Resilience Is Being There

Times Square Bombing

It started, probably, with having watched Zero Dark Thirty yesterday, which made mention of the attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010. Then this morning, a headline caught my eye: Brooklyn Man Refusing to Testify in Times Square Bomb Case. The case refers to a bombing that happened on March 6, 2008 in Times Square. A small bomb went off at 3.43am outside the military recruitment office at 43rd and Broadway, causing no injuries and minimal damage. Traffic in the area resumed within hours.

Notably, despite the fact that I worked in a building just across the street at the time and am pretty sure I was in the office later that morning, I could barely remember the occurrence; it lacked the vividness that comes with memories of more significant moments that come careening into one’s life. I don’t even recall anything affecting my morning commute that day, aside from some police tape and broken glass. It’s a testament to how quickly NYC picks up and moves on, as well as, thankfully, the relative lack of harm done.

An unlikely witness to these events is Bashir Saleh, whose name I learned today while reading about the bombing. Saleh has set up his coffee cart every day for nearly two decades on the northwest corner of 43rd and 7th, and from his bustling corner of Times Square has seen riots, heatwaves, bombings and attempts thereof. With his prime location and the fact that he’s simply there all the time, he’s been called on for quite a few interviews with The New York Times and other media outlets.

I saw Saleh every morning for the year that I worked on the corner opposite his coffee cart. He never missed a day. I remember his tall frame bent to fit the confines of the coffee cart while he stooped to grab the milk. I would watch his thin, veined hands swirl the contents of my coffee cup.

Consistency is a form of resilience, to still be there after all those years, all those sweltering summers and frostbitten winters. Especially in a city as transient as New York, there’s something reassuring about the few things that don’t change overnight. And I suppose that’s part of why (in addition to the sugar high) just by being there, day after day, he brightened my mundane mornings with a smile and the most satisfying iced coffees ever.

”I tell all my friends that it’s an easy business to get into,” [Fahim] Saleh, who estimates he has introduced about 70 friends to the business, said in fluent English. ”All you have to know is ‘coffee doughnuts thank you have a nice day.’ That’s it. Something else: the coffee has to be good and you can’t forget to smile.”

The Face Behind the Bagel, NYTimes, 1997. Quoting Bashir Saleh’s older brother, who got him (and many others) into the business.

On my last day of work in that office, I gave Bashir a large tip, thanking him for starting my days off with a smile. He gave me my last iced coffee and plain doughnut with an especially large smile: “It’s on the house.”

I told him I would miss him. And, you know, I actually do.

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