Five months after last September's terrorist attacks, much of America has returned to normal, as much as possible that is, with the country at war and still on a high state of alert over the possibility of more terrorist strikes. In the first in a series of reports on life after the events of September 11, Correspondent Nick Simeone takes a look at how the nation's capital has changed, and how many people are yearning to get back to normal while still worried about more terror attacks.
Public tours of the White House are resuming for the first time since last September's attacks, another sign of how life, as this Washingtonian points out, is gradually returning to normal even in a capital waging an on-going war against terrorists. "I think Washington is pretty safe right now," he says. "I think first after 9/11 I was paranoid, but I didn't want to live my life that way. So I've moved on. I've had to. You just have to have faith that you're going to be ok."
After months of security alerts and several anthrax scares, Washington is a city longing to feel ok again, but unable to fully do so because of repeated warnings about the possibility of more terrorist attacks.
The Pentagon is a good illustration of a capital trying to return to normal but still bracing for the worst. A section of the building that was torn apart by one of last September's hijacked airliners swarms with construction crews rebuilding part of one of its five sides. But as this Defense Department employee points out, all around are signs that those who work inside remain on guard for the possibility of another terrorist strike. "Just drive down (route) 110 by the Pentagon and you'll see Humvees with machine guns on top and they're limiting traffic around certain areas," he says. "I think there's in the back of everybody's mind the realization that it could happen at any time, any place again and we have to be prepared for that."
In fact, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has warned of what he says could be another terrorist attack far more drastic than the events of last September.
Just a few blocks from the White House, Russ Sweetman manages a store called the Counter Spy Shop, which sells a range of gadgets designed to protect against everything from terrorism to theft. He has seen sales of gas masks and hazardous material uniforms skyrocket. "We were taking hundreds of inquiries a week on gas masks and selling at this location at least 20-thousand dollars a week," he says. "Right inside of New York City where our office is on Madison Avenue, they were selling in one month over $300,000 worth of gas masks."
But to see how this city is caught between extremes, all you have to do is walk a few blocks to Equinox restaurant, a frequent gathering spot for Bush Administration officials, where the atmosphere is quite relaxed. Chef and owner Todd Gray is now hoping to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars he lost in the days after last September's attacks. "A lot of the tourism that was lost because of 9/11 seems to be coming back now. I think we are moving forward in Washington," he says. "I think Washington is a very strong city, its people are strong, our government is strong and being this close to the White House, we're not going anywhere and I'm just happy that Washingtonians are out eating."
Quite a different mood from the days immediately after the worst terrorist attacks against the United States when much of this city was shut down or sealed off. Nearly six months after September 11, Washington seems to be edging back to normal.