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Posts tagged ‘travel’

When Terror Got Personal

When I stepped into the shower that bright September morning ten years ago, my only thoughts were of the new job I was starting that day.  The television was running in the background, and Matt and Katie were yukking it up over some silly thing.  It was a good start to a big day.

When I stepped out of the shower, the world had changed.  I heard Matt and Katie talking about something odd, so I stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel and dripping wet, to take a look at the TV.  And there was the first tower crowned with billowing smoke and flames.  Wow, I thought, Some idiot flew into the World Trade Center!  What a terrible accident! 

As I stood there transfixed, listening to the confusion on the Today Show set, I watched in horror as the second plane flew into the towers.  This is no accident.  At that point, I knew we were under attack.  Oddly, I still had a job to get to, so I frantically dressed and headed to work, listening to the radio as journalists tried to disseminate exactly what was happening.  When I walked in, a co-worker said that the Pentagon had been hit.   Another said a plane came down in Pennsylvania.

This was personal.

A little while later, all the employees were gathered in silence in the break room, staring at a tiny television screen.  The footage was of the top of the south tower, and as I watched, I realized the top appeared to be twisting slowly.  I remember crying out, but even then, my fear was of the top floors breaking off and falling.  I couldn’t comprehend that these behemoth towers could actually disintegrate totally in such a short period of time.  But as we watched, the top began to sink into the smoke, and down she came, in a terrible groan of despair and death.

This was personal. 

Before that morning, terrorism was something that happened to other people, in other countries.  It was certainly sad to see buses exploding in Israel, bombs going off in Northern Ireland, mayhem in Asia.  But it wasn’t “real” to us.  It was something we watched on TV and we thought (you know it’s true) Thank God that doesn’t happen here. 

My husband was working at a trade show in Salt Lake City that second week of September.  I was home alone, glued to the news shows, crying endlessly and feeling frantic at the thought of him boarding a plane to fly home once the airports reopened days later.  Ever the pragmatist, Hubby pointed out that his convoluted route through Cincinnati to our upstate NY city on commuter jets was probably not a major terrorist target.  He also explained that, even if he could find a rental car, the 1300 mile drive would surely be more dangerous than getting on a plane.  He was right, of course.  But an even bigger shock (ha-ha) was that we were having a serious conversation about which mode of travel in the United States was least likely to be targeted by terrorists.  Our world had changed.

A few weeks later, we had another serious discussion over Hubby’s travel-filled job and our vacation plans.  Should we change our plans?  Avoid the traveling we both loved?  Find a different job that didn’t involve frequent flier miles?  We agreed that we didn’t want to make those choices.  Giving up meant the terrorists succeeded in their plans – they terrorized us into changing our way of living.  Hubby and I looked into each other’s eyes and we agreed to keep flying, as much out of defiance as anything else.  Not only that, but we would agree, whether flying alone or together, to go down fighting if anything happened on our flights.  We promised each other that, in the freak chance that one of us died on a flight targeted by some crazed attacker, the other would know that we stood up and fought. 

Was that a bizarre conversation to have?  On September 10th, 2001, it would have seemed totally crazy.  But after 9/11, I think it made sense.  It gave us a deeply personal commitment to hang on to in a suddenly dangerous world. 

When I fly these days, I have to remember to wear slip-on shoes so that I can remove them easily to be screened for shoe bombs.  Shoe bombs.  Seriously?  Well, yes – seriously.  That’s personal.  I have to carry my passport to go to Canada.  Canada!!  That’s personal.  When I’m traveling, I watch for abandoned pieces of luggage, suspicious backpacks, odd behavior – all as a matter of course.  A machine that sees through my clothing so that I can get on a plane?  Sure, no problem.  That’s personal. 

The world has changed.  But even more important – the world has gone on.  Our American spirit didn’t collapse with the Twin Towers.  We still go to ballgames and work and church and picnics and concerts and parades and weddings and baby showers.  Terror became personal, terror changed our world, but terror did not win.

Tempting Flying Fate

I just returned from a week in North Carolina.  It was ridiculously lovely weather, and we had a great time.  Since Hubby had been there for more than a month with his truck, I planned on flying down and then driving back with him.  Seven hundred sixty-three miles from door to door.  We drove it in eleven hours and fifty-five minutes yesterday.  Last weekend, it took me twenty-two hours to fly there.  Not a misprint, folks.  Half a day to drive.  Nearly a full day to fly.  What’s wrong with this picture? 

“Traveling adventures” are drawn to me like moths to the light.  Think of something that can go wrong, and it surely will when I’m flying.  Missed connections.  Freak storms.  Presidential visits that close down airports.  More freak storms.  Getting to Boston from Kansas City via Minneapolis.  Did I mention freak storms?

