In the second week of September 2001 I had scheduled a business trip to southern California.
My colleague based there called me at the end of the prior week, encouraging me to fly out a day earlier than planned to grab some extra time to strategize.
Because of his call, instead of taking off from JFK Airport the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, I switched my plane ticket to the same flight on Monday, Sept. 10. (Not to be overly dramatic, mine was not one of the flights that tragically had a date with an unspeakable destiny.)
Going abed in my L.A. hotel room Monday night, I had set the TV timer to wake me up by 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT). Emerging fitfully from the fog of sleep, I at first thought I was dreaming. Then I hoped to dear God I was dreaming. Then I was like everybody else. Horrified. Incredulous. Scared s—less.
I was supposed to head to Orange County that morning, about an hour south of L.A. I stayed in that hotel room all day, frozen by news reports that subsequent terrorist attacks might target major airports, like LAX, which I had to drive past on the 405 freeway. No, thank you.
On the phone to my New York colleagues, I learned of the City’s transit system coming to a standstill, as in a science fiction movie, and people walking home from work over the Brooklyn Bridge to escape a panic-stricken Manhattan as quickly as possible.
I headed home to New York that Saturday, Sept. 15, lucky to get a coveted seat within two days of air travel resuming. After a thankfully lengthy, heightened security check that pushed up against my boarding time, hurtling toward the gate at LAX Airport, I quickly grabbed a New York Times from the newsstand, throwing down a buck.
Buckled in on the plane, as I scanned the front page, the headlines had a strange Twilight Zone feel. Then I looked at the dateline, which read, “September 11, 2001.” Of course. The airports had been closed, with no deliveries since then.
After a nerve-wracking five-hour flight, every minute rife with apprehension and tension, wondering what if … the wheels touched down safely. As I exited the plane flush with relief and gratitude, I said to the Captain, “God Bless You.”
“God Bless You,” he replied.
And may God Bless America. Please.