Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Eleventh of September

For my generation, September 11, 2001 is that pivotal day when everyone remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news of the devastating terror attacks.  My story is no different.  However, if you follow the blog and read my post last week, then you could have figured out that I was on my honeymoon when the events of that day went down.  And for the rest of my life, when people talk about "that morning," to me it will always be "that afternoon," as Pat and I were six hours ahead in France.  Being such a world-changing event, I obviously included the day in my honeymoon scrapbook, although we took no pictures that day.  I wrote a long narrative and have included the Time Magazine that covered the story, as well as a copy of 'Le Monde,' which is the main Parisian newspaper, from 9/12/01 in my scrapbook.

Here is my narrative from my scrapbook, describing the day from my perspective:

***We spent our last night in Nice in the Comfort Inn.  Unable to fall asleep, despite our early, impending arousal, I watched a Bosnian movie subtitled in French.  I had gotten fed up with CNN (the only English-speaking channel) and their stories of Michael Jordan's return to the NBA.  My sleep that night was repeatedly interrupted by dreams of fire.  I awoke several times, planning how to flee the hotel with our important belongings.  The alarm went off around 4:45 a.m.  We checked out and walked through the dark streets to the train station.  The desk clerk had told us the train station was 2 blocks away-- it was a bit further.  [More like 6 or 8, from what I remember]  Our train ride was uneventful.  I slept most of the way.  After retrieving our extra bags, we got a taxi.  Unfortunately, the driver spoke neither English nor French.  He had never heard of Rue de le Bouteaux, but he knew Rue de le Pouteaux, so he figured it was a typo.  After a 45 minute taxi ride, we arrived at the street.  There was no hotel, but the taxi driver unloaded all eight bags and demanded 160 franc.  We were stranded.  We started to walk to the nearest taxi stand, but couldn't make it.  Finally, Pat left me with the bags and went ahead to the taxi stand.  It began to rain.  Feeling the lowest of low, I was about to give up when I saw a mini-van taxi pull up with Pat in the back, smiling like a knight in shining armor.  We were successfully delivered to our hotel, Hotel Villiers, but we were angry at being taken advantage of.  The concierge did not have our reservation, but we were finally able to get a room.  We got to our room just before 3 p.m.  On CNN, we saw that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.  Our first reaction was disbelief-- I mean, who couldn't see the big building in front of you! At this time, we thought it was a small CENSA. Our second reaction was relief--the odds of second plane crashing in the same week was good prognosis for our return trip.  At that point, Pat left to go survey the area (we thought we were in the ghetto).  I sat on the bed watching CNN as they interviewed eyewitnesses.  I saw the 2nd plane and initially thought it was the media.  Then, there was the 2nd explosion.  I thought the top of the North Tower was going to topple then.  Then, it was learned that one of the planes was a Boeing 767 from American Airlines, which was what we were supposed to fly out on, on that Saturday.  We watched in horror as the events unfolded and the South Tower collapsed.  We left briefly to get something to eat, but all the radios were broadcasting in French.  We returned to our hotel to find the World Trade Center gone and part of the Pentagon destroyed.  We then began the frantic phone calls homes.  The phone lines to NY were a mess, so the panic continued for a few hours.  We did recognize that life had changed forever, and that the world would never be the same.***

At the time, I had two cousins who worked in NYC.  One actually worked in the World Trade Center.  Both of those cousins are the same age as I am, and had attended our wedding just a week before.  We were very lucky that both were safe that day.  My brother was stationed in England at the time, so we had a contingency plan to go to England, in the event that we could not fly back to JFK.  This brother lost co-workers and colleagues in the Pentagon that day.  My college roommate lost her cousin.

The next day, Pat and I actually had one of our favorite days of the whole trip.  We went to Sacre-Coeur, where I lit candles for the unfortunate victims and their families.

Just four days after the attacks, Pat and I had to fly home.  Air travel was at a virtual standstill, with many flights still being grounded.  No one from American Airlines could tell us if we would be able to fly back.  JFK was scheduled to open up that day, but it was unsure.  We went to Charles de Gaulle 6 hours early, and just waited all day.  We boarded the plane virtually on time, but then sat anxiously on the plane for about an hour while they did background checks on the entire passenger manifest.  At one point, some sort of special agent (in a suit, and with a holstered gun) came onto the plane, escorted by two American Airline employees and ran to the back of the plane.  Everyone was on edge and nervous, literally holding their breath.  A moment later, the captain came on and said, "You may have noticed an Air Marshall and American Airlines employees board the plane.  There is no problem; they merely wanted to say 'hi' to the crew before take-off."  There was a collective sigh of relief.  The flight was a long eight hours, with everyone nervous about making it to our destination.  When we touched down, at about 1 a.m., EST, there was a collective round of applause for the captain and crew.  I know I felt like I wanted to kiss the American soil.  My dad and brother were waiting for us, so we quickly loaded our bags and were off, headed back to Albany.  Driving around NYC that night, the smoke from what would soon be known as Ground Zero was still billowing as if there were fire present.

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