Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, I was at LAX waiting to board a flight to Florida. My Dad had died in January of that year and I spent a lot of time flying back and forth from Los Angeles, trying to get his affairs in order.

Our flight was boarding in less than 45 minutes so I went to the ladies' room to check my makeup in case I accidentally ended up on the pilot's lap in the cockpit.

As I entered I passed a little girl and her mother who were on their way out. "Why did that plane crash into the building?" the little girl asked. Thinking it was a story her mom might have read her, I wondered what kinds of children's books were being published these days. Wasn't Little Red Riding Hood and that wolf scary enough? Finding bears in your bed wasn't enough to give you nightmares? Now there were children's stories of planes crashing?

When I came out of the loo there was a crowd gathered around an airport bar, watching TV. As I got closer I saw that one tower of The World Trade Center was partially on fire and what looked like a plane was headed for the other one. Passengers were trying to explain to each other what might be going on but the sad reality was that no one really knew what was going on. A few folks reluctantly looked away, picked up their carry-ons and made for a gate as an announcement called them to their flight.

As people wandered away I elbowed my way closer to the bar to get a better look. I watched the coverage for a while and then I knew I had to leave. There was a pregnant woman next to me, alone and sitting on a bar stool. "Come on," I said quietly, "we need to get out of here." She looked at me but said nothing. Didn't even stand up. We stared at each other for a moment longer and then I took off.

As I ran down the corridors I heard the announcements over the loud speakers. All flights canceled. Go to baggage claim. Retrieve your luggage. Leave the airport immediately. At baggage claim Delta employees had flooded the area; there were three of them to every one of us. There was no panic. No pushing. No shoving.

A Delta employee found my bags and I went outside to wait for a cab. The line was long and I remembered thinking, "What if I can't get out of here?" But the taxis rolled up one after the other and people got in quickly. Silently.

As I drove away from LAX, I heard on the radio that they had just shut it down. No one was allowed to go in or out of the airport. I missed the shutdown by six minutes.

The next day I called my best friend, who worked at the State Department back then. I told her I needed to know if I was safe in Los Angeles or if I should leave town. She wouldn't give me any details about what was going on and said only this, "Be aware the target an icon makes and be careful."

To this day I don't know what my friend's cryptic message meant. She now works at Homeland Security so my chances of finding anything out are even slimmer than before. The only icons in California are the Golden Gate Bridge and Disneyland. Were they targets? Are they still?

I flew to Florida ten days later. There were six of us on the flight. The crew gave us free alcohol and sleep kits from First Class, which was empty.

A gay guy a few rows back asked if he could move up to my row. I nodded and as he sat down next to me he said, "Girrrrl, if I have to? I'm going to totally kick some ass."


  1. Anonymous7:47 PM

    Sad day indeed. I was one of those Delta people, except in another city.

  2. Anonymous8:06 AM

    i reloaded...

  3. I was on the way to the Oakland airport with my mom. We were looking for signs to the airport and my mom said, "There's one. Oakland Airport." And I said, "Uh, mom? It said 'Oakland Airport CLOSED.'"

  4. My husband was stranded in Europe for a week or so. When he finally got on a plane, he stayed awake the entire transatlantic flight, keeping his eye on the Algerian guys across the aisle and mentally making plans to use his belt to strangle anyone who got up too suddenly.

    We were all feeling a little jumpy back then.

  5. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Each of us has our own story, nobody was left unscathed including children as you pointed out.
    I witnessed the horror first hand and volunteered in the aftermath down there.
    I had good health insurance at the time and for the first time in my life sought out a shrink for help.
    Needless to say every psychiatrist and therapist in NYC was booked. I finally got in to see a community health center shrink in a dump of a building which, I am not kidding, had a tacky sofa size painting done in palette knife of The world Trade Center in the waiting room.
    I quickly surmised this was not the sensitive place for me to heal and left.
    I awoke this morning to the sounds of helicopters overhead covering the protests over the proposed Mosque that will be built beneath the ghostly shadows of the Twin Towers.
    Hate, ignorance, and bad taste still reign supreme in Gotham.
    That day brought out the best in some and the worst of others, unfortunately it is the loudmouth worst who are still getting all the attention.
    X David

  6. My husband was stranded in Vegas that day. (I was supposed to be joining him on the 12th.) He ended up renting a van and dropping off various people on the way home to Wisconsin.

    I heard the news while standing in my social studies class with students. I hated being there, when I only wanted to be with my family, especially because some of my students responded with, "Cool!" when they heard the news. (I should mention that, at the time, I taught students with emotional/behavioral disabilities? I wanted to slap them in their faces.)

  7. We still miss John, our neighbor, our friend...Pilot of Flight #11

    Thank you, Suzy


  8. I was at work, watching the news in a conference room when I got a call from my sister that her husband had been killed when the truck he was working on fell on top of him. How could 9/11 have gotten any worse? That's how.

  9. I love the way you ended this. This post is a perfect example of how to fit humor into the most somber of content.


  10. This was really moving. I love David's comment that we all have our stories...where we were on that particular day, at that time. It's the same for me with the Challenger explosion--5th grade "fun event"...all of us parked in front of the tv for a front row show. This was similar, except I was teaching the research paper to my ninth graders in the library, where the news happened to be turned on. Trying to explain something inexplicable to those was terrible.

    Your words brought it all back, with a few tears. I love the ending.

  11. Anonymous9:33 AM

    We definitely all have our stories. I was at work and heard about it on the radio before turning on the tv. It seems like yesterday.

  12. Suzy, this was so incredibly moving. Thank you for relaying your account of this strange and still surreal day.

    I love how you ended it, too. You have a true gift of expression.