Category Archives: 10 years ago

10 Years Ago Today–9/14 to 9/18

As I get ready to head off for a weeklong vacation to celebrate my 30th wedding anniversary (more about this in another blog post), I continue to reflect on 9/11/01 and the days after.

On 9/14/01, I left our corporate offices in Chelmsford, Mass., to drive cross-country to reach my home in Hillsboro, Oregon, just west of Portland. With two complete strangers. The three of us spent 12 to 14 hours a day in the rental car, rotating driving responsibilities and being able to stretch out in the back seat.

On our first day, we left Chelmsford around 1pm and drove until about 11 pm. We checked into a MicroTel motel somewhere in New York or Pennsylvania. I meant to make note of our location, but if I did, it’s lost in 10 years of accumulations in my home office. We made plans to be on the road by 8 am the next morning.

Saturday morning, true to our plans, we were on the road by 8 am. We drove on Interstate 80 all day, and into the evening, only making stops to eat or take a potty break. Conversation was relaxed and comfortable, but sparse. We had little in common, and my companions were physicists and existed in a world I had little knowledge of. Around 11 pm, we decided to call it a day and got a room in Des Moines, Iowa. What a mistake. At one end of the first floor, there was a rowdy bar that was closing for the evening about the time I was trying to fall asleep. Right outside my window, a bunch of drunks decided to get into a fight. A fist-throwing, object throwing fight. I thought they were going to come crashing through my window. There was plenty of yelling and screaming and thrashing around. It was pretty frightening.

The next morning, after very little sleep, I was anxious to get showered and leave what I’d started to think of as a hell-hole. I got into the shower and found it covered with black mold and slime. “Get me out of here” was all I could think. I rendezvoused with my traveling partners around 9 am, and we were on the road again. As we drove cross-country on I-80, we never once turned the radio on. I don’t think any of us wanted to chance hearing any more bad news. Each evening when I was alone in my room, I’d log on to cnn.com and check for updates, or maybe grab a local newspaper. Other than that, we were fairly disconnected from the world events that continued to unfold.

On Sunday, we drove from Des Moines to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Along the way, we stopped in Omaha, Nebraska to drop Arpad off at the airport. Halfway across the country, flights were slowly coming online again and he’d been lucky enough to find a flight home. Susan and I continued, sharing the driving with just the two of us now. Susan walked with the aid of a cane, and had a harder time getting around than I did. So I ended up doing the bulk of the driving, schlepping suitcases, etc. We arrived in Cheyenne around 7pm. This was a fairly early stopping time for us, but with only two to share the driving, we had to pace ourselves a little differently.

It felt good to be in Cheyenne. It’s western theme and open spaces felt more like home to me. It started feeling possible that we’d actually make it home in a few days.

Monday morning, 9/17/01, we left Cheyenne and drove across Wyoming on I-80. What a beautiful drive. Lots more wide open spaces and gorgeous scenery. We could easily cruise at 80 mph, so we made great progress. Once we crossed into Utah, the drive to Salt Lake City was especially beautiful. I made a secret pact with myself to someday come back to see that part of the country. It’s a strange coincidence (one that I didn’t realize until right at this moment), that on 9/17/01, we drove through Salt Lake City on our way home. Exactly ten years later to the day, on 9/17/11, I flew to Salt Lake City on the way to a vacation in Moab, Utah, to celebrate my ten year wedding anniversary. When I made the travel arrangements to Moab via Salt Lake City, I no idea of the date coincidence. But there are no coincidences, right?

By the end of the day, we’d made it to Boise. It was only 5 pm, and we toyed with the idea of driving the rest of the way to Portland. It was a possibility, but with only two of us to share the driving, and with me being the one to do the bulk of the driving, it didn’t seem like a good idea. We checked into a hotel, had a hot meal, then called it a day. Being in Boise felt even more like being at home. And knowing that we had a relatively short drive the next day–only eight hours–I slept better than I had in over a week.

We left Boise at 8 am on Tuesday 9/18. The drive was easy. Entering Oregon was a huge relief. It was almost as good as being home! As we drove through Pendleton, we decided to stop at the Pendleton Woolen Mills store. I celebrated being almost home by splurging on a gorgeous red and black plaid wool skirt and wool sweaters to match.

By 4 pm that day, we were approaching Portland. Susan had made plans for a pilot friend to meet her at PDX with a private plane to fly her to Seattle. We said our good-byes and I dropped her off at the the airport.

