At another BBQ joint a block off Orlando’s iconic downtown Lake Eola, waiters and bartenders in Pulse t-shirts were still recovering from the gut-punch to their community. Perched at the pride-flag-lined corner of Summerlin and Washington streets, WildSideBBQ & Grille is a sister establishment to Pulse, both owned by Barbara Poma. All week, they had hosted victims, friends, and family, raising relief money with cheeseburger sales and becoming a gathering place for inner circles. On Thursday, they warmly welcomed a man who was accompanied by an emotional-support service dog, one of several they said were given to shooting survivors.
“It’s inspiring. Despite everything that went on,” said bartender Nicole Paladino, 26, about the community coming together. She grew up here, too. “We’re pretty close with them.”
On and on, I heard the same. I heard a lot about coming together. The rainbow is for gay pride, but this week it came to mean community pride. Orlando pride. American pride. Some described to me a 21st-century Orlando that had become compartmentalized: old locals versus new residents; Latinos versus whites; gays, Christians, conservatives, liberals. Subsets of a whole in need of a unifying event, if not in this awful way.
On Sunday, thousands packed in front of City Hall for a midweek vigil. Barack Obama came to town, but the president’s visit was just a ripple in the preparations for the next fundraisers, vigils, and funerals. Saturday evening, the popular Orlando City soccer team asked fans to line the stadium in rainbow shirts. On Sunday, some 50,000 people encircled Lake Eola for perhaps a final vigil, and shook Police Chief John Mina’s hand, one by one by one.
I heard very little about fighting ISIS, a call to arms, joining up at the military recruitment station. Even though people knew Omar Mateen had claimed ties to ISIS, unlike after 9/11, it didn’t seem to matter as much. Not yet, at least. And maybe that’s ok.
It was another shooting. He was deranged. Just look at his childhood. Did you hear about his dad? What does it matter, anyway? It can happen anywhere. Or I can’t believe it happened here.
For years now, the leaders at the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and domestic law enforcement have been asking Americans to say something if they see something. In this new era, they say, government forces cannot find every homicidal needle in a national haystack. They want Americans to be more aware, more vigilant, more involved in national-security decisions.
But there’s the policy talk that happens in the Washington bubble and then there’s real life across America. Carter, the defense secretary, likes to say in his speeches that it’s a good thing most Americans can sleep soundly at night while national- security professionals do the work of keeping the nation safe. That’s not to say they sleep ignorantly, but soundly, as other Americans work to decipher, deploy, and die fighting to keep extremist fighters from coming to the United States. People who work in Washington often talk about how refreshing—or frustrating—it can be to spend time back home in “real America” and not have to worry about the war, or ISIS, or the campaign, or Senate votes, or Pentagon policy, or the size of the National Security Council, or if the “pivot” is real, or what city will be the next Paris or the next Brussels.