'Crash Cafe' has no place in our strange new world


I GET A small dose of relief in the news that Baltimore will not become home to a 17,000-square-foot restaurant that features the image of a plane crashing into it. In light of the horrific terrorist attacks, local developer Pat Turner has scrapped his plans for Crash Cafe, a disaster-themed restaurant he had hoped to open here and, eventually, in other cities.

"I pulled the plug on it last Tuesday," Turner told me yesterday, referring to the day terrorists hijacked jetliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands. "I had still been working on it, but to even think of the concept now is inappropriate."

A lot of people thought it was inappropriate - "repugnant" is more like it - long before the devastation of Sept. 11.

Turner wanted to invest $4.5 million in the defunct Globe Brewing Co., on the southern rim of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and convert it into a restaurant that celebrated disaster, starting with a huge DC-3 tail section protruding over the entrance, "supported by a forest of twisted rebar as it smashes through an enormous glass transom."

There would have been other crash themes woven into the design of the restaurant. Around the dining areas, video screens were to show clips of staged train wrecks and building implosions. A gift shop was to feature accident-themed souvenirs. Turner wanted to open Crash Cafes in other cities, including Orlando, Los Angeles and London.

"Some may say the cutting-edge concept borders on the unacceptable, but that's precisely its strength," says Crash Cafe's Web site, still up as of yesterday. "Deny as we might, America has been seduced by the specter and mystery of crashes. Disaster movies are more popular than ever. Network programming is littered with crash oriented shows. ... Let's face it, the public needs to indulge their undeniable fascination with the destructive, erotic nature of crashing, colliding, and exploding objects."

Turner received national press attention for his idea, which carried just enough shock value to make it a commercial success. To some it was crude and grotesque; others thought it was cool. In the pop-pulp culture of America, crude and grotesque are considered hip and happenin'.

At least it was before 9-11.

Yesterday, Turner said he still plans on creating a restaurant at the Globe site, but it will be a "more conventional" one. Something "normal," I guess. "Normal" sounds good about now.

'Normal' will take time

Next time I fly, I'll leave my trusty Swiss Army knife at home. I'll get a ride to the airport - no car to park, no keys to carry. No carry-on bags, either. I'll relearn to fold a suit and place it in a suitcase and, if it gets wrinkled, I'll get someone to press it. I'll wear a sweat suit - no zipper, no belt buckle. I'll carry no cassette player. No MP3. No Game Boy. No laptop. I'll get by with less.

I'll get a shave, too. I have a friend named Lee. We have a lot in common, including heavy beards - 5 o'clock shadows that appear at noon. About a decade ago, Lee got sick of shaving and he grew a beard. About five years ago, when he became a frequent international traveler, he shaved it off. "I got sick of being questioned at airports like I was a terrorist," he said. He advised me to do the same. "Always shave cleanly before getting on a plane."

Check. And I'll leave my razor blades at home, and buy new ones when I get to my destination.

I won't be packing anything suspicious or embarrassing in my suitcase.

I'll expect to pay more to fly in order to have safe passage on a commercial jet. I'll insert Dr. Scholl's arch supports in my shoes because I'll expect to stand in line more.

I'll adjust the clock I live by to make time for this.

In fact, we're all going to have to adjust our clocks.

Everything might take more time, and you'll be ready for that, and willing to accept it.

You'll ask yourself: Do I really need to be there tomorrow at noon? Couldn't I take a train, or a bus? Couldn't I drive to Pittsburgh? Can we conference-call this meeting instead of actually meeting?

Does this mean the terrorists have won, that they've forever altered the American way of life, bound us in fear and doomed our economy?

No. It means we're learning lessons and making adjustments in order to get on with a strange new life that crashed in on us 10 days ago.

I guess I'm old enough now to be a member of the This-Too-Shall-Pass Club. We'll survive this, we'll get through it. But it's not so easy this time. America changed in large and fundamental ways Tuesday last week, and while it's difficult to get a handle on the changes, I've a feeling they've occurred down deep, where we live. I feel it in myself, I sense it in others.

It's as if the American clock stopped on Sept. 11, 2001, then started running again, but at a different pace, and now we're all trying to get used to it. All of our clocks have been thrown off.

We'll just have to be patient. We'll have to do things differently. In the America after 9-11, a lot of things won't be as convenient as they were before; we might not feel as free as we did before. But we'll adjust. We'll be OK. We'll get through it, just at a different pace, and that's not so bad, when you stop and think about it.

I know: We're all stopping to think about it.

This monsoon of tragedy has forced us to look inward, to take stock of what's important in our lives, reaffirm family, maybe better connect with our friends and co-workers. There isn't a person in this country who has not thought of those things in the last 10 days. Although the nation is infested with fear and uncertainty, I believe it has been offset by the sense of security and hope that comes from the bonding of Americans in tragedy.

I suppose I'm trying to end this with a good spin on two of the most horrible weeks in American history. But what else can I do? I'm here on the ground with everyone else, sizing things up, happy to be alive, looking forward but not too far forward. Not just yet. Getting back to normal - or, fully grasping the new definition of normal - is going to take some time.

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