Travel Journals: September 4-11, 2001
Journals have preserved every important part of my life, as well as many unimportant ones. They range from thoughtful, to joyous, anxious, sad and incredulous. My travel journals document our trips across the country. In its pages I tuck maps, postcards, pressed lilacs and bright maple leaves. While traveling I write in both my personal journal and my travel journal.
This Food for Thought are excerpts taken directly from my travel journal from September 4-11, 2001. After spending our summer on our Oregon property, “Bliss Hill,” we were returning to our home in Tampa. It was a cross-country adventure we relished year after year.
September 4, 2001 was our last night on Bliss Hill. I wrote:
“How sad I am to be leaving. We begin our trip to Tampa early tomorrow morning with many stops along the way. Already fall is in the air, you can smell the crisp edge in the wind. The birds are calling to one another and the chipmunks are barking, scurrying around and fighting over the sunflower seeds Tim just threw to them. I watch the sun and shadows, listen to all the sounds at my favorite time of day, five-thirty in the evening. I want to absorb every nook and cranny, every color, every view, every shape. It is hard to say goodbye to a place that has become a part of me, wrapped up in my head and heart. On to the next adventure.”
Our Ford 150 van was our little cabin on wheels. Tim had installed wood paneling on the walls and ceiling. Our overhead battery-operated lamp lit up our home, allowing us to read in bed. Our bed was a mattress on the floor of the van, placed on top of one of my thick quilts. Nested in lavender scented sheets, with fluffy pillows, a soft flannel blanket, and a thick antique quilt it provided us with many cozy nights of sound sleep.
My kitchen was my pride and joy, located behind our bed at the double-rear van doors. It held tubs of dishes, silverware, utensils, napkins, pots and pans. Tim had built shelves and a platform for our stove, a double propane burner. My refrigerator was our cooler under the stove. Everything was well organized, from a fork, spatula to a fry pan or toothpick. I could cook a meal or throw together a quick sandwich or snack. I loved the challenge of doing so as we careened across the country.
To add to our coziness, I had made curtains for all the windows, which we closed at night. Snuggled in our quilt-covered bed, with a light above making shadows on the wood paneling and our curtains tightly closed we were snug as two bugs in a rug. This was our home on the road, our little cabin on wheels.
September 9, 2001:
“We’re really on the road now. Just spent two days with Bob and Hillary in Fairfax (California) and two days in Sacramento with Robin and the kids. We left Sacramento Sunday morning and are on 70 to Rocky Mountain National Park to camp there for two nights."
"Arrived late at Rocky Mountain around six to herds of Elk grazing at the edge of the campground. We had a delicious grilled steak accompanied with potatoes and onions for dinner.
We enjoyed the views and campfire until around 10:30. The Pleiades Meteor Showers were still displaying astonishing star shows before we climbed into bed. The Milky Way lit up the night. Tim saw a very bright falling star out our window right before I closed the curtains. We drifted into sleep, stars exploding behind our eyes and in our dreams. It was cold but we were warm and cozy in our little nest.”
September 11, 2001
“We awakened to a beautiful day, had a great breakfast of scrambled eggs, coffee, bacon and grilled bread created by Chef Timothy. Packed up and left the campground at 9:25 and stopped occasionally to take photos. Then we stopped at the Rocky Mountain Museum Gift Shop so I could buy postcards. I was sad to leave and wanted to preserve every moment of our short two-day camping stay. Our next campground would be on the other side of Nebraska, outside Omaha. We had miles to drive.” (Note: It was around ten Mountain time, noon on the east coast.)
The following narrative is culled from journal entries of September 11, 2001:
“I have to get postcards.” I said to Tim, wanting to preserve this experience, this park, this campground forever.
“Yeah, okay.” he said, taking out his drawing book and beginning to draw. The slam of the van door announced my departure.
I entered the Rocky Mountain National Park Museum Store in search of postcards. I chose a few cards and browsed the jewelry department, searching for gifts for girlfriends. I looked around and realized the entire shop was dead silent. Every person in the store stood in front of the cash register, staring at the TV screen overhead.
I waited for my purchases to be rung up. I was ignored by the cashier. Her eyes were glued to the TV overhead, along with every other person in the store.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
The woman at the cash register looked at me as though I had just arrived from Mars.
“We’ve been attacked,” she said. “By terrorists. Two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City. The north tower just fell, collapsed. We’ve been attacked.”
I couldn’t believe her words until I finally looked up at the TV screen everyone else was staring at, which was right over my head. I caught the image of the World Trade North Tower collapsing. This was real. We’d been attacked. I could not believe what I was seeing.
I paid for my postcards. The receipt, which I still have, is dated 9.1.01. I left the gift shop, stunned, silence enveloping my departure. I wondered, how would I tell Tim this news? How could he believe me? I couldn’t believe this myself.
As I walked up to our little cabin on wheels I saw him happily drawing away, his head bent over his drawing book, the steering wheel framing his hands. I tapped on the window, he turned and smiled at me.
“Hey, babe, You ready?” he said. I gave him a long stare. He put down his drawing book and said, “What? What’s up?”
I took a deep breath and said, “I’m going to tell you something that will change our lives forever.”
* * *
From my journal: "It was the day the planes fell out of the sky."
We drove in stunned silence, the only sound was NPR news which we were constantly tuned to on our van radio.
We always loved the rare times when the road was empty. We would laugh and say, "Look, no one in front of us, no one behind us." This day was eerie with the silence, the empty road. No one in front, no one behind. There weren't even semi-trailers or moving vans on the highway. The skies were silent with the absence of planes.
We stopped at the first service center we saw so Tim could see for himself what I had seen. The first image on the TV screen was one of a man, suit jacket and tie flying over his head, like a black crow, crashing through the clear blue sky to his death, 100 floors below. Now, Tim also saw the horror.
All day, everywhere we stopped it was the same. All eyes staring at TVs, planes crashing, the Towers falling, the screams, people running, crying, bloody and stunned, the fires, the clouds of dust and papers fluttering in the blast winds.
Outside of Omaha the road was vacant until two large black limousines flew by. We were driving about 80 mph. These long, shiny, black vehicles with completely black windows quickly became a dot in the distance. We looked at one another in shock. "Damn, they had to be going at least ninety," I said. "Closer to a hundred." Tim replied.
A few miles further two State Troopers were pulled to the side of the road behind the two black limos. "Good," I said. "They'll ticket those guys. That’ll stop them from speeding."
We were wrong. Within minutes the State Troopers passed us again, escorting the black limos. I tried to identify the limo license plates but I had never seen these red, white, and blue official looking plates before.
We looked at one another in shock. "Holy shit," Tim said. We pulled over at the next rest stop and removed the upside down flag and the 'Not another son of a Bush in the White House' bumper sticker from the back windows of our van.
Our world, our lives had changed forever. To what extent we had no idea on that bright sunny day. The world, as we knew it, had crashed around our heads, just as the World Trade Center Towers had crashed into the streets of New York City.
In the past, the first question that identifies my generation as Boomers is, "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" We all knew that unforgettable moment, embedded in our memory forever. Now, there is a second question identifying millennials, "Where were you when the Towers fell?" Generations later we remember both these tragedies as though it were yesterday.
Terrorism, be it planes crashing into the Twin Towers or fellow Americans attacking our Capitol, is never the right answer. Kindness, reaching out to one another, listening to and trying to understand one another, will always be the best solution to living on this planet together.
Can we at least try?