Hudson River First Person

This first appeared in the Life Magazine of the Sunday Independent on February 8, 2009.

Come Armageddon, come.

You know you’ve become a hardened New Yorker when your block is more or less surrounded by emergency crews and people are running past the door looking panicked and instead of thinking “Al Qaeda!,” or “I have to tell my family I love them!” you just calmly steeple your fingers and wonder if this means you won’t have to do any work today.
That was pretty much how I felt when I got wind that a plane had landed in the Hudson River about 500 feet from my apartment. My mother had been right all along it seemed: Osama Bin Laden had indeed picked “the one year I came to Manhattan” for his follow up attack. But there was no point in worrying about that now. I may as well lay back and enjoy the trippy high of some A Grade nerve gas.
But then I remembered the protocol for a 9/11 style disaster is to get outside where it’s dangerous and film everything with your mobile phone. It could be broadcast later on TV, with the tagline “amateur footage” excusing your shaky hands. And putting my personal safety above the needs of CNN would be to let the terrorists win.
As I cautiously came out onto the street it really didn’t look like some nuclear winter was imminent. There were the kids from the local school, buying their drugs as usual. An expensive little dog in a designer coat was taking a dump on the subway grate and being scolded by his “mommy.” Basically life at the heart of the known universe was continuing as normal.
I began strolling west toward the river, my camera phone poised in case any turban-wearing maniacs should appear overhead. It was freezing and I was feeling like a front line reporter, ready to address the camera with suitable gravitas; a low budget Anderson Cooper.
As I got closer to the water there were already banks and banks of camera crews and reporters (which had of course gotten there before the emergency services). But these were just the front wave of a sea of people, brandishing their cameras in the air as though at a U2 concert. Unfortunately there was very little to film. Faintly in the distance you could make out the plane bobbing and the passengers on the wing, some terrified, some perhaps wondering who would play them in the movie of this event. Somebody was brought up from the river wearing a blanket and was instantly surrounded by a million notepads and microphones being waved in his face. Then it turned out he was just some homeless guy wearing a blanket. Because it was cold. Somebody with a headset shouted, “Cut away from him!”
There was a general air of disappointment as “geese in the engine” passed down the line to me like Chinese whispers. Geese. That sounded like something kind of Looney Tunes malfunction, not something with Osama Bin Laden’s dastardly fingerprints all over it. Everyone had been hoping for something a bit more apocalyptic, a bit more ‘Day After Tomorrow’. We were going to be footnotes in the news of 2009, possibly forgotten by the inauguration.
It was also looking less and less likely that we were going to be hailed as heroes just for stoically living here. No plaque would be erected to the plucky immigrant journalist who bravely stopped watching ‘Tool Academy’ on MTV and left his midtown apartment just so he could go down to the water and wave his Blackberry in the direction of New Jersey. Certainly post traumatic stress disorder would be implausible. Unless the geese turned out to be Islamo-fascists trained suicide drones we were probably all going to have to go back to work tomorrow. No looting, no running, no movie. What a sh**ty circus.
All of which is to say I and everyone I know were of course thrilled that everything turned out all right in the end. The pilot of that plane was a true American hero, and so what if he wasn’t one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. If anyone deserves his own primetime slot on CNN it’s him, not me. And if we are to erect a plague let it be to the dozen or so noble geese who died that we might live.
Anyway we’ll get our Armageddon soon enough. Depending on which television station you watch here it will either be the End of Days, an Inconvenient Truth-esque tidal wave or something to do with the Middle East. They threaten me with all three but whichever it is I can hardly wait. In the meantime I can only sniff the air hopefully. Maybe that is anthrax after all. Or maybe it’s just the smell of sewage and hotdogs.

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~ by Donal Lynch on February 11, 2009.

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