I turned in my rental car, and set about the business of finding my car that I had parked in the short-term parking lot on 9/10. I’d heard on the news that all cars in that area had been towed to another location because of security concerns. I found an attendant in the area to help me figure out where my car was, and she had no record of it. Unbelieveable! Was I stranded AGAIN? Frustrated, I found another attendant who drove me to another lot away from the airport. He drove me up and down the aisles until I spotted my beloved red Acura TL. I’d always loved that car, but I was never SO happy to see it.

I hopped in the car, and drove the 30 miles from PDX to my home in Hillsboro. It felt so good to breath the cool, clear Portland air that I’m so familiar with. And to see the fall colors blanketing the hills and roadsides.

When I got home, no one was home except my two dalmatians, Sparky and Bart. I went in the back yard and let them jump all over me. I was laying on the ground with them, crying from relief at being home, when my husband Bill came home. I was so thrilled to see him! We held each other, and then went about the business of getting back to a normal life. What we’d later learn was “the new normal.”

Since that time ten years ago, I’ve never heard from Susan or Arpad. Not a follow-up thank you for letting them join me on my journey at no cost to them for the rental car. And not a check-in at some point in the future. I am partially to blame for this. I could have looked them up and sent them an email. In the months and even the first few years after 9/11, I didn’t really want to do anything to reconnect with that time. And now all these years later, I don’t remember their last names or anything else that would help me connect with them. I hope that they are doing well and have at least some fond memories of our journey.

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10 Years Ago Today–9/12 to 9/14

All the reminders yesterday of what happened on 9/11 2001 brought back so many memories of that horrible day. I am impressed with the beauty of the memorial at Ground Zero in NYC. I think it’s a fitting tribute to those who gave their lives that day. It bothers me, though, that there is an effort underway to stop calling the area “Ground Zero.” I don’t think anyone will ever let go of that name.

After 9/11, I was stranded in Chelmsford, Mass., outside of Boston. I’d flown there on 9/10/01 for a week of management meetings at my employer’s offices in Chelmsford. I was scheduled to fly home on Friday 9/14, but with all flights everywhere grounded for an undetermined amount of time, I had no idea when I’d get home.

Despite the stress and uncertainty of the time, our management meetings were held. What else could we do with a number of people on-site from all over the country? For most of us from across the country, we were distracted during the meetings by continually checking websites for updates on travel information in the hopes that we’d find a way home. All flights were cancelled, and trains were all full. I started toying with the idea of driving home. From Boston clear across the country to Portland, Oregon.

My manager, Neil, was appalled at the idea and thought it was completely unsafe to do alone. He vehemently tried to dissuade me. Nonetheless, I was determined to get home. And our company’s corporate offices issued a statement saying they’d pay for any reasonable travel expenses to help those of us who were stranded get home. I missed my family tremendously, and felt lonelier and more isolated than I’d ever felt in my life. Plus our 20th wedding anniversary was in a week, and I didn’t want to miss it.

By Friday 9/14, our meetings were coming to an end. There were rumors that flights might start up again by Sunday or maybe Monday. But I couldn’t envision hanging around for the weekend. So I made my decision. I was driving home, come hell or high water or concerned manager. I  had our support staff make arrangements for my car rental, and planned to leave around lunchtime. Once word got out that I was about to embark on my journey, email circulated around our Chelmsford offices to see if there was anyone else from the west coast who wanted to join me.

At literally the last minute (I was five minutes away from walking out the door), two people found me and said they wanted to head west with me. A woman named Susan and a man named Arpad. They were both physicists and I’d never met them before. Susan was from the Seattle area and Arpad was from somewhere near the Bay area.

Off we went, three strangers on the journey of a lifetime.


10 Years Ago Today–9/11

Like yesterday, today is another gorgeous, unseasonably hot day. I woke up in time to watch a bit of the 9/11 tributes on TV. They bring memories of that day flooding back, as if they were yesterday.

Waking up in my hotel room in Chelmsford, Massachusetts on 9/11 2001, I decided to linger a bit in my room before heading into the office. The first morning after a west-coast-to-east-coast jaunt can be a bit draining. I took my time waking up, and finally decided to get up about 7 am. I like watching the morning news while I’m getting ready, so I had the TV on in the background as I enjoyed breakfast in my room, got caught up on email, and eventually got dressed. Looking out the window, I could see it was a beautiful sunny day. I was just starting to think about heading into the office around 8:30. If I left at 8:50, I’d be in the office by 9 am.

As I collected the things I’d need for the day–laptop, papers, purse, and cell phone–I kept one eye on the TV. Suddenly the Today Show cut into the usual fashion-travel-weather reporting of the last part of their show with stunning footage of one of the World Trade Center buildings severely damaged and burning. It was 8:50 am, just minutes after the first plane crashed into 1 WTC. Katie Couric and Matt Lauer were reporting, stunned, that no one knew for sure what happened, but there was speculation that a plane had crashed into the building.

