Bock reconstructs the story of customs inspectors in Port Angeles, Wash., a small remote city on the Olympic Peninsula. The officials detained—then chased and caught—Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian who’d tried to enter the U.S. from Canada with the makings of a bomb.
Bock tells the story of the capture and profiles the inspectors. In her portrayal of the officials, Bock emphasizes their ordinariness—and juxtaposes this ordinariness with the momentousness of the terrorist movement they were caught up in. But her characters are no caricatures; they’re three-dimensional and engaging.
Bock is interested in Port Angeles as a place where global met local, where cultures intersected. She ends her piece with a section on the inspectors’ boss, Jerry Slaminski, a man who has traveled in the Middle East and who tries to understand Ressam and his motives. As a character, Slaminski offered Bock, it seems to us, the chance to better expose her local-meets-international theme: "It is an odd feeling," she writes toward the end of the piece, "to be on a misty peninsula, in a government office, listening to the director of a tiny port talk about God, jihad and Algerian grandmothers wailing in olive groves. But these are strange times." We admire "An Otherwise Ordinary Day" for the way it illuminates such strange times in original ways.