I am sure everyone will always remember where they were when they learned of the disaster and saw the horrific images of 9/11/01. The wife and I were in the air between Dallas and Miami on our way to Jamaica for our honeymoon when it all began. We landed in Miami as scheduled, but did not leave the ground again.
As the time for our connecting flight passed, someone over the PA system said that all planes were grounded. Those originating in Miami should go home. Those connecting, sit tight. The televisions were on a loop playing the history of the Miami airport. People jumped on their cell phones trying to find out what was going on. The wife and I had left ours at home as our honeymoon was the ultimate time to unplug. We heard bits and pieces of one side of a conversation. When the news started filtering through, I assumed it had to be an exaggeration. It was all too similar to a Tom Clancy book I had read recently. When it became clear that something was gravely wrong, we bought phone cards and called our parents.
When I reached my Mom, she asked if I was already in Jamaica, then wondered why I was calling from Miami. I asked if she had turned on her TV yet and she hadn’t. OK, first of all we are safe and sound. Now turn on your TV, as the world has changed since last night. We called another friend who was nice enough to act as a telephone tree for us to pass news along to our friends.
We waited in the airport for four hours or so to get our luggage. The place was jammed with stranded passengers, but it was eerily calm. Everyone knew for once that their problems were insignificant. One couple was carrying around their wedding dress and tuxedo as they were on their way to Jamaica to be wed.
I called a hotel as soon as we went to baggage claim. It turned out to be the nastiest I have stayed in. It smelled of bleach to the level that it seemed they were engaged in germ warfare. We spent most of the evening in the bar getting our first glimpses of the images people had been witnessing. There was no denying it anymore, it was all too real.
We went back to the airport again the next day. Chaos had resumed after the quiet of the day before. I spoke to someone official and I could tell he was ready to snap. I said “I’m not here to yell and scream, I just want to know what is going on”. Tension released, he told me that flights were unlikely to resume for a couple of days. He was nice enough to give us a hotel voucher as I explained we didn’t wait around for one yesterday.
When I returned to tell the wife, I broke down. My first real decision as a new husband was to abandon our honeymoon. Silly, but that is how I felt. We went to the hotel which was a vast improvement and tried to figure out what to do. Calls to trains and bus lines revealed either full or cancelled schedules. I called a few car rental companies. The first one I reached was Nationwide, and they turned out to be the best. Each subsequent rental company seemed to be doing some serious price gouging.
The next morning we picked up the car and after stopping by AAA for a trip map, we started our journey from Miami to Seattle. We both wanted just to get home, and a honeymoon in Florida was much less attractive as a tropical storm was imminent. It hit in full force as we were driving across the panhandle. That ridiculously fast speed on your windshield wipers – not enough. 15 miles an hour just tracking the taillights of the car ahead.
Our course home took us across the southern US on Interstate highway 10. We drove about 10 hours a day, mostly listening to NPR. When I wasn’t driving I read the paper to learn more about what was going on. It wasn’t an all out sprint to get home, but we didn’t stop to look around either. We did plan an overnight stop in Tucson to see a friend who had been in the wedding a few days earlier, and it was great to see him.
Five days later and we were home. I wonder how different our experience was from others. We weren’t home with our family and friends, yet we weren’t forced to resume our normal lives like others had to. It left us with not much to do but think about the tragedy. The wife cheered when we saw the first airplane in flight just outside of Phoenix. We checked in with our folks every night or so. The joke was if we could drive across the country together, our marriage was going to be alright. The beach would have just made us soft.
We are fortunate to not have been personally touched by the events of 9/11. We had a couple of friends flying in and out of New York surrounding that day. That is where our thoughts went that morning and we were glad to hear they were alright.
We returned to Jamaica six months later. When we made it to our delayed honeymoon, I was the most depressed/out of sorts I have ever been. I’m not sure what all was weighing on me. 9/11 may have made me look at my life more closely. It may have been the jarring switch from the happiest week in my life to the worst for the country. Maybe it is the clearest manifestation of hatred I have ever seen. I’m not really sure. I haven’t put those feelings entirely behind me. This day remains a cold little corner of my heart.