Prologue: as an introduction to this essay, I will begin by giving you a small insight into my world and who I am, as well as events leading up to that fateful week in our nation’s history. I am a senior-level information technology professional with a B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science and a career in this field that spans three decades, from mainframes to client-server and the internet. My hobbies include camping, backpacking and a study of history, which was my undergraduate minor. I am 54 years old, divorced and the father of two sons, aged 28 and 32. I am currently employed full-time in the Midwest and, in my spare time, working on two books – one on historical cycles and another on the future of computers.


In August of 2001, I had walked away from a job in Louisiana that had become increasingly frustrating due to political infighting within the IT department. I still remember the immense feeling of relief as I handed my letter of resignation to the CIO. I looked forward to a much-needed vacation and rest until after Labor Day when I planned to start looking for my next challenge. Until then, I planned on enjoying the New Orleans night life and maybe getting in some fishing on Louisiana’s great system of lakes and rivers.


The closing weeks of that August and the first week of September were a peaceful resting period and a chance to recharge my batteries. It was great. The last thing on my mind was terrorism or the Middle East. Most of you probably felt the same.


I had already farmed my resume out to the internet and several recruiting agencies and had already started getting interest. One interested recruiter tried to convince me to fly out to Houston and interview with a company called Enron. I thought it over and decided to pass because I couldn’t bear the thought of living in Houston and fighting the miserable traffic there (note: I think Houston is a great city but it is just too crowded and the highway system stinks). My decision proved to be a stroke of luck because two months later in October of 2001 Enron started self-destructing. You know the rest.


On Tuesday, September 4, 2001 I received a call from one of the national recruiting firms specializing in IT professionals. A company (who shall remain nameless) in Phoenix Arizona. The company was currently looking for someone with my credentials and wanted to interview me. The next day I had a telephone interview with some of the company’s technical people to establish my knowledge. I was told they would call back.


On Thursday, September 6, 2001 I received a call from senior managers at the company and we talked for over an hour. They said they wanted to talk to me in person and asked if I could fly out for an interview. I said yes.


Little did I know that only one week later I would be living in an entirely different world. One I haven’t returned from yet.


Final note: my memory is not that good but fortunately I always carry a voice recorder with me on job interviews. I used it that week for more than interviews. I still have the tapes. It is interesting to listen to my voice go from the confidence of Monday to the pain of Tuesday to the frustration of Wednesday to the exhaustion of Thursday to finally end up on Friday as only a whisper. I haven't listened to the tapes in over two years. It was  spooky. The raw emotion is too easily heard.


Friday, September 7, 2001 – 9:30am (CDT):


The phone rings, interrupting the latest news on Fox News Channel . It was a slow month for news and topics included: (1) President Bush approving limited stem-cell research, (2) Gary Condit denying any involvement in the recent Chandra Levy disappearance, (3) the Justice Department announcing it was dropping its case against Microsoft,  (4) Janet Reno deciding to run for Florida governor and (5) more protests and promises of legal action from Democrats who thought Bush “stole” the election. The old world we lived in was pretty boring wasn’t it?


Answering the phone, I find the recruiter excited and prepared to give me flight, rental car and hotel information for the upcoming interview. He asks me if I can fly out next Monday. I think it over for a few seconds and agree. He promises to e-mail me all the pertinent information within the next few minutes.


I hung up the phone, wondering what the weather is like in Phoenix this time of year.


Friday, September 7, 2001 – 1:14pm (CDT):


E-mail from the recruiter arrives with all  information provided, including meeting itineraries. It looks like Monday will be a full day, lasting until after dark since senior IT personnel will be flying down from the company’s headquarters in Minnesota to talk to me, in addition to the local personnel.


I actually begin to look forward to the upcoming trip as an adventure and a chance to meet new people and discuss technical subjects.


Friday, September 7, 2001 – 3:21pm (CDT):


Dropped off suit at dry cleaners and got a haircut. Rule #1: always look your best when applying for a new job. Life is still boring and quiet.


Friday, September 7, 2001 – 7:30pm (CDT):


Afternoon five-mile walk proved refreshing and gave me time to think about possibly living in Phoenix. I think about the things in Louisiana I will miss if I move out there. Cicadas and frogs starting their nightly symphony from the canals and swamps cheer me up. Life is good and things are starting to look up.


Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 5:30am (CDT):


Rise and shine. With a pot of coffee at my side I sit down at the computer and start searching the internet for any and all information about the company in Phoenix. Rule #2: don’t depend on the company you are interviewing with to provide you with all the information about them. Do your research before you talk to them in person.


Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 1:44pm (CDT):


Time to take a break and get lunch. After nearly six hours I know everything about the company in Phoenix, including bios of the chief officers, stock history, personnel statistics, liquidity, earnings statements, etc. So far it looks good.


While eating lunch, I watch the news on TV. The exciting story of the day is the revelation by Anne Heche, recently separated from her lesbian partner Ellen DeGeneres, about how she was mentally ill for the first 31 years of her life. I decide to switch channels to the cartoon network where the characters make sense.


Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 3:02pm (CDT):


I decide to take the afternoon off and go walk along the lakefront. The smell of crawfish and shrimp coming in off the water of Lake Ponchartrain is magnificent. I decide a dinner at one of the finer restaurants in town is called for.


Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 8:00pm (CDT):


The evening is peaceful and the crawfish are a delight, as usual. My doctor would hate me for doing that to my cholesterol level but hey, who wants to live forever?


Sunday, September 9, 2001 – 7:30am (CDT):


Sleeping in can be fun as long as you don’t make a habit of it.


Sunday, September 9, 2001 – 9:00am (CDT):


Time for the Sunday morning talking heads shows, like Meet The Press. The stories diagnosed this week are the American air attacks in Iraq in response to Iraqi violations of the no-fly zone. Other stories include responses to the recent expulsion of UN staff from Iraq on charges of spying and the defection of another of Saddam Hussein’s sons.


Sunday, September 9, 2001 – 12:00pm (CDT):


The Saints are starting another dismal season today at Buffalo. Time to start packing.


Sunday, September 9, 2001 – 6:30pm (CDT):


Finished packing. I’ve also prepared all the paperwork, including copies of my resume, passport and assorted technical papers I’ve written. It all goes into my small tote journal which fits nicely into the small carry-on bag. I’m planning on returning Tuesday morning so I won’t need much, just a single change of clothes and toiletry items.


Author’s note: If this were a movie, the soundtrack would be playing some eerie, tense music right about now. Try to imagine that while you read on. Think of the scene in “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” when Indiana Jones starts to switch the bag of sand for the golden idol head in the South American temple.


Monday, September 10, 2001 – 3:30am (CDT):


Oh God, is this ever going to be a long day. Wake up, shower, shave, down seven cups of coffee, grab my carry-on bag and head out the door for the drive to New Orleans International Airport. Flight leaves at 7:40am.


Monday, September 10, 2001 – 6:30am (CDT):


Finally, I manage to maneuver my way through the ticketing agents and past the metal detectors into the concourse area. This was to be the last time I went past security without taking off my shoes and removing every single metallic item from my body. The security guards looked about half-asleep, as was most of America. Unbeknownst to us all, the wake-up call was fast approaching.


Monday, September 10, 2001 – 6:45am (CDT):


Arrrggghhhhh! The horror of it all! First, the horror of having to use a public toilet at the airport challenged my intestinal fortitude. Then to have an overly sensitive infra-red detector flush the toilet every time I leaned forward more than an inch. This bodes ill for the day.


Author’s note: what the hell does “bode” mean and can something “bode good”?


Monday, September 10, 2001 – 8:07am (CDT):


After a brief delay on the tarmac we are airborne for a five-hour-plus flight direct to Phoenix. I settle in and start reading Stephen King’s “Dreamcatcher”.  About an hour into the book I doze off to sleep, safe in my little metal cocoon, zipping along at hundreds of miles per hour seven miles above the ground. I figured the rest might better prepare me for the impending day


Meanwhile, in Boston, Newark and Washington, nineteen men were making their final preparations too. Nineteen men whom I had never met, never done anything bad to and had no reason to hate. That last was about to change.


