Change of pace today. No complaints. Just remembering 9/11… What’s your story? How were you affected? What did you think then? What did you think now?
I’ve often been told that my 9/11 story is unique. You see; I was actually supposed to fly on a plane on September 11th. I was on vacation in Las Vegas with a friend and had a mid-morning return flight.
Because of the time difference, it was not yet six o’clock in the morning when the terrorist attacks started. My wife called our hotel and told us what was going on.
My friend had a sister living in New York City. It was extremely difficult to sit there and watch him try over and over (with no result) to reach her. Eventually, even though he couldn’t reach her, one of his relatives was able to verify his sister’s safety.
Then, as we helplessly watched the events play out on TV and the flight-grounding was announced, it quickly became evident to us that we were stranded in Las Vegas. The good news - because nobody was flying into town, the hotels were more than willing to give us deals. The bad news - our airline couldn’t guarantee when the flights would resume and we were told that we wouldn’t receive priority status. In fact, I was told that the soonest flight I could secure might be six days away. So we started making more desperate calls. Within hours, every single rental car in town was gone. Some of the rental car agents actually started suggesting that it might be easier for us to just buy a car. We were also unable to get a train ticket out of town.
After staying in Vegas one more night, my father called the next morning and said, “Pack your bags and get to the Greyhound station now!” The day before, this didn’t appear to be an option because there were lines down the street for people wanting to buy bus tickets. However, my father was able to get a ticket for us. Once again this was a good news and bad news situation. The good news - I could leave Vegas and head home. The bad news - the trip was 52 straight hours on the bus through nine states.
Although I couldn’t imagine the discomfort of riding in a bus for that long without showering and only eating at rest stops, I wanted to get home to my family as quickly as possible. But what I didn’t expect (and probably wasn’t thinking about at the time) was all the fascinating people I would meet on the bus. They were everyday people just like me. I met businessmen/women, tourists, bikers, executives and people in just about every profession you could imagine. And we all had one thing in common - we were stranded in Vegas and wanted to get home. I sat next to the CEO of a company in New York and he talked most of the way back about his friends and family in the city, some of which he still didn’t know the fate of. I can still see the look of despair on his face as I write this today.
As passengers on the bus, we went through different stages emotions. We cried and mourned those who perished in the attacks. We talked politics and war. We also played every stupid car game you can imagine and sang as we tried to put any sadness out of our heads, even if it was for a few minutes. And we found ourselves helping each other. In one case, I found myself being grabbed and running through the St. Louis Greyhound station in order to catch an earlier connecting bus to Chicago with a few friends I made on the bus before that.
The friend I was originally traveling with to Vegas was going home to CA. So by the time he took the bus, got home, slept and went to work - I was still traveling. Upon getting home, my wife gave me the biggest hug possible and then said, “You need a shower!” Some of the trip is still a blur, but I kept in contact with many of the people on the bus for years after.