September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Story:Nothing was mentioned during the flight, even though the terrorists had already crashed into at least one of the Twin Towers before we landed in Chicago. There were 5 of us traveling together on business. We had left Dallas/Fort Worth that morning, around the same time as the other flights carrying the terrorists. We were headed for Chicago to a connecting flight for Evansville, IN.
I began to sense that something was wrong immediately upon landing. As we made our way around to our connecting flight, I saw a large group of people standing around a television set, where normally no one stood. I made my way to the back of the crowd, but could not make out what exactly was going on. Since we had a plane to catch, we continued on, catching snippets of information. Something very tragic was happening or had happened, while we were in the air.
Once there, we had the shock of our collective lives. Not only had our flight been cancelled, all flights were cancelled. They began giving instructions to passengers to leave the airport terminal over the loud speaker system. I saw a man at our gate openly weeping while speaking to someone on his cell phone. I made an exception to my normal habit of not listening to someone else's obviously personal conversation. He had been scheduled to fly out on one of the fated flights from Boston that morning. For some reason, he had missed his flight and was forced to take another. He was extremely distraught and visibly shaken. Before I had a chance to speak to the man or see if I could comfort him in any way, one of the more experienced travellers in our group suggested that we should make our way to the car rental area as quickly as possible.
Good advice, but it was too late. We stood in line for almost 6 hours waiting for a car to rent. When we were 75 people away from getting a rental, they announced that they were out of cars. We were still trying to piece together what had happened. We were fortunate enough to have at least 2 cell phones in the group. We notified everyone that we could think of that we were ok. Pieces of the story were starting to come together. I knew without a doubt were most of us would be that evening, if only we could get transportation. Either in a rental car on the way home, or in front of a television set, watching the tragedy continue to unfold. We had yet to hear about the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. We did however know about the Pentagon. The day was becoming even more surreal as it drug on.
I was surprised at the way most people were responding... civil. There was no sense of people trying to push their way to the head of the line, that was growing longer by the minute. Once people did get a rental car, they were sharing rides with anyone else in line going their way. Some to just the same state. No one was headed for Texas. Later that night, I heard a news report state that there were still at least 400 people in line at the Avis location where we had been waiting all day.
Upon my insistence, we grabbed a cab as quickly as we could. I thought that if we could get far enough out of the city, we might find a car that had yet to be rented and begin the long drive home to Texas. At a minimum, we could at least find a room to stay in overnight, while we tried to find a way home. Normally, getting the 5 of us to agree on any action together was difficult at best, somehow this day we managed to find agreement readily.
The cab ride for the 5 of us was over $200.00 for a trip from O'Hare to Waukegan, about 38 miles. I felt we were getting price gouged and so did everyone else. None of us felt like arguing the point. We paid the man. So far, this was the only person I saw trying to get rich off the tragedy. Everyone else had been reasonable.
Once there, we found there were plenty of rooms available. We began making phone calls. George, the experienced traveler in the group, found a car rental place that had a Lincoln Towncar for rent. 5 people in a Towncar from Chicago to Dallas/Fort Worth didn't sound too bad at the time. We would soon change our minds about how many people should ever really ride together in a Lincoln Towncar. If you've ever ridden for very long in the middle back seat of a Towncar, you know what I mean. The "hump" as we now so lovingly referred to it, was pure torture on the posterior and back, but after what we had seen the previous day, no one was complaining much. We were just glad and anxious to get home.
With one overnight stop in Joplin, MO., the following day we finally arrived. The whole trip still seems like a bad dream. Not because of my companions, but because of what happened that day on September 11. When I finally arrived home, I just sat for hours hugging each of my kids and my wife, for as long as they would let me. We went to bed very late. The horror of what had transpired that week continued to play out over the television and radio, both of which we would watch until we just could not watch any longer. We wept, but mostly we prayed.
Today, I met with my travelling partners of 9/11 for lunch. We remembered, we reflected. We are all glad to be alive. Who else had been on that plane with us that day? Later on, we would find out that two more men from the same group that highjacked the planes out east had been in Dallas that day. The were arrested on board an Amtrak train, trying to make their way out of town. I've often wondered if either of them had intened to highjack that plane on the way to Chicago. Wouldn't Chicago also have made a similar target to the Twin Towers of New York? I'll probably never know. But I do know one thing, even if the plane I was on that morning had been highjacked, I could never have been more heroic than the people on that plane that went down in the field or the men and women who worked in New York and Washington D.C. in the aftermath. How would I have responded? Would I have sacrificed my life for theirs. Total strangers. Yet they are and were Americans. The 5 of us will always have a bond that was sealed that fateful day. We are no longer just co-workers, strangers. We are fellow Americans, all of us.