Monday, September 10, 2001 – 10:32am (MST):


Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix, AZ. I’ve always loved Phoenix. I’ve been here three times before in my travels. The beautiful pastel adobe colors on all the buildings are a treat for the eye. This is where the phrase “yeah, but it’s a dry heat” was invented. It is hot. Make no mistake about it but it is tolerable. The city sits nestled on a flat plain surrounded by mountainous crags on almost all sides but the mountains are so far away they seem smaller than they are and they don’t just rise slowly out of the ground. No, they leap out in almost vertical cliff faces. Awesome.


I gradually work my way off the plane and out onto the concourse. A short stroll down the walkways lands me in front of the Dollar rental car agency. The car is waiting. A quick swipe of the credit card and I’m on my way into Phoenix.


I pull out the cell phone and call the recruiter who gives me directions to their office. He wants to meet prior to my driving out to Scottsdale to the interview. I take in the sights of this beautiful city and proceed.


Monday, September 10, 2001 – 11:46am (MST):


I sit down in the recruiter’s office and shake hands all around. We discuss his client’s needs and just generally give each other the “once over”. After about thirty minutes we both seem to come to an agreement to forge ahead. Into the car again and headed to Scottsdale.


Monday, September 10, 2001 – 1:09pm (MST):


The company offices are a pleasant drive to the north of Scottsdale and they are located in a beautiful new building with reflective glass walls. It looks great so far.


Monday, September 10, 2001 – 1:15pm-7:30pm (MST):


The interviews are interminable. I’m greeted by a lady from human resources and placed in a nice office to wait. One person after another comes in, sometimes in pairs, and we discuss my credentials and experience. I find that I’m repeating myself over and over again, but that’s normal. Toward mid-afternoon I start to detect a degree of hostility between the Arizona staff and the Minnesota staff that has nothing to do with me. Hmmmmm. It’s time to start reading between the lines here.


By then end of the day I have determined there is some conflict going on as to who I would report to. I’m beginning to feel this was a wasted trip. I decide to sleep on it that night and decide tomorrow. So far, it doesn’t look good.


Monday, September 10, 2001 – 8:02pm (MST):


I have to say this about that company. They certainly didn’t scrimp on taking care of me. I was put up in one of Scottsdale’s finest resort hotels. I arrived there and had a nice scotch and soda (or three) and a fine steak dinner to make up for missing lunch. I went to sleep around 9:30pm MST, exhausted but content. Safe in the greatest country in the world, satisfied that things would always look better in the morning.


That night while I slept, on the East Coast nineteen men from other countries were about to embark on a plan that would kill over 3,000 of my “American Family”.


Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 5:52am-6:15am (MST):


The phone rings noisily at my bedside. Disoriented, I struggle to wake up and grab the handset wondering who could be calling me here at this early hour.


“Hello?”, I asked.


“Mr. Kelly, this is the front desk and we would like to know if there is anything we can do to assist you?”, the desk clerk asked.


“Uh, no. I’m fine. Is something wrong?”, I asked with a sense of rising dread.


“Sir, please turn on your TV. I don’t have time to explain. I have to call our other guests.”, the clerk said as he hung up.


I was really starting to get nervous at this point. What the hell was going on? Was the hotel on fire? Had Arizona been invaded by Red China? All kinds of wild thoughts went through my head as I searched for the remote control.






A building on fire. It wasn’t recognizable at first. I could see the black, blazing hole in the side about two-thirds of the way up. Firemen and police scrambling down the streets toward the building. Ordinary people running for their life away from the building. A quick pan of the building from a helicopter showed its twin next to it and I instantly recognized the World Trade Center, heart of America’s financial district. I instantly felt cold all over and started to shake. I was confused and totally baffled as to what might have happened when they showed footage of what had happened in the previous few minutes. The airplane, the building, the explosion, the panic – all summed up for me what had just taken place. As a rational person, my first thought was “why”.


The news announcers tell me the plane hit at 8:35am. For a split second I am confused as that is almost three hours from now. Then I remembered Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time all year round so I’m actually on Pacific Daylight Time and am three hours behind New York.


While trying to do that time zone math in my head suddenly I hear someone on the TV shout “Oh, my God!” and I see a second airplane diving in toward the towers.




Have the Russians secretly decided to pay us back for their losing the Cold War to us? Has the entire world gone mad? This is America, God damn it! People don’t do this to us and get away with it! Don’t they know we can nuke the entire planet to a cinder if we want? Who the hell would have the audacity to attack us?


