- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

The train leaving Penn Station in Manhattan late Tuesday night lacked the usual number of passengers bound for Union Station in the District.
I have ridden this train a zillion times over the years, and usually it is a den of chatter, activity and the like. Hey, you, yeah you with the carry-on living room set, are you spatially challenged?
But this night, seven weeks after the atrocity of September 11, the train was almost lifeless, muted, distinctly different. It was, in a way, a tiny symbol of the incongruency tugging on America. The resolve to push ahead and do what we always have done now comes with qualifiers and contradictory admonishments. Do what you always have done, yes. But to do it, you must get there early in order to deal with the increased security measures.
It was a big night in the city that never sleeps. Michael Jordan was on West 33rd, playing in his first regular season game with the Wizards following his three-season retirement. The Yankees, the U.S. Steel of sports franchises, were over in the Bronx, going against the Diamondbacks in Game 3 of the World Series.
It was a night of fun and games. It also was a night to remember the fallen heroes of September 11 the firefighters, police officers, rescue personnel and civilians who perished on that awful Tuesday morning.
The juxtaposition was disorienting, the uplifting spirit of a game set against a funereal mood. A black patch might as well have been stitched to the red, white and blue. The terrorists have done that to us, taken a piece of us, undermined who we are incrementally, and they can't be eliminated soon enough.
Anthrax is their follow-up response. There is anthrax in the mailroom, anthrax on the brain, and anthrax here, there, seemingly everywhere. The two cities, New York and Washington, share more than their self-importance and a playful antagonism with one another. They share the open scars of Osama bin Laden's twisted obsession.
"We prove every time we show up at an NBA game that we are determined to live our lives," President Bush said by video before the game at Madison Square Garden.
This is the appeal that goes with the "return to normalcy," as it is defined down along the train tracks that connect the two population centers. There are no firm answers, only a lot of somber questions of where this is leading and how long it will take to eradicate the crazy ones and what evil could be next. The rules of engagement are much clearer on a ball field or basketball court.
One of the train conductors joked that it was a turban-free zone, and the few passengers could thank God for that. The stab at humor, however politically incorrect, was not intended to demean, really, just ease the hint of uneasiness beneath the surface.
The Justice Department has put America on high alert again, although no one is quite sure what this means or what the correct actions are. Be alert to what? The mail? The food? The water? The public transportation system?
Meanwhile, the U.S.-led bombing campaign continues in Afghanistan, while those so-called fierce warriors of the Taliban pick new hiding spots each day.
This is Thursday, so this must be the day the Taliban hide behind children. Tomorrow, they hide behind women, and Saturday, they hide inside their mosques. But they remain unequivocally fierce, even as they hide, according to all the instant experts showing up on the airwaves.
The blowhards in the media persist in shouting their insights to the masses, tapping into the uncertainty, pretending to have a clue.
Out in the real world, along the train tracks, it was an easy ride. One fellow, apparently exhausted, cut the quiet with his snoring. He was working hard, so hard that he woke himself on occasion.
The conductors mingled with one another in the cafe car, pushing their common-sense wisdom instead of their snacks.
Next stop: Union Station.
Is this the New World Order?
If so, it is going to take considerably more time to get acclimated to it.


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