters’ message has surely diminished. Impassioned arguments about the depredations of global capitalism sound, for the moment at least, moot.
Petrie sensed the inchoate beginnings of all these thoughts on Tuesday, and she didn’t know quite what to do. Already feeling ill and stuck at home, she couldn’t get onto the Internet. Her phone line was tied up all morning connecting with family members, not fellow activists. “I think right now, it’s up in the air,” she said of the protests.
The anti-globalization e-mail lists—the bulletin boards that offer soapboxes and gossip and camaraderie—felt like collective wakes. Activists’ moods ranged from anger at the TV networks for perceived Arab-baiting to sorrow for the victims, for the surging gas prices, for their own movement’s potential to run out of fuel. “Who is watching Fox…what the hell is happening in Afghanistan…have the hawks already started their dubious offensive?” asked one activist. “I’ll bet it was those black-clad anarchists that did it,” joked another.
In the open-letter missives, there was a distinct sense of retreat: “I feel sad for so many people right now, including those who have spent so much time and money trying to organize this protest. Ugh.”
One message even praised the bombing of the Pentagon. Not a good thing for a movement that is worried about provoking even more police scrutiny. Other activists on-line quickly denounced the message.
In fact, by Tuesday afternoon, law enforcement officials were already forecasting doom for the activists’ plans. The terrorist attack, speculated G.G. Neill, chair of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police, would have an influence on the way any protests would be handled.
“It would be tough for the officers to deal with anything,” Neill said. “I would think that the American public wouldn’t tolerate it. I don’t think they would tolerate unruly protests. Where does that leave us?”
It leaves the protesters, most likely, with zero tolerance. “I think you are going to see a major switch,” said a source within the Justice Department. “A lot of shit is going to change. You have no choice. The general public is going to look and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ There’s going to be a tremendous backlash.”
One Metropolitan Police Department detective put it even more bluntly. “Most of us are veterans,” he said. “We’re going to go [to the protest] and take care of business: kill, kill, kill.”
Despite an airplane smacking into the Pentagon, the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, and the downing of another plane outside Pittsburgh, some activists were still determined to continue their preparations as if none of this had happened. As if it had all been just some nightmare.
So they showed up for a meeting of local organizers outside Calvary Methodist Church, in the 1400 block of Columbia Road NW. The streets were quiet and empty of cars and people, save for a few kids playing ball in a fenced courtyard and a few cops passing by on bikes and in cruisers.
The meeting had been scheduled for 7 p.m., and at least 35 activists had been expected. By 7:20 p.m., only three activists—including Petrie—had shown up.
The rest had all bailed, telephoning their regrets. They wanted to be with their families, some said. Not tonight, others complained. Leave it alone.
Petrie brought some bad news to her friends. Apparently, a representative from the Mobilization for Global Justice (MGJ), one of the umbrella groups organizing the anti-World Bank/IMF events, had told a local television reporter that perhaps the protests wouldn’t happen.
“That’s confusing,” said Dave, an MGJ organizer who declined to give his last name. More like “fucked up,” said another.
“We still have to act like there’s a protest,” insisted organizer Farah Fosse. “Nothing’s changed.”
The three all wanted to believe that. They said they had to. With just over two weeks to go, terrorist attack or no terrorist attack, puppets were being constructed, airplane tickets had been purchased, and meetings had been held. The terrorist attacks would do nothing to alter the policies of the World Bank and IMF, the activists noted.
But the attack had changed how everyone felt: vulnerable. Tuesday morning, Dave said, he woke up at 8:56 a.m., turned on his TV, and saw the World Trade Center in flames. His father normally works in one of those towers, on the 50th floor. At 9:02 a.m., his father called. He was fine. “It was a slow six minutes,” Dave said.
And now it was turning into a slow half-hour, standing in front of the church with nothing to do. The three activists decided to wait and see about the rest of their night—and their planned civil disobedience at the end of the month.