Then it dawned on me that what I had seen was not a military aircraft but a commercial airliner. Total confusion set in at this point. I was in shock. Literally. My body felt cold and I was shaking, not out of fear but out of an overwhelming sense of rising anger. I could feel the blood rising in my neck. That’s always a bad sign. The last time I had felt like that was in 1974 when a drunk pulled a knife on me in a bar in north Georgia. In short, I was getting ready to rip someone’s head off. Unfortunately, there was no one to take it out on. I was helpless, sitting there in my underwear in a hotel 1500 miles from home.


That’s when the tears started.


Not tears of sympathy or remorse. No, that would come later. These were genuine “Made In America” tears of anger. Burning, righteous anger. The kind that sent men charging into battle countless times. The hot, stinging tears that comes from all the blood rushing to the head and adrenaline pumping out at gallons per minute.


Even now, sitting here recalling events from that day two and a half years ago and recalling my emotions at the time, I feel the tears welling up again. And now, as then, my only thought is still somebody’s going to have to pay for this.


Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 6:30am (MST):


I start pacing the floor looking at the images coming to me on the TV. I know I am separated from these people by 2000 miles but I feel I know them all. They are my family and someone is hurting them. I storm into the bathroom and throw up. The anger has my stomach all twisted in knots and I can hardly breathe. I pace back and forth for several minutes.


Suddenly, I stop. I realize I’m 1500 miles from home. I need to get back home. What about the interview? What should I do?


Before I can get even a single thought further into myself and my situation the TV announcer starts shouting again. The Pentagon has been hit also. It is 6:40am in Phoenix, yet everything outside is quiet as a cemetery. No one is stirring.


On TV they’re telling us the President is in Florida but the White House has been evacuated anyway.


A little later, they tell us that President Bush has left Florida and Air Force One is headed toward the Midwest.


People are seen jumping out of the windows on the World Trade Center to fall eighty floors to the concrete below. I stop pacing and wonder what is so bad in the building that jumping eighty floors onto concrete is a better alternative. They seem so peaceful floating down the side of the building. The THUMP as they hit the ground is barely muffled and I jump at the sound of each one. Each one I hear makes my heart sicker and sicker.


Suddenly, the unthinkable happens – the second tower starts to collapse in on itself, a cloud of dust rising in its place. Frightened, screaming civilians as well as police and firemen start running toward the cameras trying to stay ahead of the boiling cloud of dust rising behind them.


Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 7:45am (MST):


Sometime in the last hour, the announcers started talking about this being a terrorist attack. Terrorist? Impossible, I thought.


Then word came from people who were on the doomed airplanes talking to their relatives on cell phones and the picture suddenly leaped into sharp focus for me, the rest of America and President Bush, as evidenced by his sudden change in manner in speeches after the attacks.


Then in rapid succession, a portion of the Pentagon collapsed and the first tower collapsed right behind it. People were wandering the streets covered in dust, dazed and stumbling from corner to curb.


I imagine it must have felt like this in the first few minutes of that cool morning of December 7, 1941 when this country was viciously attacked by Japan. Like a fighter who takes a sneaky blow below the belt and who stumbles back to regroup and fight down the pain.


Finally, like that fighter, the country started to get its act together. During the next few hours all federal buildings in Washington were evacuated, the UN was evacuated, all inbound air traffic into the country was diverted to Canada and the FAA finally woke up and started grounding all airplanes currently in the air.


Then I heard astonishing news about a flight that crashed in Pennsylvania and the story started to come out that some of the passengers may have thwarted another airplane attack, possibly on the White House. Score: Terrorists 3 America 1. Let’s roll.


Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 10:04am (MST):


President Bush speaks for the first time from Barksdale AFB, LA. I think, hey, that’s Shreveport. I want to change places with him. His first statement is short and simple, “Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts." OK, I thought. Let’s get started. Right f**king NOW! Let’s find out where they came from and drop about forty nukes on their homes. Fortunately, I was not Secretary Of Defense and George W. Bush was and still is a patient man.


Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 11:30am (MST):


All I can do is pace the floor at this point. My mind is racing in a thousand different directions. I pause to consider what President Bush may be going through. Probably the same thing except millions of times worse.


Then the FAA announces that all air traffic will be grounded until noon tomorrow at the earliest. At that point it hit me. I’m stranded.


I place a call to the offices of the company I interviewed with and their offices were closed for the day and probably would be closed tomorrow as well. Frantically, I called the travel agency who booked the flights and inquired as to the status. They promised to call me back.


Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 3:09pm (MST):


Travel agency just called back to tell me there would be no flights tomorrow but they were trying to get a booking for Thursday. It was time for me to start planning an extended stay. Then I realized I had not been out of the room all day and had not eaten.


I quickly showered and cleaned up and went to the hotel restaurant to get some food. The bar and restaurant were crowded and everyone was quietly watching the TVs, even the waiters and bartenders.


I ordered a double scotch and soda and joined my fellow Americans in watching the rest of the horror unfold. Occasional sighs and sobs could be heard around the room but everyone’s eyes stayed glued to the TVs. I thought to myself, “we’re all family for this time in our lives.”


Occasionally, someone would make eye contact while looking around the room. Usually, it was just a brief glance followed by a shaking of heads. Everyone was silent. Waiting. Watching.


Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 5:30pm (MST):


I am on my fifteenth scotch and soda and it still hurts. I am numb from pain and booze. My “family” in the bar are in similar conditions. In the last hour a few muffled conversations have started and dwindled out after a few exchanges. No one seems to want to talk. It is too painful. We are also angry. And drunk. Therefore dangerous.


President Bush makes a public address from the White House telling us that "thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil" and promising to bring the terrorists to justice. This was the first time we hear him use the word “evil” but was not to be the last. Clearly, Bush had suddenly seen the world in black and white, good and evil. That sentiment was felt by all of us present that night. As I listened to him I saw other members of my “family” starting to cry. I felt the anger and pride in my country all at once myself and in a matter of seconds I was joining them. It was clearly time to take myself back to my room and try to sleep.


Wednesday, September 12, 2001 – 5:00am (MST):


Wake up, Allan! Oh shit, my head hurts. Where am I? I sit up in bed, check all body parts and everything reports in as in place and functioning (except the brain which is screaming at me). Three aspirin and a cup of coffee later I turn on the TV, having realized during the night that it was all a dream.


No. It wasn’t.


Wednesday, September 12, 2001 – 6:30am-10:30am (MST):


State Department briefing on TV. For the first time we hear of some guy named Osama bin Laden. Officials are relatively close-mouthed about it all. No new leads yet. The Defense Department later gives a briefing to tell everyone that fires are still raging at the Pentagon but will be under control soon.


All morning long we see firefighters, police and rescue workers hard at it and a newfound respect starts to grow for these dedicated workers.


I continue to watch as the damage is assessed. Soon the FAA announces that diverted flights from yesterday will be allowed to continue to their destination. No word on when normal flights will resume. I start to get concerned and call the company’s office. They are closed today. I then call the travel agent who tells me they are trying to book flights but it is beginning to look more and more like all flights will be cancelled for a few days at least. I ask them to call me if anything develops.


Wednesday, September 12, 2001 – 12:25pm (MST):


Press briefing by the Defense Department. This was the first time I had a chance to see Donald Rumsfeld in action. I still remember vividly this exchange between the SecDef and a reporter:


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there are some in the Middle East who are saying that the United States does not have the belly to do the kind of response to this attack on the United States, that this administration, the previous administration don't have it to go after them in the kind of way that they have to be gone after. Without any specifics whatsoever, help us with the attitude that should go into this process.

RUMSFELD: Well, I guess time will tell. My -- I guess I'm kind of old-fashioned. I'm inclined to think that if you're going to cock it, you throw it, and you don't talk about it a lot.


I thought to myself, hey, I kinda like this guy. That’s the kind of thing John Wayne would have said. You tell ‘em, Pilgrim. Yo!


Wednesday, September 12, 2001 – 6:30pm (MST):


Another wasted day. I need to get home. No word from travel agent yet. Stuck, stranded, marooned …. and my country is in trouble.


