March 8, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 178
The Apples & Oranges Of Terrorism
"Vigilance & A Fruit Stand"
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 8--I’m walking down
Broadway, New York City, looking for flags on cabs. They
are my barometer to whether people really care about fighting
Terrorism on a daily basis.
The flags have all
but disappeared atop the 11,787 Yellow Cabs whose 40,000 drivers,
predominately Middle Easterners, pilot nearly a quarter million
residents and tourists around the island of Manhattan.
Immediately after Nine Eleven the streets
were awash with yellow cabs splattered with flapping bright
red, white and blue Old Glory symbols barking to all who saw
them they were “Americans,” not “Terrorists.” These
patriotic symbols--or perhaps Shields Of Protection, have all
but vanished as we approach the six months hallmark of September
11th holocaust at the World Trade Center.
I use “flags on cabs” as a Complacency
Indicator, just as The Economist magazine issues its
annual “Big Mac Report,” (price increases of the Big Mac globally)
as an economic indictor to gauge the rise or fall of the world’s
economy. While done in jest, The Economist recognizes
the price of a burger is just as valid as about any other indicator
to tell the world what is "really happening."
So too do I believe "flags on cabs" serve to measure
the dwindling of a city's consciousness about the need to fight
Six months ago I assured myself the
disappearance of the “cab flags” would broadcast an end to dominant
9-11 Vigilance. The absence of "flags on cabs"
would be a signpost that the Vigilance Voice had contracted
laryngitis, and its message would start to fall on deaf ears.
Basically, I've been on target.
As the flags have disappeared, I've noted a less than enthusiastic
embracement of Nine Eleven issues. Our new mayor
stopped the ritual of attending funerals for the police and
fireman. Osama bin Laden's face disappeared off the front
pages. The memorial flowers that once massed before fire
stations wilted, disappeared.
As a Voice in the wilderness,
I wondered whether anyone really wanted to hear the word Vigilance,
or plan for the next attack, the next attempt to demoralize
and render our nation a blow to its external and internal security.
In ways, I was becoming desperate for some sign, some vision,
some measure of strength to fuel my words, to make Vigilance
thrive rather than wilt.
Desperate men do desperate things.
Often, they clutch at straws. I did the other day.
The missing cab flags created
a vacuum in my motivation to help others not forget what happened
on September 11 at 8:46 a.m. I could feel the sun
setting on the need for Vigilance Voices ringing out of the
wilderness, trying to forewarn the U.S. and world that Terrorism
of all kinds must be fought on a daily basis.
That’s when I spotted
It was spotted and
faded, but it was flying as well as any plastic American Flag
could fly jammed among the apples, oranges, apples, grapes,
avocados, peaches of a sidewalk fruit stand.
As my eyes caught
the shimmer of the plastic in the sunlight, my heart raced.
My God, I thought, the Day of Vigilance is not ended.
Our flag flies on fruit stands!
I grabbed my camera
and approached the stand. My photo brain started
clicking off questions. Should I shoot the flag over the
apples or oranges? Should I get down and shoot up
over the bananas to the flag? Hmmmmm, the grapes
could be a nice foreground frame.
Ah, I thought, I
could shoot the plastic flag over the apples and oranges and
catch a flagless cab in the background, just to shove my sword
in a little deeper into the haughtiness of the drivers who appeared
to simultaneously, unanimously, in some collective force, all
agree to disarm their cabs on a single day.
As I pondered the picture, I thought of a Yellow Cab Anti-Flag
conspiracy. In my overly anxious mind I flashed a picture
of an alliance of Middle Easterners who sat cross legged in
the cab tent, issuing commands that all American Flags on cabs
be brought to a central garage, dumped in a huge pile,
and burned. I knew that wasn’t a nice thought,
or a fair one, but then I do have my conservative Orange County,
California roots that cannot be clipped so easily by New York
Liberalism. I wanted to know where all the
flags went, and so fast, simultaneously. It had to be
done via some decree—and, where? Were they given an
honorable retirement, or degraded? It was just a
question, with sharp, barbed hooks on the end of it.
The fruit stand revived
my hopes that Vigilance had not gasped its last breath.
The vegetable stand manager was, as most are, Middle Eastern.
Perhaps the vegetable stand owners weren’t as organized as the
cabbies, I thought, snapping pictures cautiously as my memory
chip was almost full.
I clicked two pictures
and my chip flashed red, and the words “full” appeared
on my LCD screen.. I thanked the congenial vegetable stand
guy, and went about my way.
Happy I had found
a new barometer to refuel my Vigilance gas tanks, I began to
walk myself through the Rules of Vigilance. I got to the
first two: One, “Expect the Unexpected.,” and
two, “Ready for anything, counting on nothing.”
Suddenly, a sobering
thought seized my attention. Under the "Expect the
Unexpected Rule of Vigilance," I began to see a new threat.
The fruit stand flags were
a set up. Of course, I thought, why else would someone
slam a flag in an apple or orange?
My God, I thought, it’s
a ruse. They are going to poison us all.
