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Today's Note From a Madman
September 12, 2007
So I Guess Everything's Okay
September 12, 2007; 6:30AM
I'm the first car in the left lane (the lane that will go straight) on West 30th Street and ninth avenue in Manhattan, NYC (the west side of the intersection, as 30th street travels west-to-east) when I spot a man with a white T-shirt crossing West 30th street from the north to the south. So far, everything's normal.
Just before the light changes, I notice something unusual. The man takes out a camera and starts shooting multiple pictures of the building directly across the street from him, which just happens to be directly to my right. My initial reaction is "So what?"
That building he happens to be taking pictures of is the US Post Office Annex. Some of you might remember it as the building which had to be shut down in the aftermath of 911 because some post office employees were killed while working with letters laced with Anthrax! Something seems amiss. I decide to call 911 (as in the emergency number) from my cell phone to report this unusual behavior. After all, who would want to take a picture of the Post Office Annex building anyway? With all of the signs around New York City demanding that "If you see something, say something," I figured that doing so was a good idea. So
I make the call.
9-1-1 --- my cell phone beeps and shows the words "Emergency call" on the display, but no ringing - just dead air. I look at the phone to make sure it wasn't disconnected or shut itself off (as it occasionally does). It wasn't and didn't.
Then a recorded message comes up and says something to the effect: "You have reached New York City's Emergency telephone service. Please hold." A series of ear-drum-busting noises (they sounded like the tones from the Emergency Response System on TV) rang in my ears (and because I use an earpiece while driving, I couldn't move the sounds away from my ears) for a few seconds until - finally - a faint human voice came on the phone. Now, bear with me and take my word that the conversation went something like this:
911: What's the nature of your emergency?
ME: There's a man across from the Post Office Annex building on 30th Street and 9th Avenue...
911: West of east? WEST OR EAST?!
While it's true that I didn't mention whether it was on the east side or west side, anyone familiar with Manhattan knows that all streets from Fifth Avenue, west to the Hudson River are WEST Streets; and they would similarly know that east from Fifth Avenue to the East River, all of the streets are EAST Streets. So I took it for granted that someone responsible for taking emergency response phone calls knew what every police officer, taxi cab driver and newspaper delivery boy knows about the city they protect, live and/ or work in.
ME: The man is taking pictures of the Post Office Annex. He's five-foot six, thin wearing a white shirt. He has olive skin, a scruffy beard and short hair.
911: What's your last name?
911: Can you spell it?
ME (Confident that I could): G-R-E-E-N...
911: Greenberg - okay. What number are you calling from?
911: AREA CODE FIRST!
ME: That is the area code. 732 (and the rest of the number). Perhaps you might want to tell somebody about this. After all, this is the building where the Anthrax killed those postal workers.
911: Okay. Got it.
So one wonders what we have learned from the terrorist attacks on 911. Surely the emergency operator saw the number I was calling from. after all, when I call my mother-in-law (yes, I do call my mother-in-law), even she can see the name on her caller ID. So why waste the time in asking me for the number and my name?
The lax attitude by an emergency operator in a time-sensitive situation such as this made me wonder just what those in charge of protecting us are actually doing. Or maybe I'm simply overreacting. Maybe there is nothing to worry about anymore.
So, I guess, everything's okay, right?
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