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City Life

After Bucs euphoria, reality rears its ugly head

sandra thompson
THOMPSON
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By SANDRA THOMPSON

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 8, 2003


The party's over. We had the post-playoff, pre-Super Bowl week of excitement, the Super Bowl, the post-Super Bowl week of excitement and all that came after the victory -- driving around town honking horns, a big parade, red championship T-shirts everywhere. Then we had Gasparilla, and the shuttle blew up.

Last Saturday morning in the locker room at the gym, all of a sudden I could hear the usually muted TVs had been turned up, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. Then a woman came running in. "The shuttle exploded," she said. She was upset. A cousin of hers, she said, had been on Challenger in 1986. "The whole family was so proud. He worked so hard; it's so difficult to get on it. He was so smart!" Her voice broke. "I can't talk about it," she said.

My first thought was terrorism, and how really, really vulnerable we would feel if terrorists infiltrated the space program. And how close it would feel to us, in Tampa, closer maybe than what happened in New York. But, no, it wasn't that. It was something wrong with the spaceship, something that might have been wrong with it all along, and reports are that they knew it, at least since 1990, but, well . . .

Remember Challenger? That blew up because of something wrong with the ship, too, and they knew it, but went ahead with the launch anyway.

Do we really need this?

Do we need one more reminder of government fallibility? The CIA, the FBI and now NASA?

Do we need one more thing to feel bad about?

It sounds petty. What I, and people like me, feel is nothing compared to the grief of the families and friends of the astronauts or that of the woman in the locker room. It's a faraway thing. It doesn't touch us directly.

But there is something about it that is unsettling about America. It's a year and half after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and while the two events have nothing to do with each other, it just seems like a bad omen. Here we go again, blasting into space like gods and something happens to remind us that we are human, vulnerable.

We are on the verge of war. No one talks about it much. Most days in the newspapers we see soldiers and reserves in uniform getting shipped off to the Middle East. Do you look at the faces of those soldiers? They look like they're 14! Some of them are women, and they look like girls. Boys and girls in military clothing.

I don't like to say it, but if there is a war, some of them might not return. They are human and vulnerable, and they're going someplace where weapons of mass destruction are our reason for going.

In Tampa, war or not, we see men and women in uniform every day. We overhear their conversations at lunch or at Target. They're just like us. Listen.

The threat of war has been hanging over us for a long time now. It's debilitating.

The economy is debilitating, too, and some of it is being blamed on the threat of war. Yet one analyst said the stock market, which doesn't like uncertainty, will go straight up as soon as the first shot is fired.

I'm not sure how we're supposed to feel about that.

How many of those young men and women are worth a spike in the market?

Two new designs have been selected as finalists for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. One, by the way, is by a group of architects that includes Rafael Vinoly, who is designing the Tampa Museum of Art. Both designs call for building skyscrapers that are the tallest buildings in the world.

Reaching into space again.

The tallest, the biggest, the strongest.

I don't know.

That leaves out a lot of us.

And yet we've been made delirious because we have the best football team in the world.

It was nice while it lasted.

Now, back to the real world.

-- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at tampa@sptimes.com . City Life appears on Saturday.

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