I'm a light enough sleeper that even the phone's buzz will wake me up. There was no way I was sleeping through the four calls, five texts, and other forms of digital intrusion that descended upon my device just before 11pm on Sunday night.
Headed into Manhattan from Brooklyn, I was surprised that there was no snarled traffic on the Brooklyn bridge, no throngs of people spreading across Chambers Street in lower Manhattan. But within a few blocks of the World Trade Center, groups straggling towards and away from the World Trade Center celebration began to appear. Were it not for the American flags draped around their shoulders, most of the young men in the crowd could just as easily been pouring out of one of the local sports bars. In fact, as I waded into the crowd, I got a deeper suspicion that many in fact had.
Maybe it's because sports is one of the last collective acts of public camaraderie we have left, but I couldn't help notice the parallels between post-Yankee game celebrations and this post-assassination gathering. For the revelers, it was an easy transition. The familiar "Let's-go-Yankees clap-clap-clapclapclap" morphed into "N-Y-P-D clap-clap-clapclapclapclap" -- turns out, this cheer is an easy plug-and-play for anything with four syllables: "Osa-ma's de-ad" "Navy Se-als" "F--- bin Laden"...
Whenever a cameraman would flip on his light and point into the crowd, the immediate group of 20 people in front of the frame would go wild. I was reminded of two regular images we see on U.S. television: the student sections at college basketball games; and the images of angry Arab mobs somewhere in the Middle East. It's hard to overstate how easily a group of 15 can be made to look like a fevered mass, and how much the viewer's preexisting opinions color whether that group is celebrating, or rioting.
There were vuvuzelas, handmade signs (one, with "Justice for America" on the front and "We are the Champs" on the back, clearly recycled from a sports celebration) and a couple beers shotgunned on top of shoulders.
But, what's so bad about having a sports celebration serve as the blueprint for a political rally? It doesn't necessarily mean anyone's feelings are less honest. It just means we're a little rusty when it comes to getting together at important moments.
I saw genuine emotion, moments of quiet and solitude, and more than anything true relief. I heard versions of the "Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" sung in full throat. And I'm heartened that a large number of New Yorkers elected to spontaneously gather in person rather than monitor their Twitter streams or cable TV. There's an enduring power in getting together, and hopefully we can stay that way for a little longer.
Below is my log of tweets, pics, and videos from Sunday night.
Jody Avirgan started two days before The Brian Lehrer Show won a Peabody, and he is taking full credit. He comes to WNYC from WFUV, where he produced "Cityscape" with the great George Bodarky. He's worked for KQED Radio in San Francisco, is a founder of Longshot Radio, and has produced pieces that have aired here and there and everywhere.
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR and Public Radio International, as well as a wide range of award-winning local programming. WNYC is a division of New York Public Radio.