By Tim Hayes
We had driven from Pittsburgh to New York City, checked into our hotel, situated right on Times Square, and had dinner at the Carnegie Deli before the big show.
Total tourists, but there for the best reason of all – our daughter and her high school chorus were performing that night on the world’s most famous stage, Carnegie Hall, about 12 blocks from our hotel. The pre-concert Carnegie Deli stop-off was no accident, in other words.
We walked to the concert hall, found our seats, and waited for the music to begin. Our high school joined about nine or 10 others from around the country, selected as some of the best performers at this level. The kids had been in Manhattan for a couple of days, working with a guest conductor for the combined choral selections. Those were nice, of course, but we were there to cheer on our collection of hometown singers as they performed on their own.
About three hours later, the concert concluded and it became a mad dash to find the buses our kids would be boarding, to tell them how great they did, and that we couldn’t wait to see them back home the following evening. By the time all of that congratulatory parenting had finished, the time was getting on to about 11:45 p.m.
On a delightfully warm spring night in May in New York, we decided to take our time and stroll back to our hotel. We were in the city that doesn’t sleep, for God’s sake.
That description sure held true that night. Unlike walking 12 blocks in a downtown like Pittsburgh’s, where you’d be lucky – or, on the other hand, very unlucky – to see even one other person, our leisurely jaunt back down Seventh Avenue to Times Square felt like it was noon, not midnight.
Even as we neared the cacophony of light and sound at the intersection of Seventh Avenue, 45th Street, and Broadway – Times Square – the constant flow of people and conversation felt electric, exciting, 100% New York. Oddly comforting, in a high-octane sort of way.
At this point, I should offer the fact that this all happened the night of May 2, 2011. Why is that important, you may ask? Well, it’s for one simple reason.
That’s the night U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden.
We didn’t realize that had happened until we got back to our hotel room and turned on the TV while getting ready for bed. I tried not to let on, but my entire mental condition completely flipped with that news. It went instantly from a “calm, relaxed, grateful to be with my wife and see my daughter on the stage of Carnegie Hall, what a joy to be in this amazing city, safe and sound and happy” mode to one of “Oh my God they killed bin Laden and here we are in the middle of the most famous spot in the most famous city in the world, where they’ve already once made a horrifying and successful terrorist attack, and why are we still here, and why don’t we tell them to bring the car around right now and we’ll drive all night to get back home safely.”
But by the time I was finished freaking myself out, my wife was sound asleep. So we stayed the night, got the car early the next morning, and started the drive back to Pittsburgh. The high school kids were staying at a hotel in New Jersey somewhere, so I assumed they’d be safe, and they were.
It still amazes me, though, that with such a huge news event happening that same night, the people and the energy of New York didn’t waver or wane. No wild celebrations in the streets, but no demonstrable fear of retaliation either. And there the two of us were, two rubes from western Pennsylvania, walking down the wide thoroughfare hand-in-hand without a care in the world.
This country – and that island on the Hudson especially – are nothing less than remarkable. I suppose it’s true what the song says. If you can make it (safely to your hotel room in Times Square on the same night bin Laden is killed) there, you can make it anywhere.
Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes