It’s an interesting story that I have shared hundreds of times, but never in this space. It happened so long ago, and the extent of my “suffering” is nothing in comparison to the multitudes who lost so much. But, it’s my story and, in honor of the date, I thought it was time to share.
I always struggle with a post like this since, when I started toying with the idea, I thought it had nothing to do with running and therefore questioned the validity of it in this space. But, as the story unfolded in my mind though my fingers, I realized there was a connection after all.
In September of 2001 I had an extremely different life. I was 26 years old, had not yet met my husband and was not even a runner.
I had just recently moved home to Connecticut from Los Angeles and was devastated to have made such a ridiculous choice. I missed California, my friends, my job and my west coast life. I came home for my family, for which I have no regrets, but in those early days of being back to the east coast, doing marketing work for an investment firm, and living at home, I would cry every.single.day. I’m very dramatic.
When an opportunity came for me to travel to San Diego for my job, I of course, jumped at the chance.
I flew from Hartford, Connecticut to Dulles in D.C, to San Diego, California, on September 10, 2001.
I was already suffering from extreme anxiety and fear of flying but, my fear stemmed (and still does) from plummeting from altitude and crashing to a fiery death, not from terrorists. In fact, I distinctly remember that flight being one of the best I had. I popped two Xanax at Dulles and didn’t wake up until we were landing in San Diego. I thought it was a perfect flight.
September 11, 2001 – San Diego, CA
I woke up the next morning, headed down to the lobby and bought a coffee. I noticed people were crowding around a huge television and I caught a glimpse of the picture – one of the twin towers appeared to be on fire, with massive plumes of black smoke billowing into the otherwise blue sky. As I walked closer to get a better look, I saw the second plane hit and some people surrounding the television actually screamed. The news anchors were scrambling to find the right words and the scene around me, as well as the one on the the TV, erupted into chaos.
I ran to the elevators. I had to talk to my dad.
My father worked (and still works) in New York City three to four days a week. I had no cell phone and the elevator ride back up to my hotel room took an eternity. My whole body was shaking as I finally entered my room and dialed my dad’s number. He answered. I literally dropped to the floor and started crying.
My dad was crying too, while telling me he was ok but that he knew so many people who worked in the towers. He was shaken and we were both scared. He told me he wasn’t in the city.
About a week later, I found out he lied to keep me from worrying.
By the time I gathered myself and checked my messages and email, I realized that the conference had be “postponed” until further notice. Basically no one had any clue just what the hell happened so life just sort of paused.
I sat on my hotel bed, rocking back and forth, while simultanoeusly watching endless hours of news and dozens of what appeared to be Naval ships, being deployed from the nearby Naval Air Station, as they cruised past my hotel window.
Around dinner time, we were told to gather at a central spot in the hotel for more information.
Basically, they were canceling the conference and chartering buses for anyone who wanted to get home via ground transportation. Remember, the FAA had shut down all air travel so about seven of us from my company were basically stuck 3,000 miles from home.
I was the first person to sign-up for the bus. I was afraid to fly before this happened. There was no way in hell I was stepping onto a plane now, regardless of when the FAA deemed travel to be safe. All I knew was that I wanted to go home. Immediately.
September 12, 2001 – Leaving San Diego
I was left with two options – take the bus or wait out the FAA. I took the bus.
I had my Sports Walkman*, a few mixed tapes, a pillow and a bottle of Xanax. I boarded the bus on September 12 and took a deep breath.
*The first iPod wouldn’t be released until October of that year.
Before leaving the hotel everyone was trying to rent a car, obviously being the preferred mode of transportation. There were, however, two very huge obstacles:
- Everyone had the same idea and there were no rentals to be found.
- Most every company, even though they had no cars, would tell you the penalties under which you would suffer or costs you would incur, if you took the car across state lines.
Nonetheless, I kept trying.
Bus travel is amazingly horrendous. Of course, I tried very hard to keep my perspective as I inched my way by Greyhound across America.