I put my things down on the bed, and decided to call my husband Bill, in Hillsboro, OR. An early riser, he was most likely up and getting ready for his work day. It was 5:50 am his time and I thought he’d want to see the footage before he left for the day.

We chatted for a while, speculating on the cause of the crash and talking about what we each had planned for the day. We each kept one eye on the TV, watching the building burn and waiting for more information. As we watched, a second plane crashed into 2 WTC. At that moment, we both new something frightening and evil was happening to our country. And we were separated by a continent.

There wasn’t much we could do, so we got off the phone and headed off our two different directions for the day. Before I left for the office, I called my parents in Portland, Oregon, to tell them to turn their TV on. And I called the office to tell them too, not knowing if they’d heard or not.

As I drove on the freeway into the office, already people had put up American flags on several of the overpasses. It was unbelievably moving to see this level of patriotism so quickly, and it gave me a bit of a sense of security.

By the time I reached the office, my colleagues were telling me that there were reports that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon, and one of the WTC towers had just collapsed. I don’t know which was more stunning. Certainly knowing that the Pentagon had been hit drove home the seriousness of our then-unknown attackers.

A bit later we began hearing rumors of another plane crash somewhere in Pennsylvania. At that point, all anyone could think was, “When will it stop?”

For the most part that day, people made small talk in the office. There was a TV in the cafeteria, and it was on for most of the day. You could hear a pin drop in the cafeteria as people watched. No one said a word. Many of the people in the Chelmsford office had friends or family members who worked in the WTC. And some of them had family members where first responders. I can’t begin to imagine the fear and desperation they must have felt as they waited for news.

Any meetings we had scheduled for the day were cancelled. Along with all flights, anywhere in the U.S. Those of us from out-of-state began to wonder when–and how–we’d get home.

At the end of the day, I returned to my hotel room. My colleague, Mark, invited me to his home for dinner. But alas, I was too drained and felt I wanted some down time to make some calls home, unwind, and just chill for the evening. This seemed to be what I needed for a while, but as the evening turned into night, the reality of being 3,000 miles away from my family with no easy back began to set in. I don’t think I slept much that night. I don’t think most of America did.


10 Years Ago Today–9/10

Today is a beautiful sunny day in Hillsboro, Oregon, just west of Portland. I started the day watching my great-niece place soccer at the school across the street. Then I headed over to Hillsboro Stadium to watch my 11-year old grandson Andrew play football in what felt like scorching heat. My 4-year old granddaughter Hailey would be coming over later to spend the late afternoon and evening with us. A lovely, enjoyable late summer day.

It’s hard to believe that ten years ago today I flew to Boston to attend a week of management meetings at my company’s (Cadence Design Systems) offices in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

Accustomed to fairly regular travel at that point in my life, this trip should have been a snap. Up in the morning to catch an early flight on Monday 9/10/11. Enjoy an evening to get settled for the week, then attend meetings Tuesday through Friday morning, and fly home Friday afternoon. However, when getting ready to leave home that morning, I had a strange and unsettled feeling that things weren’t going to be the same when I got back. In reality, this feeling had been with me for a few weeks. In late August of that year, I remember gazing out a window in our bedroom thinking, “something’s going to change soon, and I’ll look back and wish I could get back to this simple time.” This thought perplexed me, because I hardly thought of my life as simple at the time. But somehow I had a sense that I’d realize that the world “back then” was a kinder, gentler place.

Before I left my house for my flight, I kissed my husband good-bye. For the first time, saying good-bye before a business trip was difficult. I remember having tears in my eyes and having a nagging sense that I would miss our 20-year anniversary on September 19. This didn’t make any sense at all, since I was due to be home on September 14.

For the most part, my trip east was uneventful. There was, though, a point where the plane hit a bumpy space and had a slight drop. Nothing serious, but it caught my attention. I’m a pretty skittish flier, and anything other than smooth sailing gets my hackles up. I closed the book I was reading because I couldn’t concentrate through the bumps. I remember thinking gloomy thoughts, “there haven’t been any significant air disasters for quite a while. I wonder if, statistically speaking, it’s time for something horrible to happen.” These thoughts stayed with me until we landed. I never could get back to my book. I just couldn’t focus. In reality, it was about four years before I could focus on that book again.

Once safely on the ground, I got in my rental car and drove to my hotel. For the most part, I forgot about my concerns. I settled into my room and started preparing for my upcoming meetings. But for some reason, the minute I got my rental car, there was a brief moment when I quite literally wanted to pull over and kiss the ground.


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