September has always been one of my favourite months, as leaves begin to fall and slowly transform into bright reds and yellows. The need for a jacket and the anticipation of a new season brings finality to summer, but unfortunately for me, and many others, this much-loved time of year was changed to horrific terror a mere twelve years ago.
Each one of us will remember where we were on that terrifying morning in 2001, but for some of us the loss was closer to home. I vividly remember September the tenth, as I drove to the airport for a flight to Phoenix to meet some friends. I have always enjoyed Phoenix, especially in the fall, as the weather is warm and the air is dry. I arrived without incident and checked into the beautiful Legacy Resort.
Jet lagged and tired I spent a few hours photographing the countryside and decided to turn in early. I woke up around 5:30 (jet lag will do that to you), turned the TV on and saw the now immortalized image of the World Trade Centre with smoke rising from it. I remember Wolf Blitzer, CNN's anchor speculating that a small plane had hit the tower. Suddenly, directly before my eyes I watched as a second plane, a jetliner, crashed into the second tower.
Events unfolded and the word terror was used for the first time. I was stunned, and slowly began to realize the impact of the event. One of the people I was to meet, Chuck Mather, worked in the Trade Centre along with another friend, Bernard Mascharenas, from Toronto. I tried to telephone, but nothing in New York was working. I showered and dressed and made my way to the lobby for some breakfast and further news.
The Hotel was nearly empty and when I realized that all air traffic had been halted and planes in the air rerouted back to their points of origin, I knew it would be a much different trip than what I had anticipated. I met two people from South Africa and Chile and, being the only non-Americans there, we chatted about the only topic in anyone's mind that day. Not since the first invasion of Iraq had CNN covered a live news event of this magnitude and the sensationalism and repetitiveness was depressing.
We were told no one else would arrive that day and, as we, along with Mike Tyson who was also staying there, would be the only guests, were kindly upgraded to multi room suites. Tired of 'nothing new to report', my new-found friends and I played a round of golf, but the 50 degree temperatures soon put an end to that.
The day unfolded and the shock of the catastrophic events was in the foreground of every thought, conversation and action. I was able to get through to New York only to learn that my friend Bernard had been on the 97th floor of the Trade Centre at the wrong time. I was devastated and the surrealness of the situation had not registered. I then found out that Chuck stopped in his office to pick up his notes before heading to LaGuardia. He never made it out.
There was nowhere to turn without hearing the repetition of the morning's events. I wanted to get back to Toronto and remember it being a strange feeling, looking up at the skies in one of the South-west's busiest cities and not seeing so much as one airplane. The next morning I received a call from the car rental company asking if I would be willing to return the rental car and they would pay me a bonus. People were trying to get back to wherever they came from and the rental companies were out of cars. I declined, for I had no idea of how long I might be stranded in Arizona and the thought of driving north to Calgary had not been ruled out.
My international friends and I went for dinner to one of Phoenix's best known theme restaurants, Rawhide, for a change of scenery and some down home good old fashioned country music. Cowboy Bob, our host took good care of us and when he learned we were from out of country insisted on taking care of the tab. Southern hospitality was at its finest and I felt a unity with everyone I came into contact with.
The next day, in an attempt to get away from the repetitious news, I decided to take the rental car for a spin, north to the Grand Canyon. The beauty of the mountains and desert landscape made me appreciate my surroundings. The splendour of the vastness of the canyon was mind blowing. I spent the night in Sedona, thoroughly enjoying the sights, but the constant cloud of what had happened hung over everyone's head.
I stayed in Phoenix for six days before I was able to leave and found a unique kinship when I stepped on an Air Canada flight. All I had witnessed about the tragic events of September 11 had been through American media, as detailed and concise as it was I did not feel I was getting a complete perspective. It was good to see Peter Mansbridge’s face on the aircraft monitor.
The airlines of course were hit hard, as they were the source of all the destruction. Ironically the knives on my flight had been replaced by plastic ones; however, the forks were still made of steel. The movie, one of the Mission Impossible installments had been replaced by Moulin Rouge, which somehow did not fit the mood.
Here we are, twelve years later and boy has our world changed. Air travel is no longer fun; in fact travel in general is no longer what it used to be. We walk around suspicious of packages we see or people dressed differently. We are being watched by cameras at every intersection and inside every building and security has moved to the forefront of everyone's mind.
The world is a different place and living with potential threats, or terrors we call them, is commonplace for all of us; all except Bernard and Chuck, and the thousands of others, who unwillingly had their lives taken abruptly. For me and for many others, September will never be the same.