Every 24 hours we had to change drivers and this swap would take place at a bus station. At night. It was also one of the only places to brush your teeth. Take my word for it – you do not want to ever brush your teeth in a bus station. Ever.
I didn’t shower for the entirety of the trip.
The only reason I was able to sleep is because of my Xanax. Being nuts sometimes comes in very handy.
We also only stopped at fast food chains to “eat.” At each stop there was a mad dash for electrical outlets and pay phones.
I lost six pounds by the end of the trip. This was before McDonalds decided to offer even an ounce of nutrition on their menu.
Stress and disgust is an atrocious but effective diet.
Finally, around the time we got to St. Louis, I was able to reserve a Lincoln Navigator with five guys I had only met on the bus. They were all executives of some sort and were desperate to get back to their families. We had joined forces in a common goal to get a car and make our way east, dropping each person as we went.
I had the farthest to travel and would the last one left with the car, which I would return to Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, CT whenever the hell I made it back there. It seemed like an impossible destination at the time.
THE ROAD HOME
I have forgotten more then I remember about that week of travel but I do remember how great these guys were and how jealous I was, with each stop, that the person exiting was going home to hug their families.
Through our travels, we passed the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and it gave me chills. I had an almost an uncontrolled fear because of why I was there. I felt like I was never meant to see it in person and I still think about it all the time.
It was the first time I saw Philadelphia. Heinz field, where the Steelers play, was a brand new stadium in 2001. As we passed it I remember the grandeur of it and how, in light of what just happened, seemed so silly and extravagant.
I will also never forget all the American flags. In the thousands of miles I traveled, I saw them everywhere – flying high on poles, spray painted to overpasses, on front porches, on bumper stickers and t-shirts and each time I saw one, tears came to my eyes. I was proud but I had been humbled and I was scared.
THE FINAL MILES
I will never forget the man who drove from Pennsylvania to Fairfield, CT with me. He was from Brooklyn and his wife and three kids had managed to get out of the city and were staying with his mother-in-law in Fairfield. He was eager to get home to them, so glad they were alive and safe.
We decided to drive though the night and drank more caffeine then any two human beings should.
He told me about hunting and talked to him about my adventures in California.
We drove over the Tappen Zee bridge and it was pitch black. The government had ordered any possible “targets” have limited visibility. To this day, when I drive over that bridge, I can remember that night and how we stealthily crept over that bridge, scared, anxious and high on caffeine and hope.
HOME AT LAST
I have never been as happy to see the skyline of Hartford, Connecticut as I was in the early morning hours of September 16, 2001.
With my foot shaking on the gas pedal of an enormous SUV, I made my way to my boyfriends’s house since it was about 15 minutes closer then my own home. That’s how spent I was.
I smelled, I needed a shower, food and water (in that order!) but I just crumpled into a pile on his bed and slept for hours. When I finally woke up, I made it the rest of the way to my house and gave the biggest hug to my dad and stepmom that I ever have.
That same year, I became a runner. The year after that I ran my first marathon, I met the man who would become my husband, and my life has become better every day since. I will never stop being grateful that I was able to come home and live my life to the fullest.
Where were you on September 11, 2001?
Do you do anything to honor the day or to remember?
OMG Allie! You had me in tears. So many stories from that day. I was an intern back then. I remember seeing the news before I left for the hospital that a plane had it the first tower but they just thought it was an accident. By the time I got to my department, the second tower had been hit and the day seemed to stop as everyone was glued to the one TV. It’s definitely a day I’ll never forget.
There really are just SO many stories and I think most all of them are about disbelief. I sometimes still can’t believe that it happened. Thanks for reading 🙂
Wow I was glued to my screen reading. It’s really a day I’ll never forget but I cannot even imagine how you felt during the trip.
That is such a huge compliment, thank you Hollie. I know none of us will ever forget but I still can’t believe I was in San Diego!
I still think I suffer from some sort of ptsd from that day so forgive my short comment. 14 years later and I still haven’t dealt with it.
