Very early on the morning of 9/11/2001, my good friend in St. Paul took me to the airport in Minneapolis. I had been there visiting for a couple of weeks, and now had to head back to reality. I had bought my plane ticket on Priceline, so I had a totally jacked up itinerary. Minneapolis to Denver to St. Louis to Jackson. When I got to the airport that morning, a very nice ticket agent took a look at that, realized how ridiculous it was, and rerouted me straight to St. Louis–flight leaving shortly. I happily boarded the nearly empty plane and settled in. When we landed in St. Louis, everyone started milling around, getting their belongings, etc. Then the pilot announced to us that there was no need to be in a hurry, that the World Trade Center in New York had been bombed by a plane flying into it, and all flights had been delayed by at least 4 hours. What??? All we passengers just kinda looked at each other, like, is this for real? As soon as I entered the gate area, I heard someone say something about the Pentagon. My first thought was, wow that’s how rumors fly…first it’s the World Trade Center, now it’s the Pentagon… Then I rounded a corner and saw a group of people watching a TV. As soon as I looked up, the screen split and showed a smoking Pentagon. Oh my God, what is happening? All the Arrival/Departure monitors were showing my flight as delayed. So I headed to my gate to wait and see what was going on. I was told that if I left the gate area, that I would not be allowed back through security, so if my flight actually got to take off, I needed to stay put if I wanted to be on it.
Oddly enough, in the concourse where my gate was, there were no TVs at all. Anywhere. Plus, at that point in time I didn’t take my cell phone with me everywhere, so I didn’t have it with me. That meant standing in lines at pay phones trying to get through to my parents, who for some reason got the idea that I was in Memphis. I had to call my friends who were supposed to pick me up at the airport that afternoon. And I had to call my friend in St. Paul, who thought I was still on my way to Denver. I got in touch with all of them, with the promise to update them as soon as I knew anything more. I was still being told not to leave the gate area, so I did as I was told. There was a lady sitting near me, and we struck up a conversation. She was on her way to Lincoln, Nebraska, for her mother’s 80th birthday. Every once in a while, I’d go over to the other concourse to see what I could find out from the TV at the bar. On one of my trips, I saw the first tower fall. Not long after that, we were told that we needed to leave the gate area after all, that none of the flights would be leaving. I was so naive, I thought I’d just go rent a car and drive home. However, as soon as I left the gate area, I realized that things were wild and crazy. There were throngs of people, everyone looking lost and confused. At every car rental desk there were signs up that there were no more cars available. The lines to the hotel phones were miles long. I still wasn’t really all that concerned, I figured I’d just hang out in the airport and catch my flight the next day. Uh huh. Panic set in when I heard an announcement that everyone was to find their luggage and leave the airport as soon as possible. Really? And go where? And do what? Where is the luggage, anyway? I started wandering aimlessly, trying to figure out what the hell to do. I realized that large sections had been roped off and luggage was piled in them. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason, and I started the search. Airport employees tried to tell me where to look, based on where I’d come from and where I was going, but I couldn’t find my bag. As I was going to yet another area, I ran into the woman I’d talked with earlier in the gate area. She told me that her husband was in the military, and she had finally managed to get in touch with him. He had told her that there was a USO office in the St. Louis airport, and she should go there and see if they could help her get a hotel room. Without a thought, I asked her if I could stay with her if she got a room. Just as quickly, she told me that I could definitely stay with her, she didn’t really want to be alone during this crazy time. I waited for her outside the USO office, watching all the people. One girl told me that she had just toured the World Trade Center a couple of days ago. It was all very surreal. My friend (I now was thinking of her as my friend), came out and told me that she had indeed been able to get a room, at the Marriott. They even would provide shuttle service for us, as soon as we could find our luggage. We agreed on a meeting place, then split up to continue our search. I really don’t know how long I looked, but I finally saw my bag, sitting off to itself, in an area totally unrelated to either of my flights. I grabbed it and ran. I saw my friend standing in another line to get to a luggage area, and went to see if I could be of any help. A young woman standing behind us was worried about finding a hotel room. My friend told her to call the Marriott and tell them that the USO told her to call. She did, and wonder of wonders, she got a room. At long last, we all found our luggage and went outside to wait for the Marriott shuttle. Seems it was about 3:00 when we made it to the hotel. We were tired and hungry. After making phone calls to loved ones, we hit the hotel restaurant. Then, back to the room to watch the news and try to figure out what was happening. We really felt out of the loop, since for much of our time in the airport, we had no access to a TV, radio, nothing. I was so tired that I fell asleep for a bit, then started making calls again to try to figure out how to get home. The train and bus stations in St. Louis had closed down, and there were no rental cars to be found. So, my wonderful friends who had planned to pick me up at the airport in Jackson, agreed to drive the 8 hours to St. Louis to pick me up. They are truly saints.
I will never, ever forget the kindness of a total stranger that day. She certainly didn’t have to let me stay in her room. It was so good not to be all by myself, freaked out and confused. I still send her a card on the anniversary, and one at Christmas. I hope she knows how much I still appreciate what she did for me that day.
9/11 was an awful day. What I went through was nothing compared to what the people in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania experienced. Our whole world changed that day. But it’s nice to know that there are always good people to be found, no matter what the circumstances.
Let us never forget…