My 9.11 Memory

There are lots of reflections on September 11th being shared in homes, coffee shops, water coolers and blogs today. I’m sure the question has been asked countless times: “Where were you on 9.11?”

While I don’t think I had an especially significant experience on that day, it was certainly unusual. So I’d like to share it on this 10th anniversary. My story reminds us that even in such catastrophes, there are also amusing experiences.

Here are a couple essential background details to the story. First, my wife Karla is a Flight Attendant with American Airlines. In 2001 she was based in New York City. We were just about to move to Cambridge to begin my post-grad studies that fall. We were planning to move in the middle of the month, but exactly what day I can’t now recall. Because we were in between so to speak, I had a couple of weeks where I was visiting friends and family before we moved out of the country.

My 9.11 story begins on 9/10. One of my very good friends Greg Young had an extra ticket for the opening NFL Denver Broncos game in Denver, CO. He was on a business trip and taking a client to the game. It was the first Monday night game of the season and it was the first official game in the Bronco’s new stadium. I had been visiting my best friend Kelly Williams in Colorado Springs for a few days so it was convenient to meet Greg in Denver just an hour’s drive from the Springs. This was an amazing opportunity. I’d never been to an NFL game in my life and now I was going to the first game of the 2001 season in the first game played at this brand new stadium. It was all that I would have hoped. What a great time! Thanks Greg. I’m still thankful.

On 9.11, Karla was going to work an early morning flight from New York’s JFK airport to Los Angeles’ LAX. She was to have a long layover in LA. So we decided to rendezvous there and spend the night there together. It is great to have a wife whose a FA! So the plan for 9.11 for me to leave Denver on the first flight to LA and meet her at the gate when her flight arrived from NYC an hour or two later. Needless to say, we never did meet up in LA that day.

I was flying on a 737 in first class (again the perks of the job). Traveling with me in the first class cabin was the actress Angie Harmon (best known as a lawyer in Law & Order) who was married to former NFL cornerback Jason Sehorn who played for the NY Giants. As we were beginning to dig into our breakfast, the captain came on the PA and announced that air traffic control had ordered them to land at the nearest airport. The captain, if he knew anything he didn’t led on, said he didn’t know why the order was given, but that they were waiting orders on where to land. These were the days when the cabins had airphones and Angie, if I can call her that now, phoned someone and learned that two planes had hit the World Trade Center and it was pretty certain that the planes had been hijacked and intentionally flown into the buildings. It was a terrorist attack. Witnesses had been reporting that at least one of them was a American Airlines plane.

My throat dropped into my stomach and the delicious omelet I had eaten felt like a piece of lead in my stomach. My only thought was for Karla. She was on a Flight from NYC to LA and I thought that if a plane was hijacked it would make sense that it was one bound for LA. Was it her plane?

The captain came on the PA again and announced that we had been given clearance to land in Las Vegas. So here I am headed to Vegas. We land and were sitting at the gate waiting to be let off the plane. Every plane was a potential target so they were being very cautious about letting us off. While waiting I borrowed a FA’s phone and tried to phone her cell, but there was no answer. Immediately after getting off the plane I approached an agent and asked if she knew what the flight number was of the crashed AA airplane, just hoping against hope that it was not Karla’s flight. I was so relieved when she said the flight number and it was a different one. Wow, I was so relieved. I think I had worked myself up to think her flight was the one. Well, I hadn’t been able to get in touch with her, but I knew she had been grounded too and was safe. Now the challenge new challenge for me was what was I to do in Las Vegas?! I can’t believe I’m stuck in Vegas.

On a hunch, I decided to go to a hotel, the Super 8! It was not on the strip. Its on a road just behind the strip; its what I thought I could afford. I was ready to stay there for a night, two nights, three nights . . . I had no idea.

This story continues . . .

My friend Greg was also leaving Denver that morning on a later flight. Ironically he also was going to LA. He lives in Orange Co, CA. While at the airport when the FAA grounded all air traffic and Greg immediately he decided to bolt for the rental car desk and get a car to drive home. This snap decision was so fortuitous for both he and I. Had he deliberated, even a little, there would have been no cars left. By late morning the rental car companies were out of cars at most airports that day. So Greg began to drive home to LA.

As it turns out, to get from Denver to LA you have to drive through Vegas.

I got to my hotel and sat spellbound in front of the TV all day watching the news coverage. Eventually I talked to Karla who got grounded in Kansas City, MO; and eventually Greg called and said he was picking me up in Vegas and taking me to his house. While it was not exactly where I was going, at least I had a place now to go. Greg got to Vegas by late evening, so that I check out of the Super 8 and stayed with Greg at the Hilton, a upgrade for sure.

We get up the next morning and drive to his home in Mission Viejo, CA where I stayed with the Youngs for 3 or 4 days until the airport opens up again. Karla stayed in Kansas City for a few days before being sent to Chicago for another handful of days. She and her crew did not get back to there base in NYC for a solid week. When she got back she visited Ground Zero a week after the towers clasped. I took the first flight out of LA to Miami and spent a number of days with my family in Tampa.

Well, that’s my story.

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