The idea that the city was big enough and bighearted enough to glide through an event as contentious as the Republican convention as if it were some run-of-the-mill blackout was a fantasy that was bound to burst. The fact is, Republicans, at least these Republicans, cannot be taken in stride. The dogged efforts of the ubiquitous protesters, many of them obnoxious slobs as unwelcome as Dick Cheney himself, may have been the only way to take the bloom off the rose. But on Tuesday night, a day after Rudy Giuliani had invoked 9/11 over and over again from the podium inside the Garden just a block away, the vibe in the streets at Herald Square took on that looming, apocalyptic feel not experienced around here since those awful nights following the attack. With hundreds of people determined to be arrested and the cops at least as determined to oblige them with their riot gear, plastic orange netting, and endlessly blaring sirens, the entire scene was like a dystopic future movie. This aspect was only accented by the television sets playing noiselessly in the windows of the electronic stores on 32nd Street, each screen showing the image of Arnold, in the midst of declaring his all-Americanness.
Whatever finally emerges from the convention, whether Bush gets his bounce or Bloomberg escapes without damage on his failed promise of economic bonanza, walking around the city from Tuesday night on was to realize that 9/11, which will never really leave us, had come back fully graphic. The idea of the modern political convention as one big stage play is something most everyone is used to by now. But being cast as extras in the Republicans’ best-case script (the heroic W. returns to the scene of the ultimate crime) can set locals seething. This was especially true when one left the growing madness on Sixth Avenue to walk over to the Garden, where, despite the massive police presence and the whirring helicopters, things were very calm. The Republican delegates bused in from their hotels, some no more than four blocks away, strode into the Garden commenting on how quiet and safe the city was. For them, even as they cheer the nation’s vigilance in the War on Terror, 9/11 will always be abstract. You didn’t have to be a black-bloc protester to be pissed about that.