Thursday, September 23, 2004
On September 11, 2001, I woke up in a corporate apartment in Sunnyvale, California. I put on some clothes and stumbled to the strip mall next door looking for a cup of coffee. There, a truck driver making deliveries to Senor Jalapeno was sitting in the cab of his truck, doors open, radio blaring news. The news, of course, was this: Two commercial airliners had hit the World Trade Center, levelling it. Another had hit the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania.
I had arrived in California on American Airlines via LAX late the previous night. Demonstrating how one's life is shaped by the most arbitrary coincidences, jury duty almost got me killed: I was briefly booked on Flight 77, the flight that hit the Pentagon. I was originally to fly out Sunday evening, but was called for jury duty on Monday, so I rebooked for Flight 77 on Tuesday morning. I called the recorded juror line on Monday morning and learned that I was not needed for jury duty after all, so I rebooked again for Monday evening. Had I been needed for jury duty after all, it would have been one of the last things I ever did.
Tuesday morning, the phones were totally jammed up. My wife was in a panic; though she knew I was flying out Monday night, she couldn't shake the fear that somehow, without me having a chance to inform her, I had been delayed into Tuesday morning and had been on Flight 77 after all. Finally we reached one another, and all was well, other than the fact that we had to spend that painful week of 9/11 apart.
I spent the week working, and watching the status of air travel to see if I would go home on Friday night's redeye as planned. It turned out that I did, though of course the airport was a total zoo, filled as it was with a week's worth of stranded passengers. My flight was also packed to the gills, and predictably everyone was feeling pretty edgy. It didn't help matters that one of the last passengers to board, who sat right across the aisle from me, was a man who bore a more-than-passing resemblance to Saddam Hussein, and who was carrying a large something draped with a threadbare blanket. In retrospect, I hate to imagine what hell that guy must have had getting through security.
It turned out that what was under the blanket was a caged bird.
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