From Seaside to Chelsea: When Terrorism Hits Too Close to Home
You never really know how you're going to react to a situation or the range of emotions you'll feel until you're actually in it.
Cut to my friends and I out in Chelsea on Saturday night when terrorism got entirely too close.
I had spent most of the day in the city for my friend's bachelorette party. I drove in to meet them, we went to see a play, spent some time drinking champagne and listening to music in our Chelsea hotel room, then went to dinner at Tao, on 9th Ave. at 16th Street.
As we were walking out of the restaurant at around 9:30, a friend got an alert on her phone that there was an explosion in Chelsea.
Knowing that there had been the explosion in Seaside earlier in the day, I got an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that something serious was going on. We started searching for info on our phones trying to figure out exactly where in Chelsea it happened since we obviously hadn't heard or felt anything in the restaurant.
When we walked outside, for the most part, everything was very normal, and if it weren't for that alert, we would have had no idea that something had happened. We were feeling cautious, but otherwise indifferent.
My friend, the bride-to-be, is admittedly not a partier, so our plan of going to a nearby bar for a few cocktails morphed into just going back to the hotel to hang out and drink the rest of the wine we had there.
As we walked up 9th Ave. and crossed over 23rd Street where the explosion happened, there was a huge police presence. Roads were blocked off, there were cops and flashing lights everywhere, and we could see the police presence at the bombing site in the distance.
What really shook me was the low-flying helicopter with a search light...it was unsettling to say the least.
One of the strangest things was crossing 7th Ave. and seeing hardly any traffic...just lots of cops and emergency vehicles. It was a little eerie.
When we got back to the hotel, we had been there for about 30 minutes when we found out there were reports of a second device found, this one on 27th Street between 6th and 7th.
Our hotel was on 28th between 6th and 7th, the next block over, and that's when we all got a little...freaked out. No one was seriously panicking or anything, but we were certainly nervous.
We could hear a ton of sirens and knew that the police were on top of things, and we were safest inside...but still, you know that there have been two explosions and that a third suspicious device, a pressure cooker with wires and a cell phone taped to it, is now a block away from you, and it's truly alarming.
Even still, it almost didn't seem real. We could see helicopters above, and we had obviously seen all the police everywhere, but it was just a surreal feeling.
After watching multiple local newscasts, we decided we should just try to get some sleep since we all intended to leave pretty early the next day.
Let me tell you, there's nothing quite as anxiety-producing as when you've almost fallen asleep knowing this is happening so close to you, and then having every phone in the room go off with an emergency alert.
Luckily (?), it was a notice that the bomb squad was on site and people on that street should stay away from windows....which we already knew. Still...that's not a message you want to see on your phone. The adrenaline literally had me shaking, and it took me a few minutes to calm myself down.
Some 30 minutes later, I somehow fell asleep...only for another alert to freak me out at about 2:30 in the morning...this one had much better news: the bomb squad had cleared the device from the scene.
There was a small amount of relief in seeing that message, but I was still worried that there could be another device, another explosion, another threat...it is one of the worst night's sleep I've ever had.
When we woke up the next morning, we checked the news and saw that all the nearby roads were closed to traffic. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to get my car out, which was in a lot up the street, but luckily I had no problem, and actually got out of the city in all of 10 minutes.
Then this morning I heard about the Elizabeth train station explosion. My husband works in Lower Manhattan, near the World Trade Center/Freedom Tower. He takes the train to work and passes the Elizabeth station every single day.
This experience has truly scared me more than I'd like to admit.
I remember the WTC bombing in 1992. I was a junior in high school when 9/11 happened. I know this isn't our first experience with terrorism nearby...but it's my first time being so truly close to it.
I also feel a little ridiculous because let's be honest: NOTHING happened to me. I didn't see or feel any explosion, I was never actually in danger, I had no issues getting home, I don't know anyone who got hurt. I feel stupid for even being emotional about all of this.
Then on the opposite end of the spectrum there's the pride and happiness I feel knowing that police in Linden caught the guy, Ahmad Rahami, who is allegedly responsible for all of this.
Mix in the anger I'm feeling towards him and whomever may have assisted him in any way. I hate that he has made me so afraid.
And I'm embarrassed because I know we can't live in fear, and we have to continue doing all the things we normally do...but I'm truly discouraged from doing certain things now because of the risk of terrorism.
One night in Chelsea has stirred up this wide range of emotions.
The next one I hope to get out of this? Courage. I want us to all fight back against this nonsense because there are more of us than there are of them.
Let's stay vigilant, stay smart, stay strong, and stay safe.
Laurie Cataldo is the midday on-air personality at WPG's sister station Lite Rock 96.9 WFPG.