The VigilanceVoice

Friday-- March 8, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 178

The Apples & Oranges Of Terrorism
"Vigilance & A Fruit Stand"
Cliff McKenzie
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 off Terrorism.
     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.
        The answer.
        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 it?
       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 "real money."
        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.”
       The 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 one.
          Oh, I thought, the price of Vigilance.
          It just 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

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