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Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

Thoughts on Life in a Time of Cost Effective Terror…

The train is clanking its way from Washington, D.C. to New York, from Union Station to Penn Station, a three hour journey that can give one time to straighten out one’s thoughts, read a newspaper thoroughly, get a quick nap and not be hassled by the random searches that plague the plane traveler. Perhaps, one day, it will come to train travel, also, but not yet.

As I left D.C., traveling by taxi from the hotel to the station, I fielded three phone calls from different parts of the country, all asking me if there was dancing in the streets as it looked like the sniper had been caught. No, no dancing that I was seeing.

People in D.C. are not going to dance until it’s proven these chaps are the sniper[s] and there haven’t been any attacks for awhile. I have just spent three days there and there was/is a quiet tenseness in the air that is far different to the days following the September 11th attacks. At one moment, riding in a taxi I was thinking: this must be a little bit how it feels like to live in Tel Aviv.

I was thinking of taking the metro out to see a friend yesterday evening but my client wouldn’t hear of it – it meant being in the open too much so I hailed a cab and went on my way. But that is the kind of concession that has been being made on a daily basis in the D.C. area. Mothers have told me their children have been playing in malls not parks. Fathers take their children to school, not that it makes them any safer but that it feels safer to the child. Restaurants are down by nearly 50% and window seats in them are empty.

One friend told me he didn’t even think about it – he entered a restaurant yesterday for lunch and sought out what looked like the coziest table. Only after he sat down did he really his cozy choice was one in the center of the restaurant surrounded by other tables of diners. He felt sheepish as he realized that he had made his choice based on a desire for safety.

I love reading the International Herald Tribune and I picked it up this morning in Washington’s Union Station. One of its headline stories was: Cost Effective Terror: a van and 13 bullets.

Got that right! D.C. and its environs have been gripped in a kind of fear I haven’t experienced before. If it’s over [and in the grey light of Friday’s dawn, it looks as if it is] I am glad I was there and experienced a little bit of it – because it was unlike anything else I’ve experienced. The city and its people kept on moving, bravely, purposely, going on with their lives but totally fearful. Gallows humor was everywhere – a coping mechanism. People were living but their lives were not normal.

Normal. What a wonderful word that is. It’s a word I’ve talked about a lot in this column. Our new normal. Normal has a different meaning now than it did prior to September 11th and every day we live seems to take us further away from that normal. The nation’s capital has been locked in a kind of terror – and it has been a demonstration of the power of a non-military force to instill terror on a location.

Until all the talk about money, many minds had surrendered that this was a new form of a terrorist attack – and that almost seemed calming in that at least there was some sort of explanation that fit in with a world view of some [dreadful] kind. But to be doing this for money? That was a kind of madness that was hard to get your arms around – and for some the reverse was true. Welcome to D.C. Welcome to Sarajevo.

But this is another example of our new normal. Terrorism – and its possibility -- is now a real part of the fabric of our lives. At a meeting on Tuesday someone from D.C. introduced himself to me and asked me if I lived in D.C. or in New York. When I said I was from New York, he responded, “Well, welcome to the new terror capital of the world.”

Well that was only good until Wednesday night, when six or seven hundred Muscovites went off to see the equivalent of a Broadway show and found themselves at the center of the Chechen dispute. In my prayers – and I’m praying a lot these days – I prayed for them last night. I could imagine what it would be like, sitting watching a play and having it taken over by individuals willing to blow me up to get something they wanted.

When I got back to the hotel last night, I was grateful I had made it there safely. I am grateful I made it back to New York safely. I will be grateful for every movement I make that comes out – safely.

And I am stunned that this is my life. Welcome to the 21st century. I suppose it has always been like this. No time has been “safe”. When our grandparents were growing up they had the great depression and then Hitler, Tojo and a world war. Our parents had the cold war to fret about when raising all us baby boomers, the fear in their heart that we would be – all of us – evaporated in one bright flash of foolishness.

We are in a sea change time of history. Everyone I speak to seems to acknowledge it but there is no clear view of where that sea change will be taking us – and, in truth, no generation has been able to see what is just ahead. But what is important is that we keep putting one foot in front of another, making do the best we can with life. That’s what everyone I knew in D.C. was doing this week, putting one frightened foot in front of another, exhibiting a courage they did not recognize but which, nonetheless, was the miracle they brought into my life.