The guide from the tour bus stood in the center of a crowd in winter hats and announced, "This used to be called Ground Zero. We don't use that anymore. We now call it the World Trade Center."
Behind him yesterday was the Russian steppes.
Brooding and empty, with nothing to stop the icy wind coming off the river.
In the wild exulting over the capture of a defeated man, Hussein, you'd think that the trade center would not be as continually and vigorously inspected by sightseers. After all, Hussein had nothing to do with this. Bin Laden is your man.
Yet small crowds such as this one with their tour guide gathered through the afternoon for the length of the fence looking out at the famous and frozen real estate.
Each person you spoke to, and they were from all over the country, were pleased that the new trade center would be the world's tallest building. Also, they were supremely happy because Saddam Hussein had had something to do with blowing up the Twin Towers.
Here was a woman in the cold, Linda Jacobs, standing with her husband, Ken, from Newport News, Va., and saying, "He probably did. Who knows. But he probably did."
Her husband said, "Oh. yeah. He was in on it."
A couple from Knoxville, Tenn., Elaine and Will, agreed. "I believe he was in on it on some level," she said. "He was around there someplace," the husband said. Betty Hipp, San Antonio. "Of course Saddam was responsible."
I was out there for some time, taking notes and hometowns, and it was all the same. Saddam is bin Laden.
To thaw out, I went into the Burger King on the corner of Liberty and Church, where Mary Garcia, 53, was behind the counter and looking out the big window and right at the trade center and the people there to look at it.
"For me Hussein did it, the other guy, too. These people both is together in Iraq and in the trade center," Garcia said. "If Saddam don't do nothing, why he go into a hole? Because he is afraid we catch him for the World Trade Center that he did with bin Laden? The both of them together."
She said she has a son in Iraq, Sgt. Peter Garcia.
"He was from Italy, they send him to Iraq. He's married already in Italy. His wife doesn't stay at the base in Italy. She goes home to Puerto Rico with the baby.
"Yesterday I get up in the morning and I hear they caught this Saddam. I go, oh, thank you God. Oh, how happy could you make me? Now maybe my son comes home."
It is a rule of mine not to use man on the street interviews, but this was so unanimous and forceful that I had to listen. And as I did, I could hear George Bush and his people all saying: "We went and got Saddam because it is better to fight terrorists in Iraq than in Manhattan."
No matter that Saddam had nothing to do with the attack. There were 15 Saudi Arabians who were in the suicide attack. Then immediately, the FBI gathered up those members of bin Laden's sprawling family who were in America and got them on planes to Switzerland. And soon, the Saudi Arabian prince was at Waco, Texas, for an amiable day with Bush.
How could you not blame Saddam Hussein for everything? He murdered his own, yes. And he was going to kill all of us with nuclear weapons. "I know they are there," Bush announced.
There was nothing nuclear about Saddam hiding in his hole. There was no anthrax or smallpox, just rats and lice.
But the unmistakable feeling is that more and more of the American public will consider Saddam Hussein a partner in terror with Osama bin Laden and that it was a wonderful thing we did, going to war to catch one of them.
This belief in two enemies probably is going to be welcomed by Larry Silverstein, the builder who by mouth alone, has made it appear that he owns the land, the buildings, the sky above and the water below. Silverstein has $3.5 billion coming as insurance for the raid. He contends that they were two separate attacks, one on Tower One, a second on Tower Two. Therefore, he wants to be paid double. Seven billion. The insurance companies involved are inclined to do battle. Without the double insurance payment, people around him say, he won't be able to build a front stoop to a building made of thin air. "Two attacks," Larry says.
"Larry, it is the World Trade Center attack," he is told, including by judges in early rulings that were at least ominous for Silverstein.
Perhaps there was a chance in the freezing air yesterday. He can claim that Osama bin Laden made one attack on a tower and then Saddam Hussein's suicide bombers went into the second tower. Two people. Two attacks. Two payments!
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.