- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Traffic crowding the Beltway, commuters juggling coffee and bagels, ringing phones, honking horns. It was Monday morning in Washington. The rhythm, sights, sounds and smells of the city meant it was back to normal. But it was a different kind of "normal" that returned to the region yesterday.
There was a sense of hesitation, a hangover from last week, when terrorists hijacked airliners and crashed them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, killing thousands.
Employees back on their jobs downtown paused during lunch break to look up at the occasional helicopter dotting the sky.
"I still think we're on edge. It's hard to get out of your mind what happened last week," said Christopher McKee, 31, a D.C. public defender eating lunch in a downtown park.
"It's hard to get back into work without that occupying your mind."
It was the small things that defied the pretense of normalcy: huge flags on 18-wheelers and in building lobbies; a routine lunch break forfeited to drop off donations for victims' families; observing small courtesies often buried by the stress of a frantic workday, red, white and blue ribbons everywhere.
Marina Sokolinsky, 25, of Silver Spring ate lunch outside at Cafe Atlantico yesterday and agreed that last week's events still preyed on commuters' minds.
"It's a lot emptier on the street," said Ms. Sokolinsky, a law firm employee and student at American University. "There is a lot of discussions about last week."
She said she was still adjusting to "a lot of security around the building that we didn't have before."
"We're working," and that is a sign of a return to normal, said Ellen Hensley, one of two women taking a cigarette break outside an office building on Seventh Street NW. They sported red, white and blue ribbons. U.S. flags decorated their office and computers, they said.
It was anything but normal for restaurants, like Jaleo at Seventh and E streets NW.
"We were a little slow today," said host Jay Flannagan, 35. "We were expecting to be busy."
The monuments and Mall area remained quiet. Plenty of parking spaces were available at the Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials. A few people took pictures and strolled through the area, reading inscriptions that may have taken on new meaning because of the horrific events on Sept. 11.
"I always wanted to come here," Mary Berninzoni of Colorado said on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. She arrived here Saturday. "It makes me doubly proud to be an American."
One local student said she was at the memorial because she didn't have a church in which to mourn.
"This is one of America's holy places," said Jennie of the District, who declined to give her last name. "I am comforted here."
While most people in the region had a chance this weekend to pray, reflect, mourn and rest, rescue workers, volunteers and those involved with helping the families of the missing trudged on.
"Sunday was the first time I really sat down," said Marine Maj. Ben Owen, who is working at the Pentagon Family Assistance Center set up in the Crystal City Sheraton. "You can't be up [in the center] for 10 minutes without hearing staff and volunteers asking each other, 'How are you doing? No, how are you really doing?'"
The center has served about 400 people hoping to hear word of their missing relatives and 3,100 more calling to inquire about the fates of friends. Maj. Owen described the mood as somber among the families and the 160 staff and volunteers.
"Children have written letters about their missing parents," he said. "We are hearing this all day long. It takes an emotional toll. We have to check up on each other."
Street vendor Noor Ghani, 49, was busy at Sixth and D streets NW, selling soft drinks, pretzels and hot dogs as he has been doing 10 hours a day for 10 years.
"It was kind of slow last week," Mr. Ghani said, explaining that his customers are reliable and know him so well that "They know my shoe size and everything."
But many don't know that Mr. Ghani is from Afghanistan, where suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden lives.
He said he left his country after the Soviet Union invaded two decades ago, destroyed his home and left millions destitute.
"We don't know if we can ever go back," Mr. Ghani said.
He deplored the murders of innocent, uninvolved people and said he was sad after hearing stories of families waiting late Tuesday night to learn the fates of loved ones.
Mr. Ghani had a smile ready for his customers yesterday.
But, he confided, "In here, I'm dead," and placed his hand over his heart.
The day held another scare for some. At 3:55 p.m. yesterday, employees in the Department of Labor building above Interstate 395 were evacuated. A few minutes later, they were told they could return, but that order was almost immediately rescinded. Many returned to stand in the park across from the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters.
"They said something was in the tunnel," explained one man in the crowd.
"We thought we were going to get away with a clear one," commented a nearby vendor of the day. "Guess not."

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