At 9:17 p.m., Fosse sent out a message to one of the e-mail lists: “We should definitely not be panicking about this yet. There is a ton of work to do for the protests and I think we need to act as though nothing has changed and continue to plan for them.”
Six minutes later, she wrote, “We’ll probably be protesting whatever fool war the Pentagon launches.”
Earlier in the evening, Adam Eidinger, one of the main organizers in the MGJ, had arrived home sweaty and tired and needing a cigarette. Across town, another organizing meeting had been canceled. He had gone just to make sure everyone knew there would be no meeting.
No organizers had been there. So Eidinger had returned to his Adams Morgan apartment—and his list of things to do a hundred miles long. Still two weeks to go, and a large puppet dragon half-built in Takoma Park. Two weeks to go, and suddenly a nation in mourning. Two weeks to go, and plenty of friends and organizers, their fates unknown, in New York City.
Eidinger said activists might decide to scale back and stage a simple vigil. Or they might not do anything at all. He said he was pleased that Mayor Anthony A. Williams had urged the World Bank to cancel its meetings.
This week, Eidinger had hoped, would be a week full of articles about his movement and its aims. But now, he said, “I don’t think our message is going to get out.” CP
Eye of the Storm
In the shadow of the Capitol, it felt like just another day.
By Annys Shin and Elissa Silverman
This was terrorism’s aftermath on Capitol Hill: Grabbing and pushing for the last available slice of pepperoni at Armand’s $5.99 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet on Massachusetts Avenue NE. The beating-down with a watering hose of a red plant and other garden varieties by a man coolly dressed in Bermuda shorts and boat shoes at 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NE. A frenzied consumption of arugula by a woman sitting with two crossed-legged companions at Montmartre restaurant, on 7th Street near Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
The twin towers of the World Trade Center had imploded in New York City. The Pentagon was in flames across the Potomac in Virginia. The White House had been evacuated. Washington and surrounding areas had been put in states of emergency. News radio reported car bombs exploding near the State Department and the Capitol.
But business was still brisk for crab-cake sandwiches at the Market Lunch at Eastern Market, only a quick walk from congressional office buildings.
In this age of near-instantaneous information, there seemed little reason for Washingtonians to panic on Tuesday—even in a neighborhood that hosts some of the nation’s most precious symbols of freedom and, therefore, most tempting targets for a terrorist attack. With the Capitol evacuated, air traffic grounded, and police everywhere, most residents went about their day as best they could, their sense of personal security still largely intact.
11:15 a.m. Falun Gong practitioners Hailan Zhang and Tiny Tang continued handing out their pamphlets to passers-by walking across the street from the Capitol on 1st Street NE. “This morning, we were just doing our exercises…and suddenly the police, everybody, rush out, including congressmen and senators,” said Zhang, as a few legislators talked with reporters further down the sidewalk. “Then they yell, ‘Back, back! Run, run!’ We are Falun Gong practitioners. We say, ‘Calm down.’
“We continue to do our exercise and meditation,” Zhang added. “This was the first time that they take our fliers—the congressmen and senators. We never before had a chance to reach them.”
Capitol police, D.C. police, Secret Service police, and various other law enforcement officers formed a loose human chain around the Capitol grounds. But Capitol Hill residents hardly acted like people under marshal law. Instead, they seemed more like spectators at a parade that never quite made it down their streets.
With strollers and dog leashes, residents sauntered past cafes and restaurants. “Sorry Ben and Jerry’s will be closed today due to a national emergency. Thank you. Management,” read the sign on a door near 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
“Due to the trouble going on, Stompin Grounds will be closed for the rest of the day,” read another sign a few doors down.
12:30 p.m. Chris Hathaway pushed a baby in a stroller toward the playground in Lincoln Park. “I wouldn’t have known anything was going on if I hadn’t seen the TV,” said Hathaway as a siren wailed somewhere behind him. “A friend of mine who lives closer to the Capitol came over with this little bag—his survival pack. He said he was going to get as far away as he could, but he ended up going home.”
