Twitter, the Urban Front Porch
Maybe Twitter is turning New York City into a bunch of Small Town USAs.
The thought popped into my head not long after my wife started looking out the window at the helicopter circling our Chelsea neighborhood Monday night. The chopper kept shining a light on a few buildings near 24th Street and Seventh Avenue. My wife works at a national news desk and saw nothing about it in her emails.
We both figured it was a police helicopter, but naturally, our concern heightened as the circling persisted-it lasted about 45 minutes.
I searched Twitter for "helicopter," but this was complicated because a little while earlier, the last finalist on The Bachelor had just been dumped on national TV after flying in a helicopter to the man she hoped to marry. (Gee, I wish I could have used the word "apparently" in that last sentence, but even though I have no idea who was competing on the show, I admittedly saw the TV helicopter for myself because I was flipping channels. Might as well come clean fully: Some years ago, I did follow a few seasons of The Bachelor.)
I also called 311, since it did not seem to be a 911 emergency. The service has some pluses, but I should have known this was not a smart call. The operator kept asking if I wanted to make a complaint. Since I assumed it was for legitimate police activity, I resisted. Finally I said, "if a chopper is just joyriding or doing something worse, yes I'd like to file a complaint, but if it's for the police, no."
It was clear she was not going to endeavor to find out what the problem was, so I said I'd call 911. She didn't encourage or discourage me.
I left my name and number with 911, but thought that waiting by the phone or even flying to police headquarters like a hopeful Bachelorette would not get results-it didn't work for her.
I went back to Twitter for answers, but saw more questions about the "#ChelseaHelicopter" the hashtag I tried to spread as a way to organize neighbors I didn't know. I then called my local precinct. The officer who answered said police were looking for a suspect but gave no other info.
I tweeted away, letting concerned neighbors know the little I knew. Some thanked me. It was the least I could do for all of them-including singer Rosanne Cash, daughter of the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, who continues to entertain me.
Probably a few hundred thousand people, if not more, have read articles I've written over the years, but seldom have I felt more energized professionally than I did when communicating to a small handful of people. I thought of film actors who always say how exciting it is to perform on stage, where audience reactions are immediate.
My neighbors, whom I will probably never meet, came together for a brief moment around something in the community, the same way I imagine people talk to each other on their front porches in small towns.
It's a given that Facebook and Twitter have the ability to unite people around the world like left-handed Tiddlywinks players, but these forums can also bring neighbors together.
Police tell me the suspect was arrested. I'm still waiting to hear why. Next time, tweet me, officer.
Josh Rogers, contributing editor at Manhattan Media, is a lifelong New Yorker. Follow him @JoshRogersNYC.
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