We follow routines, but everything has changed

This Just In...

September 19, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

WASHINGTON -- I got here by train from Baltimore's Penn Station, where just after 7 a.m. on the first Tuesday after the terrible Tuesday, something new and strange happened: A security guard in a windbreaker asked me for my driver's license, noted the tag numbers on my car and wrote all of this on a list on a clipboard. I suppose somebody somewhere now looks at the names of people using the parking garage at the train station in Baltimore and compares them to names on a "watch list." I don't know what else to make of it, except that this is how it's going to be for a while, and maybe forever.

Outside Union Station in Washington, I drank coffee and listened to the trumpet player who is almost always there. Maybe a week ago at 8:30, in the last minutes before everything changed, he played the same songs -- "As Time Goes By" and "Taste of Honey" -- but I can't imagine that he also played then what he played next: "Taps."

It was getting to be that time now, counting down to the exact moments the hijackers steered the jetliners toward New York and Washington, and I watched the people filing out of the MARC trains and the Amtraks and assumed that many of them were following the exact flight paths of their lives again -- down the broad sidewalks of this beautiful city, with briefcases in their hands, down Constitution Avenue to the Department of Labor and maybe the Federal Trade Commission, through a park to the Capitol or one of the congressional office buildings.

Some of them headed underground to the Metro, maybe to the Red Line toward Shady Grove, and maybe the Yellow Line to Pentagon City.

Just like last week.

It was a warm and sunny September Tuesday.

Just like last week.

Washington on Sept. 18 was pretty much like Washington on Sept. 11.

Except for everything.

I could not hear the voices of schoolchildren getting off buses to visit the Smithsonian because there were no school buses and no children. There were Tourmobiles running the usual routes along The Mall, but they were empty.

There were no commercial airliners coming out of Reagan National Airport so the familiar rumble of ambitious Americans moving every few minutes through the sky was gone.

Every 30 minutes, you could hear the high, distant thunder of a jet but you could not see it -- maybe an F-15 Eagle or an F-16 Falcon, or an AWAC, patrolling over the city. I could see nothing else in the air but squawking blue jays and Canada geese.

The geese settled down on The Mall, near the Washington Monument. The monument is surrounded by homely concrete highway barriers, and it is not open to visitors. Some time since last Tuesday, someone placed 36 bouquets of red and yellow chrysanthemums atop the barriers. They left a handwritten poster: "We Mongolians living in America are gathered here to convey our deep condolences and sorrow to the victims of recent tragic events and to express our solidarity with the American people. God bless America."

By now we had arrived at the hour of the Washington attack -- 9:40 a.m. A week ago, madmen hijacked Flight 77 out of Dulles, turned it around and slammed it into the Pentagon while some of the employees there were watching television coverage of the terrorist attacks in New York. I thought of the words of the boy who lives in my house: "I wish they had crashed into the Statue of Liberty. It would have been sad. But it wouldn't have killed so many people." I thought something similar as I stood in front of my favorite place, the Lincoln Memorial, a week to the hour from the time of the crash across the river at the Pentagon.

Lincoln lives on, though there were only a few people walking the steps to visit him and his words yesterday morning. I could hear the invisible jet again, and the sound seemed so odd and spooky that several people looked up with me. We saw only sky.

Yesterday, there were many police officers whose normal posts are inside federal buildings standing on the sidewalks leading to them, outside the Federal Reserve and the Treasury. There were Capitol police standing in driveways, and 10 of them bunched together getting special instructions about an iron gate in front of the old Executive Office Building. An officer in a bulletproof vest, marked "Secret Service," stood by a car across from the Renwick Gallery.

A note on the E Street door of the Interior Department said: "Due to heightened security this entrance closed until further notice."

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