I was visiting the Fried Chicken and Grits blog where I saw her post about remembering September 11. I had almost forgotten. It shocked me to think that it’s been 7 years since that horrible date. Of course, 9/11 has become what Kennedy’s assassination and Pearl Harbor was to generations before: An event so shocking and overwhelming that we can’t help but remember where we were on that day.
I was on a business trip to Orlando, Fl for a tradeshow. On 9/11, my boss was staying later that day to make sure our booth was packed up properly while I was flying home early that morning with 3 other co-workers, Allison, Janice, and Ginny. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time before our flight.
Because we arrived at the airport so early, we were able to switch to an earlier flight home. If you remember pre-9/11 flying, the airlines were very flexible with their flight schedules. Not only that, but we had overloaded our carry-on luggage with all kinds of goodies like bottles of wine and souvenirs. We were very excited to get an earlier flight which meant we would get home earlier, we thought.
Somewhere over the Carolina’s, the pilot announced that we were taking a detour because of a “National Security Problem” in New York. The pilot then said to prepare for landing and within ten minutes we were on the runway in Charlotte. The guy next to me calls his buddy, who is picking him up in Philly, when his buddy tells him that a plan has crashed into the World Trade Center.
Since none of us were sitting together, I ran to the back of the plane to inform my co-workers. The news spread pretty fast and within another ten minutes, the pilot came on the speaker to give us the gory details. He went on to say that there were no more spaces for the plane and we would have to disembark and walk across the tarmac to the airport.
It was quite a creepy experience walking across the tarmac with so many planes all over the place, like a mixed up parking lot. Inside the airport, people were frantically running about and long lines formed at every pay phone. Only one in my group had a cell phone and she couldn’t get a signal. We found the only lone booth in a snack area and plopped ourselves down. A TV loomed straight ahead of us.
We watched in horror as smoke billowed from each tower when all of a sudden the first tower came crashing down. People were stunned, some shouting and some crying. I think we were all in shock. I remember this awful feeling of dread sweeping over me like a tidal wave. Somehow I had to call home.
Eventually we all managed to call home to our loved ones, who were panicked because they couldn’t reach us and we hadn’t been on the flight we were supposed to be on. There was talk of closing the airport so we decided we should go down to baggage claim and check out the scene. We left Janice to watch the carry-on luggage while the rest of us headed out.
As we walked to the baggage claim, many stores were closed or had their gates half-down. We reached the escalator where two security guards stood. Before we went down, I asked the guard if we would be able to come back up and he said, “No, the airport is closing.” We turned around and hurried back to the restaurant where Janice was struggling with the carry-on luggage and fighting with a restaurant person because they wanted to close the gates.
When we got to the baggage claim, I divided us into two groups: Allison and I would look for the luggage and Ginny and Janice would try to book us hotel rooms and get a cab. The baggage area was pandemonium, in every sense of the word. Luggage was piled everywhere and people were running about and yelling. Airport workers were trying to organize groups of luggage by flights. Announcements for luggage locations kept changing, sending us back and forth in our search for our luggage. People were pushing and fighting. Everyone looked angry and panicked.
Eventually we found our luggage and dragged it over to the other group. Ginny had found rooms at a hotel 30 minutes away and Janice was in line for a taxi. We waited a good 45 minutes to an hour for a taxi while the Red Cross handed out water to drink while we waited. Finally we got a cab and told the driver where to go.
As soon as he took off, the cab driver told us he had to stop for gas. There were three hotels next to the gas station and the first one Ginny called had four rooms. We booked them and told the driver to drop us off across the street. After we got our rooms we decided to try and find something to eat. A huge mall across the street was completely closed, including the restaurant. In fact, there were only two stores open in the whole area, the liquor store and a fireworks store. We went to the liquor store and bought beer and snacks. We returned to our rooms to watch the carnage on TV when an announcement came on saying trains would start running from Charlotte to Philadelphia the next morning. I jumped on the phone and booked four tickets.
The next morning we arrived to a fairly empty train station. We boarded and quickly took over a booth in the dining car. Unfortunately, the train stopped at every single stop on its way to Philadelphia. By noon, the train was standing room only and the only thing left to purchase to eat was M&M’s and Twizzlers.
I remember passing through DC and seeing a helicopter in the sky and thinking how odd it looked. We arrived at 30th street station later that evening, which was bustling with all kinds of activity. My ex-partner, Wade, couldn’t find a parking space so he kept driving around the station until he saw me come out. I was so glad to be home.
Planes constantly fly over my house as they approach the Philadelphia airport and it was eerie to see the sky so empty, to not hear the planes rumble and roar as they passed over head. I remember staring up at the empty sky thinking how lucky I was—how easily fate could have directed me to one of those doomed flights.
I remember when I was younger and my mom would talk about where she was when Kennedy was shot. I recall my grandfather talking about what he was doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He told me that we should never forget what happened that day. Although it was interesting to hear those stories, it wasn’t the same for me as it was for them. I wasn’t there; it was just history to me. And someday, the same will be said for 9/11.
It’s happening already. Not one person at work so far today has made mention of it. In a world of instant-internet news, events become old as quickly as you can refresh a web page. However, we are decades away from being relegated to history books like “Remember, the Alamo!” So please take the time to remember. I’m not a religious man but I’d like to quote Rudyard Kipling:
The captains and the kings depart;
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
A humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet
Lest we forget — lest we forget