John, Kevin, and Brendan—three Hill staffers who didn’t give their last names—walked down the street looking like schoolkids out on a snow day. They said they were already home when they heard the reports—which later turned out not to be true—of an explosion near the Capitol.
“My dad said to get out of Dodge,” said Brendan, the only one of the trio who hadn’t yet exchanged his pressed shirt and slacks for a T-shirt and shorts.
“I live on 2nd Street. Imagine if a plane was going to slam into the Capitol and missed…” John said.
Kevin provided the sound effects: “Skip, boom!”
1:21 p.m. Marcia Silcox was one of the few Capitol Hill residents who seemed genuinely unnerved. “This is a scary place to live right now,” Silcox said as she sat on her front stoop on E Street NE, a few blocks from the Capitol, with her son, Cal, who looked to be about 10. Silcox said she and her son were waiting for her husband and teenage daughter, who had called an hour earlier to say they would be making their way home on foot from Northwest Washington.
Though Silcox had her TV on like everyone else, the throng of media that had descended on the neighborhood filled her with a certain dread. “The television trucks are parked all along East Capitol Street, facing the Capitol, like they’re waiting for something to happen.”
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There was not an available outdoor table at Tunnicliff’s, a bar and restaurant across from Eastern Market. Inside, regulars, Capitol Hill staffers, and a few members of Congress huddled at the bar watching Peter Jennings on ABC. “Have you seen Thirteen Days?” asked a gray-haired man sitting at the bar. “Now that was scary!”
“Not only is it a dark day for the nation, but a sunny day in the nation’s capital,” announced a WTOP anchor moments later.
2:10 p.m. The crowds of federal workers who had been milling around outside Union Station were gone. Traffic had cleared. In front of the reflecting pool by the U.S. Botanic Garden, below the U.S. Capitol, a dozen or so people admired the view of the deserted and pristine dome. Behind them, the Washington Monument stood unharmed. Unlike the Capitol, that landmark was not surrounded by police. A family sitting on the ledge of the pool was having a “pebble war,” flinging specks of rock at one another with abandon.
A few moments later, the sound of an airplane flying overhead filled the air. No one looked up to check whether it might be a commercial jet careening into the Capitol.
“Nobody’s safe with this terrorism thing going on,” said Patricia Brown, walking into the parking lot of the Safeway at 14th and D Streets NE. Brown sounded at first as if she were in full panic mode. If she had her druthers, she said, she’d be in a basement right now. Anywhere but at a school. “Around 10 a.m., it was pandemonium at school,” she said, pointing toward Payne Elementary.
But asked whether she was at the grocery store to stock up on emergency rations, she replied, slightly embarrassed, “I come here every day. It’s nothing about pandemonium.”
Inside the Safeway, there was no panic buying in evidence—unlike what ordinarily occurs, say, when weather forecasters predict the slightest threat of snow. “I had planned on shopping today,” one woman calmly explained. “I only shop once a month,” she added, pointing to her overflowing stash of soda, cheese puffs, and ground beef.
3:46 p.m. On 14th Street, sprinklers showered lush front-yard gardens. A woman walked her dog. A bus with posters for Alias, the new television show about a grad student/CIA agent, rolled by. An elderly resident scanned the block from her porch. A small sign with her house number on it read, “Neighborhood Watch. Police Marked Property.”CP
Milking the Scapegoats
Arabs and Jews reacted to the reaction.
By Garance Franke-Ruta and Felix Gillette
Military Humvees speeding down major streets. Men armed with machine guns patrolling the subway. Billowing smoke, bomb blasts, body bags. Emergency evacuations and a state of emergency. Not thousands of miles away in the Middle East, but here. In Washington.
Worried Jews and nervous Arabs. Also here. Representatives of two communities that may yet bear the brunt of undifferentiated anger from Americans looking for scapegoats.
Arab-Americans, sadly accustomed to the ritual, began to feel the heat almost instantly. It happened after the Oklahoma City bombing, and the first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993, and the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, and last year’s attack on the USS Cole. And now it was starting anew.
