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.