A Terrorist Blew Up My Block and This is What Happened

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The night of the Chelsea bombing

At 8:31 on Saturday night, I was sitting in front of my computer, when I heard a loud boom and felt the walls shake.

Call it intuition — I knew something was wrong. I’d never heard a bomb explode, yet it was the first thing I thought about.

I got up and ran to the window. Outside, on 23rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenue, people were running at breakneck speed. They were running away, not toward, something.

I immediately texted my wife, who was out of town: “Something happened here. An explosion or something.”

Then, two seconds later: “I’m going to check.”

I quickly got dressed and made my way downstairs.

When I got outside, people were still running in the opposite direction, toward 7th Avenue. But also, some were starting to move the other way, toward 6th. Like me, they wanted to see what happened.

Many people had their phones in their hands. They were taking photos and shooting video.

When I got to the middle of the block — really, only about 100 feet from where I live — I saw a dumpster on the sidewalk. Mangled and bent out of shape, it looked like it had been hit by a missile.

What’s more, the air smelled of something — gunpowder, it seemed. A cloud of smoke hovered. I wondered if maybe a building was on fire.

I texted my wife again: “A bomb or something blew up on 23rd Street.”

I didn’t know for sure it was a bomb then — worst case scenario, I’d text back: “A bus crashed into a building. No biggie!”

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Evidence markers left at the scene.

Four minutes after the blast, the entire block was fire trucks. I took a photo and sent it to my wife.

A mob had descended. “You have to get back,” a police officer yelled at nobody in particular. So I went across the street, tried to get a closer look from there.

Thirty seconds later, not able to see much, I spied a man coming from Garden of Eden, a grocery store.

He was an older gentleman, I’d say about 55. He had blood running down the side of his face and blood on his back. He wasn’t panicking— rather calmly, in fact, he was telling a police officer he needed to get to a hospital.

I figured if he was bleeding like that, then surely others were as well. But I didn’t have much time to think about it, because no sooner did he ask for an ambulance than a fireman came and told us they were clearing the block.

I walked back across the street into the lobby of my building. About twenty people had gathered there, everyone wondering the same thing: what the hell just happened?

People were concerned, but I’d be lying if I said everyone seemed that concerned. While one girl was breaking down crying, another was insinuating her Saturday night plans were ruined — the horror!

Five minutes later, a police officer came in and said: “Everyone needs to clear this lobby. Go back up into your apartments. We don’t know the extent of this thing — we may have to evacuate.”

So I went back upstairs and sat down at my computer. It was 8:48, a full seventeen minutes after the blast. On Twitter, there were a handful of tweets about the explosion, but most were just saying that it happened.

One random news outlet tweeted that it was a bomb. Maybe the outlet had spoken to a police source, or maybe they’d heard it the scanner. Regardless, it felt like my intuition was right: it was a bomb.

It was only then that I realized that where the bomb exploded — in front of Selis Manor, a home for the blind — I’d walked past only minutes before it happened, on my way back from getting a cup of coffee.

You know that scene in Pulp Fiction when the guy comes out of the bathroom and fires his gun a million times at Jules and Vincent Vega but still somehow misses, and then later Jules tells Vincent Vega that he thinks they didn’t get killed because of divine intervention — strangely, I felt like that.

The thought seemed silly though, so I stopped thinking it, then glued my eyes to the television and my phone to my hand. Like the rest of America, I just wanted to know what happened.

After about an hour, I realized that the press didn’t know anything more than I did.

“Here’s what we know,” they’d say. “There’s been an explosion.”

Then they’d cut to an image of a fire truck.

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Bill de Blasio, checking on things.

When I woke up Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was standing across the street, outside the Malibu Diner, which had become a sort of holding pit for the various city, state and federal officials that had descended on 23rd Street.

Between 6th and 7th Avenues, the street was barricaded, but there was space toward 7th avenue set aside for media— hundreds of journalists, newscasters and cameraman set up shop there.

It wasn’t until late on Sunday that I was able to get out of the apartment. Before then, we were told we’d need an escort, and from my balcony, which overlooks 23rd street, I’d seen the police vetting people earlier in the day.

That afternoon, I walked out onto 7th Avenue, up to the Whole Foods on 24th Street. Just one block from the scene of the crime, it was like a whole different country— Bomb? What bomb? No bomb can keep me from organic fair trade farm-to-table roasted pine nut summer squash raspberry vanilla quinoa coffee.

It took me an hour and a half to buy three things, which might be record time for getting in and out of a Whole Foods, and then I walked back down to 23rd Street. I showed a cop my driver’s license, wiggled my way inside the barricade, and made my way back up to the apartment.

The next day, I woke up to an alert — the kind of alert you get if there’s a hurricane coming — saying police were looking for a guy named Ahmad Khan Rahami. No sooner did I see that than I turned on the television, and he was there. He’d been injured in a shootout with law enforcement, and looked pretty torn up.

Well, that was fast, I thought.

Some hours later, 23rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenue opened back up. Some of the media remained, but many had left. More than 48 hours since the explosion, the perpetrator in custody, it was time to move on.

Today, the cars, the people, the noise, the homeless — they all returned to 23rd Street. Things felt, strangely, just as they did before all this happened. Business as usual.

I guess that’s the best you could hope for.

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FBI taking away the exploded dumpster.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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