- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

OUTER BANKS, N.C.

Sharks? What sharks? The ravenous creatures that scared folks from these sandy shores just weeks ago have lost their bite. A much more gripping terror replaced them — fear for freedom.

If you think it's still all fun and games here at the beach, think again. Six degrees of separation: Not a single American will go unscathed by the unconscionable attack on our country a week ago today, Sept. 11, 2001.

Even in this pristine place, we have hardly escaped the horrors of the battleground that has become our crippled nation from sea to crying sea. The fiery and ashen images forever burned in our brains.

We will each have a nail-biting tale to tell. Of waiting for word about our family, our friends, our co-workers and our neighbors who could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Today, we are all Americans. Period. Colorblind, we lost our hyphens along with our hyped-up sense of security.

But we have gained an even greater gift as we shore up our strength and show signs of our unwavering courage and unity. We light candles and drop to our knees and pray for the souls of the departed and for those they left behind.

A fresh American flag unfurls from the mulberry bushes in Southern Shores. Huge swatches of Old Glory's red, white and blue are hoisted in place of seafoam- and rainbow-colored windsocks.

Tee time? Who can think of golf along the Albermarle Sound at a time like this? "We understand," says the woman in the Currituck Club pro shop when I call to cancel our lessons. I am not the only one, she explains as she apologies for the 15-minute wait on hold.

All are glued to the few television stations available along the shoreline. QVC suspended selling. Radios blared with all-talk newscasts about the highest level of security at Norfolk's huge naval base just to the north of here.

The Beach Boys are silenced. Duck Road is deserted.

At the Wee Winks convenience store, a dozen people line up at the crack of dawn to await the arrival of the overpriced national newspapers. Most give up after an hour's wait. For the determined news junkies, the short stack is snapped up within seconds.

From the Food Lion in Corrolla to Webbs Crab Shack in Nags Head, the talk of the day, like the catch of the day, has turned from "shark bait" to "America Under Attack."

Roadside stands sprouted up, selling red, white and blue ribbons to tie on our antennas.

Volunteer firefighters caused traffic backups as they collected money. The delays disturbed no one.

"Whaddya think we ought to do with them terrorists once we catch 'em?" asks the woman from behind the crab shack's counter. Notice she didn't say "if" but "when."

The audible calm and confidence in her seaside drawl demonstrates her bedrock faith in America's might is as resolute as ever. In her allegiance, I find solace.

"Well, I tell ya what we ought do. We should give 'em a trial and we should let 'em loose right in downtown Manhattan and tell them if they make it to the river alive, they can jump or be burned." She says it in such a matter-of-fact manner, it's shocking.

Mind you, the woman looks about as harmless as a magnolia blossom. With her slightly teased thinning hair, pink lipstick and delicate hands, she wears a silver crab pin on her silk blouse.

Back at our castle on the beach, the young man who comes to clean the hot tub wants an update. "What's the latest?" he asks. "Has [President] Bush said anything yet?"

A late-season worker who comes to restring the Cape Hatteras hammock informs us that "the largest Navy base on the East Coast is just up the road," as if we didn't know or as if to offer us slight comfort. "You ought to see a few fly-bys this afternoon." Sure enough, the jets soon soared through the sunny sky.

When I could no longer stand the frustrating sound of yet another inhuman voice announcing "all circuits are busy, please try again" on the land lines and the four — count them, four — cell phones in our company, I headed for the sand.

I made friends with a woman who looked as frantic as I.

"Whew, just had to get away," we sang. She works for a Northern Virginia financial planning firm and was trying to decide whether to extend her stay another day. After all, "the market is closed."

"Unbelievable," is all I remember either of us uttering as we strolled a few feet together in the sand.

Later, I saw her sitting in the gazebo on the dunes with her husband, her mother and a glass of red wine. "I see you've convinced them to stay," I said as a waved farewell.

The next day, a friendly gentleman, with two toddlers in tow, said he just got into his car and drove five hours from McLean because "it's like a foreign country in D.C."

He then described an "eerie scene" replete with National Guard troops "with automatic rifles standing on every other corner."

Could this be true? Armed guards like the ones I saw in Paris this summer, which caused me to remark, "I'm glad I live in America"? What a difference a day makes.

I finally reach my Sistagirl Brenda, a television producer, who tells me that the streets are indeed so quiet "it's eerie."

But with my e-mail up and running again, all is not quiet. I learn that a Leadership Washington member has lost her husband in the Pentagon plane crash. Another member solicits volunteer help through Greater D.C. Cares.

Oddly, I note that we are no longer strangers. No one has asked of another's name in days. We are all now named "Americans Under Attack."

The symbolic structures of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon just across the Potomac River were targeted by the terrorists for a direct hit. But every American psyche suffered a serious blow.

No one goes untouched. Not even those of us at the balmy beach who days ago were joking about being shark bait.

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