New Yorkers seek normalcy in a post-9/11 world

It was Sept. 11, and in Central Park, a little girl too small to know what that means soared above Manhattan in an airplane suspended from wires, giggling as the concrete skyline wheeled around her.

The wind whipped 3-year-old Eve Dell Aquila's hair Sunday as the airplane ride at the Victorian Gardens amusement park picked up speed. A few miles away, the nation's leaders were mourning the dead of the 2001 terrorist attacks in a somber ceremony watched by millions around the world. Her mother, Kelly D'Aquila, said they'd visit the memorial another time. Today, she said, "just seems like a good day to remember we're alive."

In Central Park, a man dressed in nothing more than purple bicycle shorts danced in place, as apparently oblivious to passing joggers as they were to him. On Seventh Avenue, a female rapper in platform shoes and knee-length dreadlocks threw down rhymes accompanied by a drummer who played on plastic buckets.

"How you doing? How you doing? You got a job and that's a great thing to be pursuing!" she rhymed at a man carrying a bundle of newspapers on his bicycle. The man kept looking straight ahead, but cracked a smile.

"I know it's Sept. 11, but it's also a great morning," said the rapper, who goes by The Artist Annisha. "We have to stay positive here."

This was hardly a normal day, coming 10 years to the day after the terror attacks that changed the country and seemed to irreparably wound the nation's largest city.

But despite the tight security in lower Manhattan, much about Sunday seemed strangely normal. Or at least, as normal as New York gets.

On Broadway, Sean Harris sat on the sidewalk with an outstretched paper cup, hoping for change. The New York state troopers brought in to guard against terrorism had left him alone, he said. The night before he had slept in the La Guardia airport terminal, undisturbed by police.

"I think people have calmed down here in New York," Harris said. "People are probably more worried about the economy than terrorism."

It may also be a survival strategy in a city that has been targeted over and over again since Sept. 11 — in plots to blow up the city subways, bomb Times Square, ignite a fuel depot at John F. Kennedy International Airport and bomb synagogues. A tip about an al-Qaida plot to detonate a car bomb in either Washington or New York around the anniversary put more armed police into train stations and airports and set the city on edge again.

And then there have been the protests, disagreements and emotional baggage dumped on the city over the last decade as Americans struggled to respond to, rebuild from, and remember the Sept. 11 attacks.

There were battles over the design of the new World Trade Center, anti-war demonstrations and protests over plans to build a mosque near ground zero.

As the actual attacks recede in time, some New Yorkers said they struggled with a new dilemma this week — how to explain what they saw and felt to their children born since 2001.

"It's been on all over the TV this week, but I still don't know how I'll tell him about it someday," said Omar Alvarez, as he sat on a park bench with his 20-month-old son, Andre. "I guess it will be like Pearl Harbor is to us. He'll know about it, but it won't be the same to him."

At Victorian Gardens, the airplane ride began to slow. The wheels of the blue airplane touched the ground, and Eve climbed out with a smile on her face. Then she hurried to another plane, this time an orange one. Other young children clambered into other planes.

The ride started to move. The planes lifted into the air. And at least in this part of Manhattan, on this Sept. 11, for this young generation of New Yorkers, there was no symbolism in it. No bad memories. Just the skyline and the joy of flight.