Early in the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my sister and I were in an Arlington, Texas, motel bouncing on our suitcases, trying to close them so we could meet our Exit Texas schedule. My brother-in-law phoned, directing us to the television.
As the screen brightened, the second plane hit the tower. We sat transfixed with millions of others. Our own reality asserted itself when the local news announcements interrupted, and we realized DFW was closed, as was our car rental return and the trains. We finally connected with old faithful, Greyhound bus, for Sacramento. We thought to drop our car near the bus depot in downtown Fort Worth, only to find the heart of the city was locked down with marshals on every corner (bomb threats). We chose to wait at the depot for a posted 7 p.m. bus, and were on hand for the Extra edition of the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
As we traveled across the country, I bought papers at each city stop. My sister bought the last little radio available in the depot at Abilene. Another passenger in the back of the bus had one also, so combined, we had news coverage until the bus driver became too upset to hear more.
Buses travel by highway and back streets. It is hard to remember now that before 9/11, American flags were not on prominent display as they are now. But that day, before the speeches of the president, the politicians and the generals, the flags were out everywhere, but especially from the little houses on the back streets and on the farms we passed.
I remember thinking “Yes, it would be the poor (or do we say ‘those with fewer prospects’) who would carry the battle.” It has always been, but at least this time they are a volunteer army. Even if by volunteering, they are helping support extended families because there are no jobs. The other visual surprise was the sky, empty of planes.
We were all struck by the brilliance of the stars over the desert contrasted by the stillness, and no traveling lights of planes.
There is plenty of time on a bus to think. I am old enough to remember Dec. 7, 1941, and wished we had a President Roosevelt again. (After his famous broadcast, I went about saying “Infamy,” a new word, and fitting then and now.) I read the Star Telegram’s editorial again and prayed.
We had our first real result of the grounded planes in New Mexico when more passengers “downgraded” to bus travel. One man, returning home from an East Coast conference, heard by cell phone that some of his colleagues seen only the day before, went down in one of the planes. As we crossed Arizona into Southern California, we felt the impact of no travel by air. Greyhound mobilized all its fleet and extra drivers. I believe there were eight buses from Los Angeles to Sacramento, rather than one. I remember the tact, patience and kindness shown by crew and passengers all through the trip. I think we all felt very fragile at that point, and very, very blessed to arrive home to our families.
Carol Shour lives in Napa.