I drag myself to the hotel restaurant, skip the bar and head for the restaurant. A huge meal of steak and potatoes later I feel human again but somehow exhausted. I think all the adrenaline of yesterday took its toll on me.


I make a decision to get some sleep and get cranking tomorrow on getting home – one way or another.


Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 6:00am (MST):


OK, up and at ‘em. Time to get rolling. A quick call to the travel agent confirmed that there is a possibility flights will resume today. The FAA has announced that they will reopen US airspace at noon. I anxiously wait for a call from the travel agent and watch continuing developments. I realize I have hardly been out of the room at all for days. Looking in a mirror, I realize I am developing a “thousand-mile-stare”. Not good.


Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 10:00am (MST):


Of all the stupid, bloody, asinine stunts to pull!!!! The FAA announced that they are attempting to put new security measures in place at all airports, so what happens? Two smart-ass ground personnel at Sky Harbor International Airport decide to smuggle a gun through security to “test the new measures” as they later said. They succeeded – and the FAA decided to keep Sky Harbor International shutdown until “further notice”. SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!


Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 10:30am-11:40am (MST):


A quick call to the travel agent confirmed my worst fears. They had no idea when flights would resume out of Phoenix. DAMN!


They said, however, that the company I interviewed with would gladly foot the bill for an extended stay. DOUBLE-DAMN!


I quickly called the local Amtrak office. “Sorry”, they said, “all trains are booked.” TRIPLE-DAMN!


Another call to Greyhound got a similar result. No seats available. QUADRUPLE-DAMN!


Realizing that I was about to run out of “DAMN!”s (as well as clean underwear), I decide to take matters into my own hands.


I called the local Dollar Rental Car agency and inquired about the possibility of perhaps turning in the vehicle someplace other than Phoenix.


“Where?”, the young lady asked.


New Orleans?”, I replied in a hesitant voice.


“Very well, Mr. Kelly. We’ve had word from our superiors to consider waiving relocation fees for people who need to drive home”, she said, “just turn in the car in New Orleans.”




In five minutes, I was out the door steering for I-10 and eastward bound. 1500 miles of asphalt and dotted white lines awaited me.


Author’s note: as a preface to what is to come, I present the following from the Interstate Guidebook: “I-10 is the loneliest highway in the system. If the fact that half of the intersections listed above were in the middle of nowhere isn't enough to convince you of this, if the fact that there isn't a spur route for all of AZ, NM, and 400 miles of TX isn't enough to convince you, take a drive through Western TX sometimes. I-10 is so isolated that they allowed grade crossings for people's driveways there.”


I wish I had known that then.


Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 11:30am-1:15pm (MST):


First, the rental vehicle. A Dodge Intrepid. Nothing fancy. Not the most comfortable vehicle in the world either. However, it turned out to be a reliable little beast for traversing the “Great American Dead Zone”. Before setting out, I named him “Old Paint” because he had the ugliest shade of red I’ve ever seen.


So me and Old Paint set out heading south out of Phoenix. I stopped just south of town and filled him up with gas at a service station run by a family of Native Americans. Native American jewelry for sale alongside the Slim Jims and potato chips. They were quite friendly but I noticed everyone was kind of subdued, like they had just returned from a funeral. I didn’t ask why.


After feeding Old Paint and stocking myself up with cokes and potato chips we headed out toward Tucson, 114 miles away.


This leg of the trip was spent mainly listening to the radio reports. The announcement came on about mid-afternoon that Secretary Of State Colin Powell has announced that the “prime suspect” was Osama bin Laden and a bunch called the Taliban. Who?


OK, now we have a target. Ready, aim ……


Feeling weird. I’m glad to be going home but I wonder what happens now. Where does the country go and how do we handle this madness that attacked us? I’m sure my parents asked the same question on December 7, 1941.


The world is still a dangerous place. Some things never change.


Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 1:15pm-3:15pm (MST):


Tucson, Arizona. Home of many good gunfights in the old days. The saguaro cactus dot the countryside. I’m reminded of all the old westerns I used to watch as a child.


The radio fades out shortly after I leave Tucson and for the next four hundred miles or so there will be nothing on but Mexican radio stations and country music from distant American stations. Amazingly, there are no news broadcasts on either one so I listen to Hispanic music and meditate while the pavement flows by under my feet and the vanishing point in the distance never seems to get closer.


