It was lunchtime at a fashionably casual eatery on the Westside when all of a sudden a large truck raced over a speed bump outside, doing no harm other than to make a loud racket.
These days, that was enough.
Half the place flinched.
Stuff like that has been happening all over town, as we wait for the thugs from Al Qaeda to demonstrate once again just how crazy they are. Suspicious packages, evacuated buildings, anthrax scares, bomb threats Americans are on edge as never before. In an odd twist, airplanes have become the modern-day wild frontier, where passengers take it upon themselves to run roughshod over anyone who looks or sounds suspicious. (Can't you see the lawsuits coming?) The local police union is even making ridiculous noises about how off-duty cops should be allowed to carry firearms while on board.
It's nuts out there. But of course, what do you expect when government officials get on the airwaves to say that another attack is probable within days, even hours and when the thugs themselves promise that "there are thousands of young people who look forward to death like the Americans look forward to living." With frantic diatribe like that, who needs fear-inducing commentators from Fox News?
While the fear factor is hard to dismiss, there's another element that's slowly starting to percolate what I'll call the fed up factor. You're not hearing it yet from too many people because it's still considered bad form to complain about most anything. And besides, these are scary times. (It should be noted that this piece is being written on Thursday the 11th and goodness knows what the world might look like by the week of the 15th.)
Listen closely, however, and you'll start to detect grumbling. Last Monday at Los Angeles International Airport, lines to check in stretched for blocks even going outside the terminal. Radio reporters were interviewing a few folks caught up in the crunch and while many sounded the prevailing themes that they don't mind the inconvenience because they feel safer one guy gamely wondered how much longer the delays would go on, and whether the flying public would put up with it.
A similar refrain is being whispered among L.A.'s well-heeled bizboys and bizgals, as they wait in long lines to get into office parking garages. Meetings delayed. Meetings missed. Deals at stake. And for what? So that you can pull up to a security checkpoint and put your name on some clipboard? What kind of protection is that?
Barring another catastrophic attack, you can expect more of this grumbling because, well, we're not a very patient people despite President Bush's desperate insistence to the contrary. If we were so patient, there wouldn't be a company like Fed Ex that practically built its brand on the notion that we absolutely, positively have to have something delivered the next day. Not to be overly sentimental, but we also wouldn't have the most powerful economic engine in the world a center of commerce that, while often flawed in its presumption and arrogance, knows how to get things done. Not next week or next month, now.
Freewheeling American capitalism cannot co-exist with the frightened bunnies I saw last week, at least not for long. So it comes down to this: Either we will see more deadly attacks that prolong the fear, dampen consumer demand, and cower the country into extended economic anemia or, we will somehow figure out how to accept the threats, learn to defend ourselves (prudently, not cosmetically), and then get on with the business of living.
I know which side I'm choosing.
Mark Lacter is editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal.
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