Brush With Terror
by Pamela Troy
From a recent article by Peggy Noonan, in which she describes
an experience she and her son had on a New York City street
sometime after Sept. 11:
Suddenly to our right, on the sidewalk, we saw two
'Mideastern looking men,' as we all now say. They were
25 to 30 years old, dressed in jeans and windbreakers,
and they were doing something odd. They were standing
together silently videotaping the outside of St. Pat's,
top to bottom. We watched them, trying to put what we
were seeing together. Tourists? It was a funny time of
day for tourists to be videotaping a landmark -- especially
when the tourists looked like the guys who'd just a few
days before blown up a landmark.
We watched them. After a minute or so they finished
taping St. Pat's and turned toward where we were. We were
about 20 feet away from them, and we eyeballed them hard.
They stared back at us in what I thought an aggressive
manner: a deadeye stare, cold, no nod, no upturned-chin
They stared at us staring at them for a few seconds,
and then they began to videotape Rockefeller Center. We
continued watching, and I surveyed the street for a policeman
or patrol car. I looked over at the men again. They were
watching me. The one with the camera put it down for a
moment. We stared, they stared. And then they left. They
walked away and disappeared down a side street.
Let me tell you what I thought. I thought: Those guys
I understand exactly where she's coming from. My husband
and I had a similar experience here in San Francisco.
It was early on Wednesday morning, and we were taking our
usual walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Suddenly, there on the
walkway, we saw two "Mid-western goyische types" (as we all
now say since the Oklahoma City Bombing.) Blonde men with
cropped hair that suggested a military background, slender,
20 to 35 years old, dressed in jeans, windbreakers, and workboots.
And they were doing something...well...strange.
They were taking pictures of the city from the Golden Gate
For a moment, we were stunned, unable to believe exactly
what it was we were seeing. What WERE these men doing? Were
they tourists? That was probably what they WANTED us to think.
And early in the morning was a weird time for them to be taking
pictures from a major San Francisco landmark. There were usually
only about five to ten tourists on the bridge that time of
the day, rather than the twenty to fifty who showed up to
catch the sunset. Then, with a chill, I remembered where I
had seen people like that before -- pallid, buzzcut, whitebread
people. The famous picture of Tim McVeigh being led away in
handcuffs rose before my swimming vision...
We stopped and looked at them, hard. They noticed us, stopped
what they were doing and met our suspicious glares without
so much as a smile and a wave.
With a superhuman effort, we managed to remain calm, my husband
fixing them with an unblinking stare and planning his judo
moves once they attacked, while I surveyed the bridge for
a policeman so we could have these guys arrested for Taking
Pictures While Blonde. No cops were in sight. I looked at
the men again. They were still staring at me. Plainly, it
came down to us. Only a thin, balding Jewish writer and his
fortyish wife stood between San Francisco and certain destruction.
After a moment, plainly aware they were up against adversaries
too formidable to overcome, they turned and walked quickly
away, occasionally glancing nervously over their shoulders
It was a traumatic experience for my husband and me, but
our shared experience confronting the naked face of right-wing
terrorism brought us closer together.
And who knows -- we might get an article in Mother Jones
out of it.