New Yorkers shaken but learn to move on

(From right) New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday visiting New York City's Chelsea neighbourhood, where they were shown a dumpster mangled by the force of last Saturday's explosion.
(From right) New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday visiting New York City's Chelsea neighbourhood, where they were shown a dumpster mangled by the force of last Saturday's explosion.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • As detectives scoured the bomb scene in Chelsea on Sunday, New Yorkers were conducting their own investigations. But theirs were turned inward, as they felt around for the psychological shrapnel that a blast on a busy street is designed to release, as damaging in its way as the kind that tears into flesh.

A walk around Manhattan revealed glimpses of these inquiries, quiet but as intense as those beneath klieg lights.

Ms Suzie Shapiro got as close as she could to the scene on Sunday.

FEAR NORMALISED

Since we weren't alive for 9/11, we've never been alive in a time when we aren't scared. I've learnt to accept that this stuff is going to happen.

NATALIE WOLLEN, an 11-year-old living in Chelsea.

"It's less scary if you see it," she said, adding that she had done her best to explain the explosion to her two young children at home. "This is the reality of being a kid right now."

Resident Graham Mills, 52, seemed unsurprised.

"It was only a matter of time," he said. "There's kind of this New York spirit that's like, whatever. Let's get on with life."

Getting on with life in New York has been a work in progress for at least 15 years. In 2010, a car bomb found in a sport utility vehicle parked in Times Square did not detonate. The episode rattled the city even as residents spoke of the proverbial dodged bullet. But that bullet is always out there, as Saturday night reminded everyone.

No lives were lost. Had New York dodged another bullet?

Eleven-year-old Natalie Wollen did not think so. She said she did not want to leave her Chelsea apartment all day on Sunday, but did so to walk her dog.

"I'm still scared," she said.

Years after Sept 11, 2001, some New Yorkers still use that day as a guide, a measure for examining anxiety not unlike the minimum- height sign outside the scary ride in an amusement park.

When something like this happens, they ask themselves: Does this day feel as bad as that day, that line on the wall of their psyche - better or worse?

"I don't feel anywhere near that kind of intensity," said Mr Merril Stern, sitting in a Starbucks near the blast site.

Ms Tyschelle Doucette was greeted by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and she told him, as if seeking to reassure the leader of a jittery city: "I was here for 9/11. If it's happening, it's happening."

He called her an example to other New Yorkers.

Said former US Marine Brandon Lanham, 31, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq: "I'm almost too calm to a fault."

He said he found solace in the aftermath of the blast, adding: "I'm assuming it's someone who wants attention and is an American."

For others, the images of the explosion, as seen on television and smartphone screens - a bright flash and people running away - belonged somewhere far away.

Mr James Mitchell, 54, a driver for the city's Access-a-Ride para- transit system, thought back to 2001, and said he found something more troubling in the Chelsea explosion.

"It's different, because the target is more random than specific," he said. "It really makes me feel life is getting really cheap in this world."

Natalie, the 11-year-old walking her dog, said she is like everyone else born in the past 15 years.

"Since we weren't alive for 9/11, we've never been alive in a time when we aren't scared," she said. "I've learnt to accept that this stuff is going to happen."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'New Yorkers shaken but learn to move on'. Print Edition | Subscribe