“THE THING!” screamed the billboard at me. “COME SEE IT! TOMBSTONE!”


What the f**k, over?


I started out on this trip reading Stephen King and now some asshole wants me to come see THE THING? This is Tombstone, for crying out loud. Home of Wyatt Earp, Billy The Kid, John Wayne, The Lone Ranger, etc.


Where are they now when I really need them?


As the miles go by, I pass Benson, Willcox and Bowie,  Arizona. Names that meant nothing to me a week ago but today are stages in a long voyage home with a heavy heart. The rolling hills are low to the ground – or are very far away. I don’t know. All I can think about is “what do I do now?”


While pondering my options, I somehow manage to cross over into New Mexico. One state down, three to go. Easy, right? Too bad one of them is Texas.


Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 3:15pm-6:15pm (MST):


Crossing into New Mexico didn’t change the scenery at all. Still no news on the radio. I wonder what is going on. Have there been more attacks? Have we struck back yet? I start getting anxious for news. Like most of America I have become a “news junkie” over the last few days. It is an addiction that I will share with most of my countrymen for several weeks to come.


I look at a map and decide to stop in El Paso for the night. That will put me in Texas, at least – which at that point is only 900 miles from Louisiana. DAMN TERRORISTS!


Somewhere near Deming, NM I pass a sign that tells me I have just crossed The Continental Divide. Holy Shit! Isn’t this the point where rivers start flowing East instead of West? Aren’t there supposed to be big, hairy mountains around here? The Rockies, maybe? Nope, just more flat land. So much for the rivers theory. Keep on trucking, Allan.


How do you get from Deming to El Paso? You go to Los Cruces and hang a right. Actually, the interstate does the hanging for you. Speaking of hanging, would that be sufficient punishment for what the terrorists did day before yesterday? Nope! I think not.


While Old Paint gobbles up the miles to El Paso, I contemplate various methods of torturous death for the assholes when they are caught. This is fun. Let’s see: covered in honey and staked on one of these fire ant hills? strapped to a cactus and left out in the sun until dead? skinning them alive and dipping them in alcohol? setting fire to them and waiting until they’re dead before extinguishing the flames by pissing on them? I like this. It’s too bad I’m not in charge.


Thursday-Friday, September 13-14, 2001 – 6:15pm-4:00am (CDT):


The closer I get to El Paso the more radio stations I pick up. News is starting to filter into my life again. I’m starting to get tired. This is hard on a 52-year-old hombre like myself.


Suddenly, a news story catches my ear and I have to pull over. Initial estimates of the deaths predict anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 possibly dead in New York and hundreds more at the Pentagon.


I start to cry for my countrymen. I think of the horrible deaths that occurred and how their loved ones must feel right now. The tears flow down my cheeks onto the desert sand where nothing grows. I think of the Middle East which has a lot in common with this region. Nothing but sand and dirt. The difference is there is freedom, love and comradeship here. There is nothing but hatred and bloodshed over there. Contrasts, again. Black and white. Good and evil. There are no shades of gray in this new world I am in.


I get back in the car and drive through El Paso sobbing and thinking about all those lives lost. For no good reason whatsoever. Black and white. Good and evil.


I pull in at a rest stop to use the rest room and clean up a little. I feel a little better but once back in the car I put my head on the steering wheel and start crying again. These are angry tears this time. I want to do something to a terrorist, preferably with a baseball bat that has lots of 10-penny nails sticking out of it.


Suddenly, I hear a tapping on the car window. Looking up I see a Texas State Trooper standing there, looking concerned. I roll down the window.


“You OK, mister?”, he asked.


“Yep, just a little wound up, I suppose”, I answered.


“Aren’t we all?”, he smiled.


“I’ll be alright, officer”, I smiled back at him, “I’m on my way home.”


“Well, you take of yourself and drive carefully”, he said and walked back to his car.


Before he got in he tipped his hat to me and nodded.


That last gesture was all I needed to get going. I knew now I had friends everywhere in this great country. I decided to keep driving until my stamina gave out. I felt I had something to prove to myself and my country. My tremendous problem of being stranded so far from home suddenly shrunk in size. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective after all.