You need not apologize for one second. I cannot even imagine what it must have been like for everyone who calls NYC their home, like you do. Thoughts and love to you today!!! xoxoxo
What a harrowing adventure! I can’t even imagine being out in the middle of the country trying to make my way home in light of all that uncertainty. An indelible memory, to be sure, and one I’m sure you revisit every year.
I was a runner and also had a five-month old baby at the time. I remember thinking about what a crazy world my baby had entered. I also remember running the next day and how quiet it was for the lack of planes (I lived on a BWI route at the time). It was eery and poignant.
Cheers to better times for all!
I can’t imagine how your emotions were dealing with all of that since your baby was only five-moths old at the time!! And yes, the sky was eerily quiet for far too long.
To better times!!
This just brought me to tears, absolutely incredible. I can literally imagine the relief to hear your dad’s voice on the phone. Surreal. I remember exactly where I was that day and what I was doing. I was on the Katy freeway driving to a community college class. Sitting in the car I heard the radio and just pulled over… It was incomprehensible to me. I got to school and a bunch of people were watching the big screen and I joined them. Then I started getting calls from relatives overseas and assured them we were fine. My mom was on the phone to her friends in NYC for hours. The whole thing was just immense. I don’t know why but I still get emotional during this time. And VERY clingy to my loved ones and animals. I’m a big dork
You’re not a dork at all. I get super clingy and emotional too. I think it’s a horrible yet wonderful reminder of how quickly your life can change. It’s great for perspective!
Wow…this is incredible. That was really sweet of your dad to lie to you to keep you from worrying. Looking back it is funny to see where life leads us and how things change!!! It is strange how it seems like it was not that long ago, but when I think of everything that has happened in my life since then I realize that my girls weren’t even born when it happened. I was living in IL teaching pre-k to a class of 4 year olds and was 8 weeks pregnant with my first. I also remember wondering what kind of world I was bringing my baby into.
I am watching a documentary on that day with my girls this year in school.
I feel the same way! At first I thought it didn’t seem that long ago, but as I started writing, it seemed like an eternity ago.
I cannot imagine what you felt like being pregnant at the time!! Good luck with the documentary. I’m interested to hear their reactions…
I was teaching first grade the morning of 9/11/01. We were having our morning meeting when someone came in to take the TV cart out of my closet. Then my principal came in and said, “Don’t tell the kids about the bomb.” WTF?! Luckily I was about to take my students to art class and was able to get to the office to see what the hell she was talking about. I saw it, I immediately called my brother (living in Brooklyn), and was obviously unable to get through. All. Day. Long. I was in the final days of being in my childhood home, nothing but a bed and a light in my room, essentially “moving on” and all I wanted was him home. I was the first one he called. Got through a little after 11 that night. The sound of his voice was terrifying, heart breaking and defeating, but I oved every second because I was HEARING him. Still sounds awful to say, but he “only” lost 1 person he knew that day. I’ll never forget that stranger’s name, though. He could have been my brother.
I just got chills reading that Tina. I was so, so thankful I was able to get though to my dad on the first try. I’m not sure if he had a cell phone or what but it was truly a miracle. I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t have talked to him all day that day!
I’m sorry for your loss but so, so happy your brother was safe.
That story is incredible!! I cannot imagine taking a bus to get back most of the way from CA… brutal. I was in college at the time and remember staring at the screens in the lobby with other students… and then heading back to the house in Philadelphia I shared with friends and us all being so stunned. Such a surreal day.
“Stunned” is the perfect word for it. I was such a scary time and sometimes it’s hard to remember how we all moved past it.
Too bad I didn’t know you then. I could have stayed with you in Philly!!
I love this post…..gives me chills to read it. I was at the hospital in Cleveland Clinic working and walked into an elevator and an older man told me that a plane had crashed into the twin towers and I didn’t know what he was talking about and thought he may be crazy. I was 35 weeks pregnant with my first and on my to an OB appointment…it wasn’t until I actually looked at a TV screen that I believed it.
That is awful. I cannot imagine being pregnant, and all the hormones that go with it, and living though that day and the weeks and months that followed.
