Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Notes from New York: If you see something

Posted by metaphorical on 28 February 2007

89th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues was blocked off by the police today, and when I got up to 2nd Avenue I saw that it too was blocked from 88th to 89th Street. I saw three fire department vehicles, four cop cars, and at least a dozen members of the two services, including the three cops at 1st and 89th. I had asked one of them what was up.

“Suspicious package.”

She was the kind of cop I like in New York; she managed convey “What are you gonna do?” without showing it in her voice in any way. Maybe she moved an eyebrow up just a hair, or tilted her head ever so slightly.

What are we going to do? People will call 911; we’re exhorted to do so at every turn and on every subway ride. “If you see something, say something.” Personally, if I don’t see blood or the green slime from “Outbreak” oozing out of a package, I’m probably not saying anything, but not everyone is so reluctant.

Once, I was in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, waiting at a gate for my flight to board, and a guy got up to buy a soda or use the bathroom or something. I guess he thought he’d be back in just a moment and wasn’t, but within a couple of minutes someone had called over the cops because of the unattended bag. I don’t know why he hadn’t make eye contact with someone sitting nearby and say, “I’ll be right back, can you watch this for a moment?” I’ve done that for others and asked it myself, it’s not hard. Whatever. You should be able to buy a can of pop, as they say in Chicago, at a newsstand 100 yards away without imminent arrest.

The other day, the Lexington Avenue subway had a “smoke condition,” either due to the usual refuse on the tracks, or our second and probably last sudden icy snowstorm of the year, or some interplay between the two. I barely missed it but a colleague who normally gets to work a few minutes later than me said there was near-complete chaos on the streets as people were expelled from the subway and looked for the additional buses the city ran.

If terrorists or freedom fighters or anyone else working the suspicious package angle really wants to disrupt the city, the subways are the way to go. The bagel shops and Chinese take-out at 2nd Avenue and 89th Street probably aren’t ever going to be high-priority targets. Unfortunately, the police have only one level of response, or if they do modulate it at all, their lowest level is still pretty damned high. So in the meantime, if you see something, say something only if you think the trade-off in closed streets, cops in full-body flak-coats, and idled firetrucks is worth it.


5 Responses to “Notes from New York: If you see something”

  1. Rachel said

    I’ve never had any idea how to respond to the suspicious package phenomenon. Technically, I suppose I should report the packages that have been sitting in our lobby for a week, left there for people who apparently don’t live here. But I didn’t. And undoubtedly, won’t.

    Personally, if I were trying to plant something malevolent that would cause disruption, I’d tuck it inside a greasy bag that used to hold two slices of pizza and stick it in a reasonably empty trash container. True, you can’t really control where or when the damage would occur, only that it would. Greasy fast food wrapping is annoying, but never struck me…or probably anyone else, as suspicious.

    My general rule of thumb is that if it looks suspicious, it probably isn’t. Which is why I’ll continue to ignore the boxes in the lobby, because the longer they sit there, the more out of place they start to look.

  2. ClaireDePlume said

    A woman waved at me today. It was after I let her change lanes in front of my car on an off-ramp. Waving is very suspicious. Perhaps my kindness enabled her to rendezvous with a cohort. Maybe she was on her way to lunch.

    Later, a bank official smiled as she apologized for making her colleague late for an apppointment with me. When she told me they were detained because my account manager had dropped her off at her vehicle, I returned the smile, saying I did not mind because it was for a good deed. She patted my arm and thanked me. Highly suspicious? Was the vehicle fitted for WMD, or was she having her car serviced?

    Why is everyone so friendly? Is it because the temperatures have warmed and the sun is shining? Or might it be because they are “up to something” and are cloaked under cover by way of amiability?

    Should we treat all of our everyday interactions with everyone suspiciously? Should we scrutinize everything, nothing, or something in between?

    The ice storm cometh tomorrow; the air is ripe for mischief. We shall see if this fair weather goodwill is friend or faux then…

  3. And then there are suspicious packages like this.

  4. Wow. Rachel just said last night, “I guess I’d call it in if I heard something ticking.”

  5. A greasy fast food bag wouldn’t really hold enough explosives to do a lot of damage unless it was one of those McDonald’s bags with the handles or if the smaller bag was in an enclosed space or was being used to trigger a secondary explosion.

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