“We received some very hateful messages,” said Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who started fielding telephone calls soon after Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. “People were telling us that we would be held responsible. The immediate response of some individuals was to call us up and threaten us.”
The calls came, as well, from Arab-Americans living in the District who were concerned about a possible backlash against them. “The whole community is in a great deal of pain,” Ibish said. “And it’s mixed with a great deal of anxiety.
“We’re very concerned,” continued Ibish, “because even though it’s totally unclear about who might have been responsible, we have this experience of being the first to be blamed—and of being the community as a whole targeted in response.”
Matters were scarcely helped as the TV networks intercut scenes of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York with incendiary shots of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza joyously celebrating the destruction.
Jews, meanwhile, began pondering what the terrorist attacks might mean for them. All day Tuesday, as official Washington was grinding to a halt, Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg of the Adas Israel congregation in Cleveland Park took calls from worried congregants. Some wanted to know if there would be any special prayer services. Some just wanted to talk. And several, he said, gave voice to the same terrible thought: Maybe America would now understand what it was like to live in Israel.
Few Jewish Americans interviewed in the District believed that there would be much of an anti-Israel or anti-Semitic reaction.
“I would be surprised if that happened,” said Glenn Easton, the executive director of Adas Israel, one of Washington’s oldest synagogues. “These terrorists have been targeting the U.S. for a long time.”
Yet comments overheard on Washington’s streets in the first few hours after the bombings revealed an undercurrent of anger over the U.S. role in the Middle East—and its steadfast support for Israel.
“[The attack] was bound to happen sooner or later. How long can we go on supporting one nation in the Middle East at the expense of the other?” declared one downtown evacuee a block from the cordoned-off White House. “It was bound to happen.”
Another man, a Dupont Circle lawyer who asked not to be named, griped that “something has to be done about Israel…If you wanted to generate hatred, you couldn’t do a better job. Strong pressure ought to be brought on Israel to stop the bullshit.”
Those sorts of sentiments were probably pre-existing, said Wohlberg. On Tuesday, he led a larger-than-normal evening minyan, which included a reading of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the saying of a mourner’s kaddish for the bombing victims. (All other activities at the synagogue were canceled for the day. The D.C. Jewish Community Center and many other Jewish organizations shut down Tuesday as well.)
“Most people will say that this is why we have to support Israel,” Wohlberg said. “This wasn’t an attack on the country alone. It was an attack on our values….The sense of vengeance in me calls out for [punishment], but the point is not just to react against this, but to realize that there is a world where these kinds of attacks are tolerated.”
If Wohlberg was referring to the Arab world, that was precisely the kind of comment that would make Ibish cringe.
“We have a great deal of faith in the overwhelming majority of our fellow Americans,” Ibish said. “They understand that there is no such thing as guilt by association or guilt by religion. But right now, most Arab-Americans are keeping a very low profile.”
That certainly looked to be true at the mosque and Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue’s Embassy Row, which was nearly deserted throughout the day Tuesday.
“There weren’t many people at the service,” said Mohammad Jadir, a 37-year-old Muslim, who said he moved to the District from Morocco 10 years ago.
“People want to be with their families right now. Besides, traffic is bad,” said Jadir, gesturing at the slow-moving northbound vehicles stretching up and down the busy thoroughfare.
A few minutes later, the hushed quiet of the mosque was broken.
“You are Muslims. You cannot lock Allah’s doors!” shouted a bearded, middle-aged man dressed in a denim shirt and khakis, who mistakenly thought the gates to the mosque had been locked.
“This is bullshit! They lock the doors because they are afraid,” the man continued to rant. “The American government got bombed. So what? You Americans have the nicest country. But it was given to you by Allah. And you are not thankful. So now somebody is twisting your arm.”
“There will probably be a backlash,” said Alexis York, a 20-year-old George Washington University student who converted to Islam last year. “You can’t judge all Muslims by the acts of a few people. That’s just pure ignorance. Muslims are compassionate people.”
