Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shootout in Times Square

So, there I was in New York to get my holiday fix of bright lights, decorations, good food and theater, when things went a little bit crazy.

As I've often said before, I love New York at this time of the year and my trip last week kicked off on a perfect note with a wonderful production of "A Little Night Music" starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury. Then came Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" with its lovely and lively production numbers, gorgeous costumes and, of course, all that fabulous familiar music.

On Thursday, as I stood in the taxi line at my hotel, however, things took a decidedly unexpected turn. I noticed a couple of men running by, one of them shouting at the other. Not two seconds later, shots were fired. As I whirled around to look, more shots were fired, less than fifty feet from where I was standing. One man was on the ground, the other over him with a gun shouting for someone to call 911.

And then more police officers than I'd ever seen assembled outside of a parade unit, descended on the area from every direction, some on horseback, all with guns drawn, while those of us in the taxi line took cover behind anything we could until things seemed to be under control.

Of course, the old journalist in me wanted to rush over and start asking questions, but the sensible author studied the chaos, determined that I wouldn't be getting a taxi there anytime soon and wandered off to Broadway in search of a cab to take me to my celebratory holiday lunch with my editor, agent and my agent's staff. Never let it be said that a mere shootout deters me from a festive occasion.

By the time I returned to the hotel later in the afternoon, police tape had cordoned off a huge area of Times Square while the police investigated. As later reported by others, an undercover officer had spotted a street hustler he recognized, tried to question him and the chase ensued. The hustler, who apparently had a record for hassling tourists, pulled out a semiautomatic and fired at the officer. Thankfully, his weapon jammed after the second shot and he was killed by the officer or things could have ended a whole lot more tragically for dozens of innocent bystanders.

For me I think the most shocking aspect of this entire episode was that it happened in the blink of an eye. It's a reminder to me and all of us to pay attention to our surroundings at all times, especially at this time of the year. Perhaps if I'd listened a little more closely to what was being shouted by the man I now know was a policeman, I'd have sensed the danger and not just found the behavior a bit off. Of course, hindsight is always 20-20. The key is to be alert whenever we're out and about for things that strike us as odd. And don't be afraid to report it, because who knows what crime you might prevent. Be careful in parking lots as you shop. Hold your purses safely in front of you. Guard credit cards. Just be cautious.

Wishing you all a joyous -- and safe -- holiday season.

Sherryl Woods

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