Reminds me recently of being away from home and stranded when Hurricane Irene and then Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and having to drive from Florida to NYC because I couldn’t get a flight back and just wanted to be home with my family. I don’t think that I’ve ever shared my story about this day and mourn the loss of a good friend from high school that day. But I did finally write bits and pieces down in my journal this morning. But I was in Boston – first day of grad school while Ed was in NYC.
OMG Christine. That is truly awful and I’m so sorry for your loss. As you know, it definitely helps to write it down and get it out…even if it’s in bits and pieces. xo
9/11 is such an emotional day. I still watch the US news here in Brazil and it is so hard to watch the memorial services every day. On 9/11 I was still years away from being a New Yorker. I had been in college for about a month and it was the first time I was really away from my family. I remember being told what was happening but it didn’t really sink in until I got to class and watched the second tower hit. I was a dancer in college and remember going to my dance class and going through an hour and half ballet class, I think because my professor didn’t know what else to do. I can’t believe you bused/drove across country! What a crazy nightmare. We used to take the bus from NYC to Mass and I can’t even tell you how happy I was when we finally decided to keep a car in NYC.
I used to take the bus from Boston, when I was in college there, to Hartford and that alone was awful! I’m glad to hear you were not yet a New Yorker when that happened. It must have been hard to focus in class that night but, yes people were struggling to keep up normal routines.
Your story is so well-written it brought me to tears. I could not imagine making that journey, especially during a time when travel was so scary. I was in sixth grade art class and the teacher turned on the TV after the first plane crashed. I didn’t wrap my mind around the significance of what was going on until much later. I had only flown as a baby before then, and it took me years to get on a plane after that..
Thank you Laura! You have such an interesting perspective since you were so young. I cannot imagine trying to explain something like that to a sixth grader.
Wow 3000 miles would be a lot today even with smart phones and wi-fi!!! I used to run with the sport Walkman. It had a strap to hold while running. Amazing compared to my shuffle today which is the size of a quarter.
Our parents’ generation says they remember exactly where they were when JFK was shot. For us it will be 9/11. I have such emotions since I saw the towers in smoke as I was traveling on 95 and my brother and sister were in NYC at the time. But that is nothing in comparison to those who lived through it or lost loved ones . 5 years ago today I gave birth to my first born 🙂 I met a woman recently here in Austin who told me she used to live in NYC and worked for Cantor. When she said it my smile fell and I said ‘wow I know they were in the top of the WTC. ‘ she said she lost 75 friends that day. I don’t think we will ever forget.
There are just so many tragic, horribly sad stories. It was definitely a dark time and no, we will definitely never forget. Thank you for sharing that here Jen!
Wow! Thanks for sharing your story Allie. It is a day none of us will ever forget. Beyond all comprehension. I was in college. My best friend and I woke up in our dorm and turned on the TV. We didn’t understand. I immediately called my mom and we spent the day at our sorority house watching the coverage, dumbfounded. All classes were cancelled. I posted something about 9/11 on Instagram lthis week and my friend reminded me of us being together, her words so powerful: 14 years ago we went to sleep in the same room and woke up to the most tragic news of our generation.
Living our life to the fullest and with gratitude is the best thing we can do to honor the memory of everyone we lost. xo
YES! That is the best tribute to all of the men and women who lost their lives that day – to live ours to the fullest! I know you do Jesica 🙂
I can’t imagine being separated from my family at such a tragic and frightening time. My son was almost six weeks old, and I was watching the Today show. I turned it off quickly because Gwen was three and in the room with me. I took the kids to the playground, but it felt so off, and so quiet with no planes in the sky. We came home and I snuck glances at the television when I could. What I remember most, though, was that James was admitted to the hospital on 9/13, and for six days I stayed in that room with my sick baby and nothing to watch on TV except for news coverage of the attacks.
I’m glad my kids were too young to remember the fear and panic of that day, but it saddens me beyond measure that post 9/11 is their reality.
Sounds like it’s a doubly awful painful memory for you Dana! I can’t imagine having young kids and wanting to both find out information but also shield them from what was happening. Just so awful and sad.