By Tuesday night, the worst fears of Arab-Americans appeared to be coming true. A man wielding a knife attacked a Kurdish vigil being staged across from the Turkish Embassy at Sheridan Circle, the group sponsoring the vigil reported. Though nobody was hurt in the attack, the signs accompanying the vigil were shredded to pieces.
“Every time we take a few steps forward,” said Andy Shallal, a 47-year-old Muslim Arab-American, “something like [Tuesday’s bombings] happens and the bridges we have built seem to crumble.”CP
Mastered by Disaster
Rumor and restraint vied for supremacy in the media’s avalanche.
By Richard Byrne
There were moments early in the coverage of the terrorist assault on New York City and Washington, D.C., when you could catch television news in its ultimate deer-in-the-headlights moment. Switch to the blazing World Trade Center? The burning Pentagon? A local traffic report? At times, there were split screens with anchor voice-overs. At other moments, there were violent cuts better suited to a John Woo film.
If confusion was evident on the major networks, it was even more so in D.C.’s media. The chaos of such a huge breaking news story presents opportunities for both distinguished reporting and serious errors. Count the initial scramble of local news resources to the Pentagon in the former category. Place the heedless rumor-mongering, including broadcast reports of attacks on the U.S. Capitol and the State Department (and another impending airplane attack), as clear examples of the latter.
As television news doggedly chased its own tale, many people desperate for information turned to the Internet. It was not the finest hour for local news Web sites. Some local affiliates simply defaulted to larger national sites, as NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) did, or stripped themselves down to bare text, as in the case of Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5).
The notable exception to this was the Washington Post’s Web site, which was first-rate. Its broad range of stories was carefully layered, well-reported, and tightly written, with a sharp eye for detail. Moreover, it presented crucial up-to-the-minute local information, such as road closings and the status of schools and government offices. More impressive still was the fact that the Post’s Web site kept its shape and clear graphic presentation despite the pressures placed on it. Even much of the commentary—such as Metro columnist Marc Fisher’s impromptu riff on the stunned city—was excellent, besting other features on Web-only portals such as Slate (which improved in quality as the day progressed) and Salon (which didn’t). The Post and the Washington Times hit the streets with special print extra editions, but the Post shined brightest on the Internet.
As the afternoon wore on and network television coverage took hold, local TV news condensed drastically into a collation of the numerous closings in the area and live local shots. By the time the networks ceded the tube to late local newscasts, D.C. stations had finally recovered their breath. WUSA-TV (Channel 9) did an excellent story about the desperation of a Pentagon family searching for a loved one. WRC reporter Pat Collins redeemed a shrill take on public safety and street closings with his excellent live interview with Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Margret Kellems.
There were also the predictable bits of local-TV oddity and flub. On WUSA, American University Law School Professor Nicholas N. Kittrie’s enthusiasm for explicating the nuances of terrorism veered at times into the Strangelovian.
If rumor held the early part of the day, the media’s restraint was notable, too—though the endless, nauseating shots of planes careening into the World Trade Center weren’t exactly a shining beacon. There was admirable care in the reporting of casualties and possible fatalities throughout the first 24 hours, and a decidedly careful tone taken toward assigning responsibility through the first six or so hours. (The media did learn something from getting it so wrong in 1995’s Oklahoma City attack.)
It took until late in the afternoon for Saudi millionaire terrorist Osama bin Laden to be labeled as the target for blame. (ABC News anchor Peter Jennings noted dryly at 8:24 p.m. that blaming bin Laden “has become something of a tradition.”) How the media report his alleged involvement in the attacks will be a key issue in coverage in the next days and weeks, and there is considerable question as to whether we are up to it.
On Tuesday night, I reached Peter Bergen, a journalist-in-residence at the Pew Fellowships in International Journalism who’s writing a book about bin Laden and Islamic terrorism. “You always have to be careful,” noted Bergen, who compared the media to French generals confronted with the Nazi blitzkrieg in 1940. “The media is always trapped in the prism of the last big event.”
