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Americans on edge after terrorism alert
In Pennsylvania, a courthouse worker made a wish for his office to be spared a terrorist attack. In Virginia, an anxious mother kept her two small children away from the mall.
Try as they might to take the latest national terrorism alert in stride, many Americans were on edge Tuesday. Even those determined to press ahead with flights or other plans spoke more often with resignation than bravado.
"We decided we have to live our lives," said Nancy Thickel, of Oakwood, Ohio, who refused to cancel a trip to New York City with her husband and two teen-age daughters this weekend.
"We're going to be very alert as to what goes on around us and try to enjoy ourselves as much as we can," said Thickel, who works at a Dayton hospital. "I keep telling myself I would like life to get back to normal -- but I don't think that's going to happen."
In New York, attorney Michael Tremonte said many of his friends were contemplating a move to the suburbs. "In most people's minds, the city has kind of a giant bullseye painted on it," he said.
Near the courthouse where he works in Pittsburgh, 24-year-old Brian Kostrub threw coins into a fountain and made a wish.
Hopes to live
"Hopefully, I'm alive when I get home from work today," Kostrub said. "My life has changed. I go to work every day wondering about a bomb or anthrax."
On his monthly radio show, Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore urged a woman named Renee not to withdraw her son from a school field trip to Washington, saying the risk to the boy was minimal.
"But there will be some attack at some point, no doubt, again and somebody will be hurt," Gilmore said. "Americans are going to have to realize that they're living in a different situation."
The terrorism alert issued Monday by Attorney General John Ashcroft left disabled veteran Ralph McCall, in North Miami, Fla., too scared to leave his apartment.
"It's got me all paranoid," said McCall, 49. "My neighbors say it doesn't happen to people like me or you. I say you never know where it might strike.
"I don't smoke cigarettes but I'm thinking of starting again."
Some people were frustrated by the vague alert -- the second of its kind in three weeks.
"Should I be watching people on the subway? Looking at everyone who carries a large bag?" asked Tim Davis, 44, who works for Cisco Systems in Pittsburgh. "It would drive you nuts at the end of the day."
JoAnn Magnuson, 64, of Lakeville, Minn., supported the government's decision to keep people informed, but worried that if alerts became too frequent, "the cry wolf syndrome might set in."
"They are just scaring people for no reason," agreed Tresa Dyer, a baker in Salt Lake City. "We're already on alert 24-7, and this keeps people constantly on edge."
A new CBS-New York Times poll suggested that 53 percent of Americans now think another terrorism attack is likely, up from one-third a month ago. The pessimists include Jimmy Tucker, of Dallas.
"I'd be surprised if it didn't happen," Tucker said while shopping for computer equipment. "And I don't think it's going to be in the Northeast, that's too obvious, so it could well be in Dallas."
Outside the main post office in Kansas City, Mo., Julie Alder has been keeping an eye on strangers while selling sandwiches from a mobile cart.
"It's really struck every heart in American, definitely," she said. "I've seen firefighters come to my cart and express their own fears, which is scary in itself -- that's like watching your dad cry."
The fact that the alert period includes Halloween caused extra anxiety for some.
Angela Seabrook, a software designer for Lockheed Martin in Manassas, Va., said she wouldn't take her children, ages 2 and 4, to the Potomac Mills shopping mall for Halloween.
"If there is even a slight risk of something happening, then why take it?" she said. "Stay home, carve a pumpkin, bake cookies -- anything."
Along with anxiety, there were flashes of feistiness.
"I'm not changing my life for these nitwits," said Jon Thorpe, 58, who works at a drug trafficking surveillance center in Seattle.
But at Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport, maintenance worker Mary Hughes was fatalistic.
"As long as we're bombing them, they're going to do the same thing over here," she said. "The only thing I'm really doing is praying. That's all I can do."