Has our species been trained now not to react to catastrophic danger or even extra super weirdness?
And do we know what really happened on Wednesday in New York City?
Last Wednesday I was in Brooklyn, New York, at about ten am. I had stayed in the borough overnight, as I was preparing to meet a lawyer in Manhattan.
My stay had already become 21st Century-dystopian, as I had foolishly booked myself at the trendy/discounted hotel, Sonder the Industrialist. It turned out that the management has turned physical hotels into a dehumanized data harvesting operation. I arrived at night in an Uber to find myself alone in an industrialized area, with a dying phone, and all the restaurants closing; at which point the app informed me that there was to be no human being to receive me in the lobby, so I had to phone a call center in the Philippines in order to “set up my account,” and then that I must provide an array of invasive private information before I would be granted the code to enter the building.
I followed other exasperated tourists into the lobby, hoping to bypass the data harvesting, but was told by the sweet, sad “security person” at the front desk that he had no powers whatsoever, that there was no key to give me at all, and that I had to finish “completing my account” and “checking in online” before I could hope to get to my longed-for room.
This process included a full-on, turn-your-head-right-and-left, biometric facial scan, which in the Brave New World of digital coercion, it was too late for me to decline, if I was going to get anywhere safe to sleep. The “lockdown” model for forcibly extracting digital information and behavioral compliance before allowing anyone anything decently human had taken over yet another former civilized experience — checking into a hotel after a journey — in yet another formerly human space.
I could not manage to “update the settings on my camera” effectively to allow the app to data-harvest my driver’s license, so a tall, equally exhausted Swedish businessman loomed into my personal space in order to help me, thus inadvertently seeing not only all my biometric information and the purpose of my trip, but also my room entry access code and my room number. The app thus having entirely compromised my security as well as having harvested critical personal information against my will, I fled to my room at last, reminding myself uneasily to bolt the door.
The next morning, though, was cheery; cool and bright; partly sunny. There was a faint haze, and a distant smell of wood smoke, as when leaves are burning in autumn.
I got into an Uber to head into Manhattan.
Suddenly — in the proverbial blink of an eye – the almost-clear day turned dead-grey all around us, with thickening grey-white smoke filling up the air bizarrely, though there was no fire visible. It was filling up the air around us humans and around pets and vehicles — in the street, in the crosswalks, around the Uber; not overhead. It was if someone producing a play had switched off a light above us, and turned on a dry ice machine.
“This seems weird,” I said. The driver, a young man, explained that “they say it’s the wildfires in Canada”, a buzz-phrase I’d heard all morning. The smoke continued to thicken at human levels as we drove, as if we had entered the midst of a massive, smoky cloud. I had never seen anything like that sudden change manifesting in the air, though I had grown up in California where there was wildfire season every year. “Or directed energy weapons” I said to myself under my breath.
Instead of laughing or ignoring me, the young man turned on a video on his dashboard screen for me to watch. It purported to be a meteorological video of the area in Canada where the wildfires were, that appeared to show multiple fires starting at once. It was from InfoWars, but other sites have shared similar videos: https://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2023/06/apocalyptic-haze-engulfs-new-york-city-as-canadian/. The driver agreed that the intensifying cloud around us was disturbing. With no prompting from me, he talked about the World Economic Forum and global treaties; he was a follower of alternative media. Though I could not assess the source of his video, and though had blurted out my worst fear rather than having any facts on which to base it, I thought that he was wise to quit work after he dropped me off, to go home and retrieve his child from school, and not hang out longer in this mysterious cloud; I decided as we drove to try to cancel my appointment in midtown; I would try to get out of the city as soon as I could.
The lawyer said there was no way to cancel the meeting, so against my instincts we kept driving toward Manhattan.
My family had been in the city on 9/11, and though I was in the UK that day, I had flown immediately to Toronto and then took a taxi, thanks to the kindness of my publisher, to New York City, where my baby and toddler and my then-husband were. As someone who had lived through the aftermath of that attack, in an apartment less than a mile from Ground Zero, I had been traumatized by the thick smoke, and by the lingering smell of chemicals and bodies that persisted in lower Manhattan. I was traumatized by the harm it did. Loved ones to this day suffer respiratory damage from that smoke, even though Christine Todd Whitman, then-head of the EPA, had declared famously, knowing that she was lying, that “the air in lower Manhattan is safe to breathe.” [https://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/03/nyregion/public-misled-on-air-quality-after-911-attack-judge-says.html]. Children across the city whose families had trusted the government sustained respiratory damage. First responders, of course, later developed illnesses, and many eventually died.