i was born too close to kennedy’s assassination to remember it – but had always heard older adults talk about how they all remembered exactly where they were at that moment.
today, i was in a cigar shop in buenos aires that mike yaconelli and i used to go to when we came down here together, and recounted my “where i was on 9/11” story to a couple friends, as it connected with argentina:
mike, my wife, and i flew overnight from buenos aires to chicago, arriving early morning on 9/11. we cleared customs, and boarded our plane for san diego. we were completely fried and so ready to get home. about 45 minutes into the flight, the plane made an 180-degree turn. the pilot announced that nothing was wrong with the plane, but that we’d been ordered to return to chicago. groans filled the cabin. of course, we were so completely bummed, because we were so ready to get home. a few minutes later, we banked to the right, changing course again. after a bit, the pilot announced that we’d been re-routed to st. louis, and that all united planes were being ordered to land. that was all the information he had. we had upgraded to first class, and everyone was getting nervous. i remember the flight attendant adding to our concern by explaining, nervously, that she had never experienced anything like this.
as we landed in st. louis, people turned on their cell phones and tried to find news. all we heard at that point was that “apparently there had been some kind of bomb in the world trade center”. the airport was complete pandamonium. we stopped at a bar/cafe in the concourse that had a TV on, and watched the footage of the second plane flying into the WTC. the airport announcer broadcasted that the entire airport would be shut down and evacuated in 10 minutes. mike and jeannie ran for our bags, while i ran to a bank of phones to try to find a hotel. my first 10 tries were all full. finally, i got us two rooms at the Harrah’s riverboat casino hotel.
we spent 5 days in that casino hotel: a few hours watching CNN in our beds, while one of us waited on hold with united airlines to inquire again about resuming flights; an hour or two in the sports bar, getting a bite to eat while watching cnn on a screen that covered an entire wall. all of this while the sound of slot machines ching-chinged in the air. it was as surreal of a 5 days as i have ever had.
we finally decided to drive home, and went to the airport to get a car; but when we got there, united said they could get us on another airline, and in a handful of hours, we were home.
it’s weird that in some ways, this has become a fond memory for me — especially since mike’s death.