An explosives-sniffing dog alerted on a backpack that a couple with a child and a stroller had set down in the atrium behind Trump Tower.
A second explosives-sniffing dog was summoned and it also alerted on the backpack. A call went out to the NYPD bomb squad as uniformed officers began evacuating the lobby.
“Out! Out!” a cop shouted as he gestured with a gloved right hand for people to keep moving.
Frightened shouts echoed off the gleaming marble as people fled through the lobby toward the main entrance. Some had enough fear in their faces to make you think of those who crossed the twin lobbies of the stricken towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The folks who fled Trump Tower early Tuesday evening poured onto a Fifth Avenue that was already crowded with holiday-season shoppers and visitors. Police closed off both ends of the block with steel barricades. Passersby added to the crush as they became gawkers, standing three and four deep in the unseasonably warm weather.
“I’m not sure what is going on,” a man said to a trio of youngsters at his side.
“Maybe because he is here?” another man said.
He being President-elect Donald Trump, who was not in the tower on which he had bestowed his name, but down at his Florida estate. The security response even with him absent also included street shutdowns during the evening rush. Police commanders responding to the scene found themselves stuck in gridlock despite their vehicles’ lights and sirens. An ambulance’s siren wailed as it struggled to get down Fifth Avenue, hopefully with a patient who was not in dire need of hospital care.
After the backpack proved to contain nothing more threatening than children’s toys, all the streets were reopened save for the stretch of 56th Street that is now permanently closed. A man whose bulletproof vest bore the words “SECRET SERVICE” began admitting pedestrians to the area in front of the tower if they were bound for one of four locations.
“Trump Tower, Tiffany’s, Gucci, and Niketown only!” he called out.
Those who gave the right answer to the question, “Where are you going, folks?” were waved through once any bags they had were checked. Those who were not going to the tower or one of the three adjoining stores were directed across the street. The block began to return to its new normal, which is to say just a suspicious package away from there suddenly being far too many people possibly in harm’s way, no matter what the security precautions.
“The thing is, he doesn’t care,” a cop remarked.
He again being Trump, who seems not the least bit concerned about the impact his presence has had on those in and around his tower since he surprised even himself by getting elected.
And the security situation is sure to get considerably worse after the inauguration, when he actually becomes president. He has said that he intends to continue spending time in his tower and the Secret Service will no doubt push for even more security, whatever the effect on the citizenry.
“They only have one client,” the cop said of the president’s guardians.
Three armed NYPD officers and a sergeant in body armor stood by the tower entrance from which the frightened folks had exited a short time before. The immediate fear had passed, but the threat remained on a storied avenue that draws visitors from all over the world while serving as one of the main thoroughfares in our biggest and busiest city.
That we would still be facing terror 15 years after those two other towers downtown were felled, that we would still be in this longest of wars no doubt contributed to the heedless desire for change that led to an electoral upset like none other. Never mind that Trump had lied about losing hundreds of friends on 9/11, that he had lied even about giving to those who had lost loved ones. We have gone so long without a clear win that when he promised “so many victories,” the promise alone was enough for him actually to achieve one, for himself anyway.
As traffic resumed flowing down Fifth Avenue and people came and went from the lobby, the new president’s dark tower soared high up into the night sky, 68 stories by his count and as calibrated by the elevator buttons, but 58 stories in actual fact. That is still a touch more than half the height of the Twin Towers and evacuating him from the penthouse would be by either measure considerably more challenging than evacuating tourists from the lobby.
The military C-130 plane and a pair of helicopters that circled Manhattan on Dec. 13 were reportedly establishing evacuation routes for our new president, which are said to include a landing zone in Central Park. No security person can look at a Manhattan tower and not think of the people who were trapped on 9/11 and the planning regarding Trump no doubt includes ways to pluck him from his penthouse. He will not likely be facing anything like the horror that forced innocents to jump on the day that changed everything so profoundly we are only now beginning to learn the full extent.
Meanwhile, the Secret Service man by the steel barricades up at the corner was repeating what seemed like a mantra for our new reality of bogus populism and genuine threat.
“Trump Tower, Gucci, Tiffany’s and Niketown only!”