Last night I got a phone call just as I was drifting off to sleep. "Osama bin Laden is dead," said the voice in my ear.
So, I got the fuck up.
I don't have a television or even internet access in my apartment, so I took to Twitter to read the news. Ya know, like you do. I tried cnn.com, but it was down. The New York Times had a story, but I was getting more information and more emotion from my hand-selected Twitter stream. One person I follow linked to the streaming video feed for the President's remarks. I watched his speech on my phone.
Then someone tweeted a photo of Times Square, and despite it being past midnight, there was a throng of people in the streets. It looked like a giant party.
I almost didn't go, but ultimately decided since the belly of Times Square is just four crosstown blocks from my apartment, that I'd be sorry if I didn't check it out. And besides, the little part of me that is a journalist wanted to document the occasion.
Hoofing it over to Times Square, I wondered if I was burning the midnight oil for no reason. I couldn't hear any cheering, couldn't see any revelers, and the honking that was happening was the same obnoxious level of honking that goes on even on days when masterminds of terrorist plots aren't shot in the head by Navy Seals.
But all I had to do is make a left on Broadway. Fire trucks were parked and New York's finest were perched atop them. And they were smiling. And dammit, I got goosebumps.
The news of Osama's death was being broadcast on the enormous neon marquees and beneath a puddle of people recorded the headlines with their cameras.
There was certainly a fever in the air.
It was a celebration, to be sure, but the number of people draping themselves in flags, screaming chants or singing songs was paled by the number of people there just to take in all in. Not everyone was in on the party. The majority were simply there to record the event.
There was no leader of the mob. There was no fear of violence or crime. People were holding their expensive phones and cameras high in the air, easily snatched out of hand, in order to document what was going on around them.
An 18-wheeler drove by and the driver honked his horn for loud stretches. Police sitting under a sign promising a $300 fine for honking waved at him.
Multiple people were selling cheaply made American flags on sticks for $5 a pop--capitalism at its finest.
Those who were partying in response to the news were predominantly young people.
People for whom Osama bin Laden has been Enemy Number One for most of their lives.
I left after an hour. I watched AP news cameramen climbing planters to get their shot, but it was nearing 1:30 am, and it was a school night.
I'm glad I went. There were so many emotions coursing through that crowd. Somber bystanders. Screaming teens. Interested citizen reporters. Frantic professional news types. But the group whose emotions stood out the most were those of the NYFD. None of them yelled. None of them sang songs. But their smiles were as bright as all of Times Square.