Bergen conceded that the case for bin Laden does look convincing. “Hijacking four jets is a decided increase in the order of magnitude,” he said. This leap in audacity, Bergen concluded, “fits the gradual crescendo in magnitude” of bin Laden operations, such as the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1988 and last year’s attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.
The bin Laden binge is not the only direction in which this story is heading. There will be reports on lapses in intelligence and airport security, and tales of heroism and terror. Most interesting to media critics, perhaps, will be tracking the inevitable flood of punditry. From the tragedy’s first hours, public figures such as former Secretary of State (and George W. Bush recount adviser) James W. Baker, former Reagan administration National Security Advisor and Iran-Contra participant Robert McFarlane, and former FBI and CIA chief William Webster all stumped for a dramatic rollback of carefully considered U.S. intelligence policies—including a ban on assassinations.
“It’s the only way we can take care of the problem,” said Baker of the idea of reviving assassinations, on ABC at 3:27 p.m.
As big as this story is, the impact of the media on it reaches down to all of us. I didn’t hear about Tuesday’s events through the media, but rather as I climbed into a cab at 9:30 a.m. My driver was an American of Arab descent, and events were dictating that I was going to be his last fare for the day. Because of what he’d heard on the radio, he was going home to lie low.
How the media help to shape our perceptions of this dire attack will affect the quality of all our lives—and our democracy as well.CP
Turn Out the Lights
Tragedy slowly sucked the nightlife from the District’s streets.
By Paul Fain
The city’s Starbucks were locked and desolate on Tuesday, but there was life on the street. Two miles away from the burning Pentagon, the bars and restaurants of 17th Street NW were filling with stunned office workers who didn’t want to go home.
“Business is wonderful, although I’d rather it wasn’t,” said Mourad Benjelloun, manager of Trio’s and the Fox and Hounds, of the surreal holiday atmosphere at his bars on Tuesday afternoon. The bar’s outdoor seating was filled by 3:30 p.m.—two hours after a state of emergency was declared in the District. Far from the “quiet, unyielding anger” that President George W. Bush ascribed to Americans, evacuated Washingtonians were animatedly gabbing about the day’s events.
Over at the Big Hunt in Dupont Circle, conversations yielded slowly to the startling images on the bar’s numerous televisions. One bartender affixed an announcement of a beer special to one of the sets, but the place was hushed completely when NBC flashed a list of statistics about the World Trade Center onto the screen—its height, how many tons of glass it had, and the number of people who worked in the towers. After the U.S. Congress’ rendition of “God Bless America” played on the TV, the bar erupted in applause.
As day slid into evening and the chaos and gridlock on the streets gave way to silence, the adrenaline and perverse excitement of the day faded, too.
District residents Amy, 26, and Patty, 34, were at Poli-Tiki on Tuesday night. After their K Street nonprofit was evacuated that morning, they said, they were “nervous and scared” to be in the District, so they walked across the Key Bridge to Rosslyn. Early fears melted as they shared drinks and lunch in Virginia, but the women’s spirits flagged again as they watched Bush’s evening address at the Southeast nightspot. Patty put her arm around her tearful friend.
Like other Capitol Hill bars, the Capitol Lounge was quieter and emptier than it would have been on a normal Tuesday night. The bouncer on duty said that although patrons seemed “disturbed,” the mood hadn’t been all bad. “If you don’t have a flaming plane hanging out of the side of you,” he observed, “you have a reason to be happy.”
When happy hour was over, most Washington nightspots were largely deserted. Dance clubs such as State of the Union, Republic Gardens, and 5 were shuttered.
Farther north, in Adams Morgan, the vibe resembled that of a Monday holiday, when the vast majority of bargoers opt for an early night. Stragglers held on at the Toledo Lounge, but many venues—including the Blue Room—were dark and empty. At midnight, the only patron at Madam’s Organ was asleep on the bench just outside the bar—his head in his hands and crutches at his side.
The rest of the city joined him in trying to sleep off a terrible day. Washington would trudge back to work on Wednesday. CP