Two months after the tragedy of 9/11 instead of flying to Arizona to visit my cousins for Thanksgiving I took an extended three week vacation so I could drive across country. As a journalist I took many mental notes about that day and that trip figuring at some point I would write about it.
But I never did, that is until now.
Working overnights at the time, the morning of September 11, 2001 I went to bed about my usual time, not knowing that shortly after I did the first plane would crash into one of the towers.
When I got up about noon and went into the kitchen the TV was on and not paying particular attention went to the stove to make a cup of coffee. As I was half awake and fumbling to open a jar of Maxwell House my Dad came into the kitchen and said “they’re gone”.
I turned around and said “whose gone ?”. He replied “the World Trade Center”. It was then I got my wits about me and realized what was on the TV.
Over the next several hours and into the night I watched as many Americans did the live coverage and the replays of what I had missed while I was sleeping.
The next day Dad and I sat out in the back yard. It was eerily quiet for there were no planes in the air. Not only do we have an airport here in Danbury but Candlewood Lake, a stone’s throw as the crow flies, is used as a turning point for air traffic in New York City. But the blue sky was void of aircraft.
We talked about what had happened, what life will be now in the US and began to read in our daily newspaper about those in our area who had been lost on that day. That was our life for several days, talking, watching and reading about those who had been taken away. It was then that I decided to drive across the US instead of flying, a trip which more than once brought a tear to my eye.
From the time I got on I-84 heading west, overpass after overpass had American flags and signs reading “Never Forget” and “God Bless America”.
Signs at restaurants, gas stations and motels read “God Bless New York City”, this in towns and cities far from the Big Apple.
My third day on the road early that morning I stopped at a truck stop on I-40 to get some gas and some breakfast. Inside were two gals working there, two Okie smokies and as I found out two Native Americans. Planning on a quick in and out turned into an hour’s stay as the seven of us talked about what happened in New York City. The more we talked and without any warning I became a bit overcome in this conversation with six people, hundreds of miles away from where I lived, feeling the same grief and despair as well as anger as I did as to what had been done to our Country by these cowards.
I shook all their hands and got hugs from the gals, pats on the back from the guys and they walked me out to my car. One of the troopers said, “you let them know back East we’ll never forget what was done.” I drove away wiping the tears from my eyes as I waved goodbye to my an hour ago strangers now fellow Americans as they waved me off on my continuing journey.
The same thing happened that night in Oklahoma City, the first two nights on the road in Tennessee and Missouri and the last in Albuquerque. And mile after mile both on I-40 and other routes I followed to Mesa, AZ signs and flags uniting us all as one Nation and Country which felt great pain but also had a common defiance to those who would do us harm.
While driving through northern Arizona I stopped at the White Mountain Apache Reservation to get a bite to eat. When folks saw the Connecticut car plates the conversations would start again as they had and would during the entire trip to and fro, with the same sympathy for what happened back East and the united bond we all felt.
It was amazing to see that we were not just from Connecticut or parts East nor Tennessee or Oklahoma, New Mexico or Arizona, Anglo or Native people, we were all Americans, brothers and sisters, strangers but then not.
If any good came from that fateful day it was and is, We are Americans all …. and we will never forget.