The quietest place in New York City during last night’s rush hour was a stretch of the West Side Highway bike path just south of Warren Street in Tribeca. Approximately 500 feet north and three hours earlier, a 29-year-old man had steered a rented Home Depot pickup truck onto the path and driven down it for twenty blocks, killing eight people and injuring at least a dozen more.
Now, the bike path, which on a normal day is the busiest in the city, remained mostly empty. A security guard stood by the path, which weaves around landscaped plants. Soft lights illuminated a crosswalk for office workers, but there were few bikes to look out for, save for the occasional cyclist who either hadn’t heard the news or figured he’d ride along the path as far as he could.
It was almost certainly coincidence that the attack took place near so many media headquarters so reporters could run to the scene within minutes. (The Associated Press is literally next door.) By 5:30 p.m., a little more than two hours after the attack, the arrivals in highest abundance were emergency response and police vehicles; a close second was the media. Hundreds of us swarmed the square block area around Chambers and Greenwich streets lugging cameras, video equipment, propping laptops on car hoods to bang out a quote or quickly edit some coverage, and accosting the few teenagers still around from school at Stuyvesant High or Intermediate School 289.
One TV news reporter set up at the corner of Warren and West streets with a block of police vehicles in the background before a woman stepped in the shot to film the scene on her iPhone. He turned, tapped her on the shoulder, and gestured for her to move. She took half a step back, which wasn’t enough, but no time for that now; he was on. He talked about how it was Halloween and there were kids in costumes out and about. You know, despite everything.
A reporter I did not know approached me asking if I had found anyone who saw anything. Predictably, the answer was no; truthfully, I hadn’t even asked anyone, as it was far too late. A Hasidic man standing a few yards away was being interviewed by a woman holding an iPhone in “record” mode, as a small gaggle of reporters hung around, either snatching quotes as they came or waiting to ask questions of their own.
Several people with lanyards that said “PRESS” on them asked me if I had seen the incident myself, despite the fact that I was holding a notepad and pen. My response was to hold up the tools of the trade. I was here for the same reason they were, to pretend we had anything to add to a conversation that hadn’t even started yet.
Across the way, on West Street, a tow truck was parked next to the day’s garbage plopped on the sidewalk. Its rear window had a sticker with the New York City skyline featuring the twin towers and the number “9.11.01,” all overlaid on an American flag background. In the bottom right corner, in much smaller font, the words “In memory of the lives lost” could be faintly made out.
People made their way past in great haste, many holding Whole Foods bags. A man in a suit with an English accent said into his phone, “Just got out of work. No, I live on the Upper West Side,” and then gave his address to his counterpart. Earlier, a father told his boy of about eight, “This is where the horrible thing happened.” The boy replied, “Oh, this is where the shooting happened,” as if confirming the location of a historical landmark. It would later be confirmed the man did not shoot anyone, having emerged from his truck after his killing spree holding two fake guns before being himself shot by police.
Just across West Street from the bike path, the Whole Foods on Greenwich Street had hastily printed a message on 8-1/2 by 11 paper and attached it to the door with masking tape. “Attention Whole Foods Market Guest,” the note read. “WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE. The only Available Entrance Will Be The Greenwich Street [sic]. Once again,” the note emphasized, “We Apologize For The Inconvenience.”
Later that night, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, in a rare display of congeniality, would praise New Yorkers for being unfazed by the attack. The way to combat terror is to not be afraid, they said, to go about your daily life, to go trick-or-treating with your kids.
On my hourlong bicycle ride home from the attack scene back to Lefferts Gardens, I saw entire block parties of trick-or-treating. Dozens of children, hundreds even, going door to door in revelry. Most of the blocks were cordoned off by just a small wooden police barrier. I found myself wondering if de Blasio and Cuomo would have said the same thing if the attacker had plowed through here instead — and then immediately hated myself for being thankful he had only killed eight people.