Ten years ago we were horrified by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We watched the scenes over and over. It was surreal. We were scared and concerned but felt helpless as we could do nothing about it from our TV screens. Most of us will never forget where we were and what we were doing that day. I’ll centainly never forget.
Of all places, I happened to be in Paris on an overseas MBA project with a classmate. We were in a taxi driving from our hotel to Orly Airport, where we were to fly to Nice. The attacks had already occurred yet Josh* and I had no idea, nor could we have ever imagined the extent of what had taken place.
* I just spoke with Josh today and coincidentally he wrote about our experience at www.unboxedthoughts.com/2011/09/09/ten-years-later/ (My account here was originally written 4 years ago but I've updated it for the 10th Anniversary remembrance of the attacks.)
Our taxi driver was Chinese and of course spoke French, but not English. The extent of our combined French vocabulary was oui, merci, bonjour and Hors D'oeuvres.
Halfway into the ride the driver turned up the radio volume very loud. Our first clue that something was wrong was repeatedly hearing the word “American” on the news. Our driver tried to communicate what he was hearing and our interpretation of his animated hand motions was that an airplane had crashed. We had absolutely no idea what really had just taken place in New York.
At Orly Airport, things went as planned. We checked in and were on the flight to Nice. The only thing we found slightly disturbing was the police patrolling the airport with large, machine gun like weapons. But we didn’t think too much of it at the time as we were both looking forward to visiting the South of France for the first time. The flight moved forward without a hitch.
We landed in Nice and at the baggage claim area our names were announced on the loudspeaker. Uh oh. We then retrieved a note that said “Meetings cancelled due to the U.S. events.” Well at that point it first really hit us that something really major had happened. But we still had absolutely no clue what it was.
So we grabbed our bags, caught a taxi and asked about “the U.S. events.” We found out a plane hit the World Trade Center. But the news was still sparse. We assumed it was a major accident.
The 15 minute drive to the hotel felt like hours as we anxiously awaited turning on CNN. We arrived at the hotel and there was a long line of people. After 45 minutes of waiting and failed attempts to call home, we reached the front desk and found out our reservations had been cancelled and no rooms were available.
So the hotel found us another hotel across town. We arrived around 9 p.m. Finally we checked into our rooms and sat glued to the television as the scenes were repeated over and over and over again. It had been 6 hours since the attacks took place. After repeated attempts to call home we finally got through. Our families were fine – just paralyzed with shock and disbelief as were we.
The next day we learned flights back to the U.S. were grounded. We had no idea how long we would be “stuck” in the South of France. While still in shock, we decided to make the most of the situation ... French Riviera, no work to do, no way home, beautiful weather.
We rented bicycles and took a leisurely 15 mile ride to Monaco. We explored the area and called back home again. My wife was concerned about the fact that I would be flying home in a plane (at some undeterminable point in time) while at the same time I think she was a bit irked by the fact that now I was on vacation in the French Riviera without HER!
We purchased the local Monaco newspaper that day with the bold headline L’APOCALYPSE and a picture of the fallen World Trade Center buildings.
We rode back and stopped by the U.S. Embassy in Nice. You couldn’t miss it because there were flowers laid at the door. We were apprehensive about standing there too long the day after 9/11. That said, we were encouraged by the support of the local people.
Eventually we made it back home, safe and sound., after flying to stay with friends in Barcelona and waiting out a week for the first available flights back to the U.S. Flying back home was another vividly memorable experience. Landing into New York JFK Airport a week after the attacks. You could feel and see the apprehension...in lines, waiting area, on the aircraft. The tension was thick. People were eyeing others. For many it was a nervewracking experience.
That day changed all of us. And we will never forget.