Friday, September 11, 2009

9-11, Where Were You?

When the terrorist attacks took place on Sept 11, 2001, I was in a business meeting in Austin, TX, having flown there with seven other fellow employees the day before, to meet with a potential customer.

We rented a Dodge Caravan to shuttle us to and from the hotel.

Somewhere during a break in the meeting, someone walked into the conference room and told us all that a jet liner had crashed into the World Trade Center. We were stunned. "Holy Shit" I kept thinking.

Later on in the afternoon, during another break, someone walked into the conference room, and said a second jet liner crashed into the other World Trade Center tower. At that point, we didn't know what to think. The first crash we thought was a tragedy. The second crash, now that can't be a coincidence.

About an hour or so later, someone else broke into our meeting, and announced that jet liners were crashing all over the country, and officials put the entire country on alert. We were so stunned, we couldn't focus on the meeting anymore, and just mulled about trying to learn as much as we could.

We were in a high rise building in Austin, with a full view of the city from, I don't know, 30 floors up or more. All we could think about was a plane crashing into the building we were in.

So we all left the building.

Those of us from our company decided to walk to this bar a block away and watch the news.

Our plane was supposed to fly us back home only hours away, but of course all the flights are grounded now. And, we had to return that minivan.

So we decided to hold on to the minivan figuring once we turn it in, we'd never be able to rent another one with all the flights grounded.

Several of us voted to drive that thing back to Southern California. Others voted to stay in Austin and wait for the airports to open up. But we had families worried about us, and we wanted to get back to them. I mean, we thought these plane crashes was a precursor of more to come.

Other locals overheard us debating, and warned that the Interstate between Austin and El Paso is a such a lonely stretch, with very few towns in between, that gangs would be taking control of the roads and pillaging everything that came their way. We'd be sure to lose our lives. This had the women scared.

Other locals said that gas stations were spiking the price of gas up to $5.00 a gallon (it was around a dollar-something back then).

"Look, we don't know how long flights are going to be grounded, could be for weeks, or months. And we've already checked out of our rooms. I honestly doubt with the flights being grounded, that the freeways are going to be taken over by gangs. There's going to be so many more people using the freeways now, that no way can gangs stand up to us", I tried to reason with them.

All the guys agreed.

We voted, and the guys won.

So we left Austin around 7 or 8ish. That little minivan was crammed.

We went all the way through Texas and encountered nothing. We expected the freeways to be packed solid. Instead, they were somewhat light. I guess everyone was too stunned to go out. We heard on the radio stories of gasoline being spiked in other states, but so far we encountered no spiked prices.

At every gas fill up, or potty break, we switched out drivers.

By the time we hit New Mexico, it was morning the next day, the sun was up, and the heat was starting to build. We turned on the air conditioner and discovered it didn't work. So we rolled the windows down.

We got into Arizona, and stopped in Benson at a cafe to eat breakfast. We told the waitress our story, and she mentioned other business travelers doing the same thing, traveling along the same Interstate, trying to get home.

Further into Arizona, with the windows all rolled down, the heat was getting intense. One gal got sick from it. We had pull over several times to let her barf.

By mid-afternoon, we made it into California. The California desert was the hottest temperature yet, reaching over 100 degrees, no air conditioner, and eight of us crammed into a minivan. We had bought a cooler earlier, filled it with ice and drinks to help cool off.

The whole thing was like an iron butt ride. We were talking about all kinds of stuff, and learning things about each other that we would had never known if not for the circumstances. I don't know why, but "Gilligan's Island" kept coming into my mind.

Every once in awhile I'll reconnect with an old co-worker from those days, usually via Facebook, and we'll say "remember that time when we drove all the way back from Austin?"

So today, we're all remembering again.

1 comment:

  1. That's quite a story. I can't imagine all the tension and uncertainty from that day being multiplied by being so far from home. I'm glad you didn't give up the van - a/c or no - and didn't listen to the Mad Max predictions.

    Iron Butt in a minivan...who'd of thought?

    ReplyDelete

About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)