‘Hey, there’s something going on in Times Square. I’m safe (again).’

The most remarkable thing about Monday’s bombing attempt was the mundane reaction

An explosion rocked New York's Port Authority, one of the city's busiest commuter hubs, on Monday morning and police said one suspect was injured and in custody but that no-one else was hurt in the rush-hour incident.

 

The most remarkable thing about Monday’s bombing attempt in New York was the routine mundanity of it all. We’ve been through it before; the Chelsea bombing, the Halloween attack, and the litany of scares and street closures in between that never make the headlines.

As I approached 42nd street on Monday morning, the subway conductor announced that “due to an ongoing police investigation, there is no service to Times Square on any train line”. That’s when you know it’s real; shutting down one subway stop during morning rush hour is extremely disruptive. Shutting down multiple stops is unheard of.

Then the well-practiced routine begins. I open Twitter and scroll through hundreds of tweets mentioning “explosion”, “NYPD confirms”, “evacuation”.

I quickly scan my subway car for suspicious passengers , in case it’s a coordinated attack.

I text my family at home in case they get a news flash: “Hey, there’s something going on in Times Square. I’m safe (again).”

I arrive in work and we chit chat about it for 10 minutes; people complain about their commute was affected. Then it’s back to business as usual. The same Monday morning meetings. The same “How was your weekend” water cooler talk. By lunchtime it was completely forgotten.

In fact, the only subsequent mention of the incident was when we found out that the attacker chose the location because he was “targeting Christmas”. That drew some chuckles. A grimy tunnel beneath a bus station is probably the least Christmassy place in Manhattan.

After a man in a homemade suicide vest blew himself up near Times Square on Monday, New Yorkers kept their fears at bay and the subway turnstiles spinning. Photograph: Christian Hansen/The New York Times
After a man in a homemade suicide vest blew himself up near Times Square on Monday, New Yorkers kept their fears at bay and the subway turnstiles spinning. Photograph: Christian Hansen/The New York Times

The mundanity, the commuting complaints, the laughter at his choice of target may all seem like callous, heartless responses; but if terror and fear is the objective, then apathy is the most appropriate response. A crowd of commuting New Yorkers is a stampede of apathy. They’re not prone to hysterics, and frankly, they don’t have time for your disruptive ideology.

I’m not sure what makes New Yorkers so resilient during these incidents. Maybe it’s a post 9/11 mindset. Maybe it’s an inherent selfishness. Most likely, it’s “remote miss” syndrome, a phenomonon first observed during the German bombings of London, whereby proximity to repeated bombings resulted in feelings of invincibility and excitement.

We’re not invincible of course, and neither are the the brave members of the NYPD and FDNY who ran towards an explosion on Monday and got the city back to normal in just a few hours.

My evening train stopped at Times Square. It was full of tourists and commuters. There was no sign of the morning bombing.

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