Last Wednesday, I attended an all-day meeting at a hotel over by Embassy Row. During lunch, someone came over to the table where I was sitting and mentioned to the group that the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court were being evacuated. The bearer of the news didn't have any more information than that.
One woman sighed. "I hope whatever's going on is over with before too long. This could really mess up the commute out of the city this evening."
Then we went back to our food and our conversation.
When the meeting resumed after lunch, there was an announcement that everything was fine. We still didn't know what was going on, but it hadn't affected us while it was happening, so it didn't seem worth speculating over now.
I forgot about it until I got home and turned on the computer. My browser opened up to the Washington Post, with news of the small plane that had accidentally ventured into restricted airspace over the District. I had an email from a friend in the midwest, wondering if everything was okay. Was I scared? Had I been evacuated? By that time, I was sure she had the news that everything was fine, so I wrote a quick note back, telling her that we hadn't even really known anything was happening.
I've been wondering if I should write about this at all. I was going to mention how the media overreact to these kinds of things, but after reading nothing except that in the Post for the next couple of days, I'm pretty much tired of it.
I think I'm more interested now in the fact that we don't react. We don't panic. We worry about our commutes and eat our pasta. Most of these things are seen as inconveniences. Last summer, when the terror alert was raised for certain buildings in several cities, buses entering the Pentagon were being stopped. They ran mirrors along to check underneath, and bomb-sniffing dogs were led around the outsides of the buses. I heard rumors that the Pentagon police were even boarding some buses, although it didn't happen on my bus. One of my neighbors was glad they were taking these precautions.* I was upset that my seven-minute bus ride was taking 45 minutes. Add that onto my 5 minute train trip and 2 mile walk to from the metro to the office, and my commute was ridiculously long. I was noticably cranky upon arriving at work that week.
A couple of months ago, as my morning bus made its way to the Pentagon, the driver announced that people weren't being allowed to board trains at the Pentagon Metro. I felt somewhat panicky. After the bombings in Madrid, I began to worry about the terrorism and the Metro.** But none of us displayed any fear. We just concentrated on how we should get to work. The trains were apparently running, just not stopping at the Pentagon, so we got off our bus, and joined all the riders from other buses in the trek back to the previous station. As we passed a HazMat team closing up shop, a Pentagon police officer informed us that we would be allowed to board trains at the Pentagon, and we retraced our steps, and we continued on our normal journey into work.
Even though I'm continuing about my normal business, I am nervous. I worry. In November, in spite of my fear of heights, I climbed the steps to the top of the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral to look out over London. I knew I was safe, but my stomach felt empty, and my knees shook. Back in Washington, I hear that the trains aren't stopping at the Pentagon station and see the flashing lights on the emergency truck, and I have to tell myself not to panic, even as my stomach feels hollow and my knees go a bit wobbly. Then I take a deep breath and head to work. And if it's happening across town, I don't pay much attention at all.
*He works in one of the buildings that had its alert level raised, so he may have just been more nervous than the rest of us in general.
**I'd like to point out here that my main fear isn't that something bad will happen on Metro during my commute. I'm more worried about something happening 30 or 40 minutes after I've exited the system, while Brian's commuting. Because, seriously, if the train I'm on explodes, I'm dead. If the train Brian's on explodes, I'm alone. For me, personally, Plan B there sucks a whole lot more (I am so freakin' eloquent). I haven't decided whether this is selfish or unselfish on my part. And when I mention this to people, they mostly are just surprised that I've thought it through so carefully.