I saw the tent again
in my mind. In it were the leaders of the cab drivers
sitting cross legged smoking hookah pipes, watching the video
of bin Laden and telling all the cab drivers to put their flags
on fruit stands. He was telling them they were once again
safe, the flags had worked on taxis to make them appear Patriotic,
but now others needed them to pull the wool over the eyes of
those who walked. What better way to embrace the pedestrians
than via the fruit stand vendors, he proffered.
Once the flags were in
place people would feel a twinge of patriotism and tend to buy
an apple, orange, grape, or peach. On a selected
day, sometime in the future, each vendor would be given a sign.
On the “next day of infamy” all the fruit sold to the unsuspecting
would be laced with some bio threat, crippling thousands throughout
the city. The "poison" would
have a delayed effect, allowing the vendors time to rush out
of town and head for the next city where they could repeat the
process. Of course, they would be charged with taking
their American Flags with them and waving them to avoid suspicion,
just as the cabbies had done.
* * *
I shook my head.
How silly, I thought, to think such a thing. These
were innocent fruit vendors—even though they hailed from a part
of the world which has time and time again refuted America’s
way of life, and damned us as infidels.
However, my paranoia would
not be so easily suppressed.
I began to wonder why anyone
would fly an American Flag above apples and oranges?
Perhaps the only reason was to lull the unsuspecting, especially
guys like me who see someone flying a flag and prefer to do
business with them rather than one who doesn’t. "The
great bite-the-apple" plot, I thought. I shook my head.
No. It couldn't be! It wasn't remotely possible--or was
I thought of my Israeli
friend, Joe, the former Intelligence Officer. Immediately
after Nine Eleven he told me an incredible story, certainly
something that belonged on the cover of The National
Enquirer. I had dismissed the idea as ludicrous when I first
heard him extol it.
He told me all the vegetable
stands and sidewalk coffee places, and push-cart vendors who
formed legions of workers inside the city gave a hefty portion
of their cash to the “Middle
Eastern Bad Guys.” He spun a tale of how street
vendors of all types and shapes were in the cash business which
allowed an easy, untraceable flow of funds to the Terrorists.
He suggested they had come to New York and other major cities
long ago to entrench themselves in these businesses. When
I looked up the New York City Comptroller's report to see how
much money the "underground economy" generated, I
was surprised to see it was estimated at $50 billion dollars
a year, 17% of the city's total economic activity. Suddenly,
Joe's comments made sense. Cabbies only generated $1 billion
in revenue, and the majority of that had to be reported.
Why not fruit stands, and other vendors? They had the
I began to think
of the New Nine Eleven when all those people lined up at 50-cent
coffee sidewalk vendors were eating and drinking laced food.
I thought of the newsstands selling gum and Snapple and smokes,
all contaminated with whatever it was planned for the next “attack.”
city was surrounded--40,000 cab drivers and at least ten times
or more by street vendors.
On every corner the
Terrorists held the high ground, wolves dressed as sheep, I
thought, waiting with warmed pretzels, peanuts, sandwiches,
fruits, vegetables, newspapers...waiting for the Day of Jihad
to launch the Second Wave of Fear. I was racing recklessly
toward a wall of racism, a wall of cultural indictment I knew
wasn't proper or just, but the sharp teeth of my Conservative
mind wouldn't let go--I was like an enraged pit bull, shaking
every morsel of madness.
I forced myself into
the third law of Vigilance—"Stop Thought!"
The Third Law of Vigilance
states I am not responsible for my First Thought, but I am for
my Second Thought. Sure enough, my First Thought had corrupted
into a major plot by anyone of Middle Eastern origin. I saw
hundreds of thousands of troops ready to rise up on a single
command and grab New York City by the groin. Street vendors
and cabbies led the parade of terror.
But it wasn't easy. By
this time I saw 12,000 cabs filled with explosives parking at
strategic locations, unnoticed by guards who assumed a cabbie
was a buddy because he once flew a flag. I saw the street
vendors lacing their fruit and coffee and papers with big time
biochem-bugs. I kept hearing Joe's heavy Israeli accent
whispering in my ear:
“They aren’t stupid,
these people. They are very patient. They will stop
at nothing. Nothing to get what they want.”
I forced the scene
out of my mind. I didn't want to think so many could
amass a front so quickly, with hardly any suspicion.
Finally, I took a deep breathe and relaxed. My mind
shifted from high gear to neutral, leaving me to face a dilemma..
Was the flag
on the fruit stand a symbol of Vigilance, or one of Terrorism?
Was the vendor a patriot or just biding his time in preparation
to ambush us? .
It all depended
on my point of view at any particular moment.
As I continued
heading to my home, I knew only one thing for sure-- I would
not purchase any fruit from fruit stands, nor would I buy any
coffee or bagels from street vendors. And, when
in a deli, I would watch to see who rang up items and who just
took the cash and made change without recording the sale.
But, I would take a cab if I had to. They were,
on occasion, an absolute necessity even if bin Laden was driving
thought, the price of Vigilance.
cost me apples, oranges and bananas.
But not a cab ride on a cold wintry night. Vigilance has
limits, you know.
Go To Mar.
7--Rules Of Vigilant Engagement Against Terrorism