When the first plane hit the World Trade Center I was on an American Airlines jet about 30 minutes from Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I had boarded the plane earlier that morning in Norfolk. Shortly after the plane hit the World Trade Center the pilot announced that we should “sit down, buckle up.” You could tell something was wrong but the pilot did not give any details. Upon landing the airport was a madhouse and I quickly saw the burning World Trade Center on the TV mounted in the waiting area. Not knowing what to do, but certain my flight connection to Oklahoma City was cancelled, I hustled to the car rental bus and used my Hertz upgrade status to get a rental car. I had a vivid image of just wanting to see the corn fields of Illinois. I then realized I was heading the wrong way on the interstate and was heading downtown rather than to the countryside. I managed to turn around and kept driving until I saw cornfields. I didn’t know how upset I was until I realized I had driven right into the first cornfield I saw.
I got out of the car and just sat for a long time. I heard on the car radio that some gas stations were gouging customers by raising the price of gas. Nonetheless I figured I should fill up and found a gas station. I saw the price was just what it should be. I thanked the man behind the counter for not raising prices. He started crying and said he would be happy to give the gas away because he had just received a call from his son. He told me, “My son was on the 70th floor of the World Trade Center and he is fine.”
Later I learned that a law firm partner of mine was on another plane hijacked by the terrorists that crashed into the Pentagon. He, along with everyone else on board, died in the impact. I thought about being in the air when the terrorists struck and the unfortunate people whose planes were picked. The next day I drove the back roads to get home to Virginia and took my time all the while just appreciating the blessings that we have even when tragedy is all around.
Steve Halliday is the President and CEO of BN Media
Image courtesy Beverly & Pack