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Is this the way to home?

By Alex Gradwell-Spencer
Posted Sep 11, 2011 in World
After my Father in Law died in 2000, we decided that as neither my Husband nor I had taken a gap year or had a summer off since leaving School at 18 we would drive Coast to Coast across the USA.
We had started in LA back in July and had been up to Seattle and down to San Diego, we had seen Yosemite and Yellowstone, tasted Burgers and BBQ, seen the Pacific and the Rockies and had made it to Texas. Amarillo. Famous to us through the lines of the song "Is this the way to...."
We were mostly going cheaply across, so we'd pulled into the Travelodge, it had a bar, it did food, it'd do nicely. We ate burgers that night, watched the big Monday night game and chatted with the bar staff and other customers, mostly train engineers as this was the hotel they used for the big shunting yard nearby.
We retired to bed after another enjoyable night in this amazing Country. Good but we love America and it's people, we'd been welcomed everywhere we'd been. What an amazing place.
The next morning, we were still sleeping when the chamber maid knocked on the door, to "yes please get up now." Urgh my Husband said OK, OK, we'll be out soon. I remember saying WHAT time is it? Next thing I remember is being roughly shook by my Husband and him saying OH MY GOD! The World trade centre collapsed! I said WHAT? Grabbed my glasses and shuffled upright to see the TV. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. Then they replayed what we had missed. Those 2 aircraft. And then the tears came. I cried. I cried more than I can ever remember. We hurriedly got dressed and dashed to the lobby, we didn't want to be alone. Two people on a vast Continent, our family half the world away. There the staff and train engineers were all glued to the TV. These huge Casey Jones in their Osh Kosh dungarees were in tears. Then the second tower collapsed. JESUS CHRIST! I remember thinking that 10's of thousands must have perished. The aircraft into the Pentagon. Flight 93. It honestly felt that the world was coming to an end.
We needed to call home and let them know we were all safe and nowhere near these events. We hadn't checked in for ages and no one knew where we were. More pressingly, I didn't know where my Parents were. They had joined a cruise in Miami and it was a transatlantic. Via New York. I knew they were due in the area at that time and I didn't know where they were.
We couldn't get a phone line out, all lines were out. So we thought we'd try and send an email, no go, we couldn't get online, so we thought we'd send a telegram. No go either. We were panicking. I remember going to a supermarket that had a Western Union and seeing the people there, shell shocked would be the phrase I would use to describe the look on their faces. I think this was the day after 9/11. The only thing we did do on 9/11 was go to the local blood bank, but we couldn't donate as we were from the UK.
We eventually got our heads together and thought let's try the library and see if we can get online there. We could. For free. We sent a mass email out to all our friends and family, we're OK. We're safe. We'll be back in touch soon. As we sent it an email arrived from my Parents, it's OK, we were in New York last Friday, we're safe. I thanked God that we hadn't done anything rash, like use the free flight vouchers we had to go and see them there.
We didn't know where to turn next, so we decided to hang on in Amarillo until everything calmed down a bit. We stayed two more nights. We couldn't pay for anything. Our money was no good. We were two young people, stuck for now and the good, good people of Amarillo were going to take care of us.
We settled on coming home early. We were just so scared and wanted to be with our families. We called my Sister in Law and she said, please come home, so we decided we would. Only problem was our flight was booked out of New York in Late October on American Airlines. They weren't answering calls and quite frankly we didn't want to go there either. Back to the library. We decided to research ships and came across the QE2. Leaving New York on the 16th. We found a local agent and she started the booking process whilst we hit the road.
We had always been due to check in with the car rental company on the 13th anyway as the rental was for such an extended period. We located the nearest one that was en route. Oklahoma City. The airport. Pedal to the metal and off we went. We arrived there as the first flights were being allowed to come in and out. An American Airlines one had just landed and it had 8 people on it I remember. We had hired through budget and they very nearly scuppered our plans then and there. We couldn't keep the car, even though we'd paid for it in advance. Four hours of wrangling and our refusing to give the vehicle back and we were back on the road.
We made it as far as Springfield, Missouri that night. Stayed in an Econolodge, called our cruise agent and told her where we aiming for the next night. We decided on somewhere in West Virginia so we could hit the road for New York or Boston, which is where she thought our ship might go. The next day we hit I40 along with everyone else. We almost saw a guy crash and we pulled over with him. He was driving to the East from the West as there were no flights and he was just exhausted. We saw plates from all over the USA. Never has there been so many cars from so many places. We got to our motel. All our documents were there. Go to Boston. Words of thoughts and feelings were given and received amongst strangers. Take care. Drive safe. Good Luck friend. We arrived in Boston at Midnight. The next day we saw a guy repainting his garage door with the Stars and Stripes. Everywhere we'd seen flags. The USA was down, but not out.
The next morning we packed our stuff into 13 bags and headed to the port. The ships had been told to hold off as there had been a bomb threat. We sat 8 hours outside the port buildings, just across the water from Logan airport. Every time an aircraft took off we collectively ducked. Every single person. Every single time. We finally left at midnight. We slipped quietly away from the USA. I felt terrible about leaving the USA in her time of need and vowed that I'd come back and see her again soon.
In 2004 we made it to New York and visited Ground Zero. It had a feeling of sadness and melancholy that I have never felt anywhere else. We both felt emotionally over wrought there and retired to the nearby Hilton to sit and just get our heads together. I have never felt like I did that day any other time. It was still a haunted place, all those souls still there. Talking to me. I felt them. I felt those people who had been so brutally murdered.
Since then we've been back to the area twice more and deliberately chose to stay at Battery Park City. It's our way of saying New York we still love you. Ground Zero has changed. The whole area has. It's coming alive again, it's showing the terrorists that they haven't won. New York is rising.

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