But it wasn’t an act of God that waylaid me last week.  It was a brutal combination of mechanical problems and holiday travel.  And, most importantly, a jinx.  I jinxed myself.  I knew it as soon as the words were out of my mouth – I invited disaster, and disaster accepted the invitation. 

You know how that works – like when someone says “wow, we’ve painted the whole room without getting a drop of paint on the carpet!”  Jinx!  Within five minutes, you are guaranteed to spill half a can of paint, or drop a loaded paint brush, on the carpet.  “I can’t believe we got the baby to sleep so easily!”  Jinx!  Two minutes later, the little one will be screaming non-stop.  “The last few times we’ve left the dog alone, she’s been great – I think she’s over that anxiety problem she had.”  Jinx!  Half the sofa and most of the door frame will be destroyed when you get home.  And, of course, the ultimate jinx question… “What could possibly go wrong?”  Just dive under your desk when you hear that one – fate will be happy to provide the answers fairly quickly to anyone foolish enough to ask.

So what did I say that stretched a two-stop flight into an ordeal?  While being driven to the airport by a great friend, I mentioned that I had a couple of hours of layover time in both DC and Charlotte, making for a long commute.  That was safe.  And then it happened – before I realized it, I was saying the words “but the good thing about the extra time is that if there are any delays anywhere, I’ll have plenty of time and I won’t have to stress about it.  And the weather’s gorgeous.  Gee, I hope I didn’t just jinx myself!”  So, not only did I invite fate with my bragging about all my spare time, I also said the “j-word” out loud, and laughed.  I can’t believe I was that stupid. 

But I forgot about my carelessness after an easy flight to DC.  I spent a relaxing few hours in the US Airways Club enjoying free coffee and snacks and a great magazine (how does Cher manage to look so hot at our age?).  All was calm.  I leisurely strolled to my gate, priding myself on the wisdom of purchasing that day pass to the Club, and I was looking forward to seeing Hubby after four long, long weeks.  I felt just a slight chill when I saw that the flight was delayed an hour, but I wasn’t too concerned – after all, I had all that buffer time in Charlotte before my next flight.  Still feeling smug, I walked back to the Club room for some more free coffee.  By the time I got there, the flight had been canceled. 

Canceled?!?  What do you mean, canceled?  There’s no weather anywhere.  How can the flight be canceled?  Excuse me, did you just say there are no more flights tonight?  It’s only 7:30 – how can there be no flights to your hub in Charlotte?  Oh, there are flights, just no seats? Thanksgiving travel.  College students.  DC emptying for the week.  Yeah, I get it.  So, first thing in the morning, right?  Excuse me, did you just say I can’t get to Charlotte until tomorrow night?  And can’t get to my final destination until almost midnight tomorrow?  What the hell?!  Okay, how about the next closest airport?  No good.  How about the next one past that?  No good.  How about Raleigh, almost two hours away?  Nope.  But you can get me to Greensboro.  220 miles from Hubby.  And you still can’t get me there until tomorrow morning.  Well, isn’t that special.  The tears mount, but they don’t fall.  No sense crying over something I can’t fight.  And I know the whole mess is my fault for incurring the jinx.

The advantage of being over 50 is that you have a firm understanding of how to tell the difference between things we can change and things we can’t.  May as well make the best of it.  I take my meal voucher to Five Guys at the airport and order up a fabulous cheeseburger with grilled mushrooms and A-1 sauce.  I take it with me to the shuttle that whisks me to the Sheraton Suites in Alexandria, Va.  The burger is still toasty warm after waiting in a long line of Charlotte-bound travelers trying to get rooms. 

My beautiful room at Sheraton Suites in Alexandria, Va. And I deserved it.

And the room is a delight.  A true suite, with a couple of flat-screen TV’s, french doors opening to the fluffy, white, down-comforted bed.  Off go the shoes, on goes the TV, and down goes the best burger in the world.  Lemonade out of the lemon I handed myself.  Morning wake-up call is on time.  Morning flight is on time.  Hubby made the true sacrifice, skipping a golf tournament and driving more than two hours to be there as I walk off the plane in Greensboro at 9:30.  We take a leisurely drive across half the state to our NC house, with a stop for breakfast.  At long last, I reach my destination. 

And the trip home to NY yesterday?  In a four-wheeled vehicle on America’s highways?  We pulled out of the driveway in NC right at 5AM.  At 4:55PM, we pulled into our garage in NY.  Two gas stops and a couple of rest area stops to change drivers.  No hassles.  Minimal construction.  No traffic to speak of.  Great weather.  Why?  Because I was smart enough not to say anything stupid before we left that might have jinxed us.  Lesson learned, mouth wisely shut (for now).

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