Terror aftermath redefines attitudesWritten by Michael Punsalan | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Three weeks ago, my travel agent offered me “terrorist insurance” before I left on a flight to London. This $99 insurance would allow me to change my flight date in the event of a terrorist attack anywhere in the world. I laughed off the added expense as a brilliant scare tactic to scam impressionable travelers out of their hard-earned cash.
In an attempt to see more of the world, my wife and I decided to whirl through 10 European countries via the public transportation system. Our starting point was a corner little known to us, Russell Square in London. We expected non-stop excitement in the start of our landmark adventure, but what we did not expect is narrowly missing danger in the form of a terrorist plot.
Upon arriving in Russell Square that first week of July, I stepped off the subway to greet pleasant and welcoming Londoners. I was surprised to see the street to my hotel lined with hip urban youths, Coca-Cola machines and Pizza Huts.
Through the experience of IRA bombings as well as their close juxtaposition to other European countries who have felt the backlash of terrorism, I expected England to be on an ever-vigilant guard. Instead, I found a country like ours. I noticed no security checkpoints on the subway system. I noticed my effortless entrance onto a crowded train without even having to buy a ticket. I noticed no one checked my heavily packed luggage as we were crammed like cattle into a mass transit system.
My wife and I traversed London through the use of two subway stations: Russell Square and the near- by King’s Cross. Day in and day out, those two stations seemed to be the center of our London stay.
Amidst the subway traffic, we ran into a multitude of business commuters, the occasional persistent panhandler and countless tourists just as lost as we were. The one commonality between all of these subway commuters was the attitude of complacency. No worried expressions. No racial profiling.
Only for a second did I sit and think of how difficult it would be to exit Russell Square’s deep underground subway platform in the case of an emergency.
We eventually left London to continue our transcontinental hike. On July 7, I awoke in my bed in Rome.
I planned on continuing my day in a normal fashion until I turned on the television. My heart nearly stopped when the news anchor mentioned “Russell Square,” “King’s Cross,” “bombing, possibly terrorist,” “at least 33 now confirmed dead.”
Within minutes, not only was my mindset, but the entire European atmosphere changed into one of fear. Europeans as far south as Italy appeared affected by the London bombings. Panic seemed to spread like brushfire through the close-knit European community.
The United States, first. Spain, second. England, third. The pattern seemed apparent. The entire Western world was under attack, and no one knew who was next.
All rational thought regarding the unlikelihood of my involvement in another bombing went out the window, in place of suspicion and anxiety.
Days later, I was back in London finding the same worries among the Londoners. One man flashed a sign that read, “Today, we’re all British,” while another sign depicted a man holding a gas nozzle to his head in a gun-like suicidal manner.
Only in retrospect does it occur to me how close we were to that bombing. With two of the four bombs in Russell Square and King’s Cross, it is quite possible that I brushed shoulders with the would-be suicide bomber days earlier on the train.
It’s possible that my timely decision to leave the U.K. might also have been the only thing that saved my family from tragedy. The bottom line is that nothing but luck saved those who dodged misfortune.
Anxiety is their reward.
Today, the idea of “terrorism insurance” still seems like nothing more than a smart marketing ploy. However, the travel agencies are not to blame.
The fear of terrorism echoes as underlying motivation in everything we do.
Contact Michael Punsalan at email@example.com.