Giddy up, Old Paint! We’re going home.


The sun starts to set behind me as I dive into the westernmost region of Texas. The boot.


About an hour later, it is dark and traffic is slowing down ahead of me. After waiting in line on the interstate for half an hour I gradually creep up to the problem. There is a state police checkpoint and they are checking everyone’s vehicle for people slipping across the border, which is only five miles to the south of here. I have to get out and open the trunk and let them shine their flashlights all inside the car. I was glad to cooperate. These were my friends.


Finally, I was allowed to proceed. The interstate finally turned away from the border and headed northeast and I followed it. Soon it branched off and I-10 went right to San Antonio and I-20 went north to Dallas. I turned right and drove on into the night.


The sign said: San Antonio 512 miles.




What the sign should have said was “You are now entering The Dead Zone: half a thousand miles of endless wasteland that makes Afghanistan look like Central Park- enter at your own risk, pilgrim.”


Endless road. Going on forever. Exhaustion is starting to set in so I pop some No-Doze and slurp up some coffee I had bought while buying gas at Fort Stockton. A quick jolt of caffeine and let’s stare at the road for seven or eight hours. Way to go, Allan.


Endless road. Black night. No radio. No other cars or trucks. Just me and the Dead Zone. Stephen King needs to come visit this place. Or maybe he’s already been here and that’s the problem. I start to get a little spooked about 2:00am.


Finally, I spot a town. I don’t remember the name. I pull in and find a service station. Already parked there is a big Greyhound bus loaded up with passengers. I fill up the tank and go inside to pay. I look at some of the passengers on the bus coming in and am reminded of “Night Of The Living Dead”. We’re all zombies here, I think. Crushed, lost, confused and all of us with only one desire – go home. Everyone has that thousand-mile-stare going.


Spooky, man! Very spooky! I got out of there fast before somebody turned into a werewolf.


Friday, September 14, 2001 – 4:15am-7:15am (CDT):


San Antonio, Texas. Home of the Alamo. Davy Crockett. Jim Bowie. “Remember The Alamo”. Seems appropriate. Suddenly I realize my country has always been the target of the rest of the world at some point in time or another. The only difference this time is it is mad Arabs instead of Japanese or Mexicans.


San Antonio is deserted at this time of the morning so I slip through the interstate cobweb in the center of the city and see only a few cars. The night people have gone to bed and the day people aren’t up yet. Excellent!


On the other side of town I stop at a truckers rest area and pull in behind several dozen semis. I use the facilities to wash up and slap large amounts of cold water all over my face and head to wake up. It felt good.


Then I thought of several thousand New Yorkers who would not be waking up that morning, who would never see the beautiful sunrise that was coming up in the east, who would never roll out of bed and complain about going to work. Nevermore, quoth the Raven. Nevermore.


And the road sign said “Houston 197 miles”.


Getting back out on the road, I did a little arithmetic and concluded that my worst fears would soon be realized. I would hit Houston right at rush hour.




At least there was scenery and radio to listen to. Not much more developing news at this hour of the morning, so I put the pedal to the metal and made a mad dash for Houston, hoping to beat the crowd that would be waiting for me there between 7:00 and 8:00.


It didn’t work. I hit the outskirts of Houston at 7:15am. By outskirts, I mean 40 miles west of town and traffic was already backed up.


Friday, September 14, 2001 – 7:15am-9:45am (CDT):


Two and a half hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic to fight my way through Houston. The last thing I saw on the way out of town was the huge Budweiser plant on the east side. Adios! This Bud’s for you.


Friday, September 14, 2001 – 9:45am-2:04pm (CDT):


Three hundred forty miles to go. Eyelids starting to droop. Eyes burning. More coffee. More No-Doze. Singing to myself. Cracking myself up.


Here I sit in this cheap car blurring down the highway. Wearing the same suit I’ve had on for five days. Unshaven. Starting to stink pretty badly. The world has gone crazy and …. and ….. and ….


Suddenly, I’m home. I don’t know how I managed the last two hundred miles. Actually, I do. God took over and guided me home. Not the God of the infidel terrorists. My God. Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil for thou art beside me. That God.


I go to sleep. At last.


In a new world. A world not of my choosing. A world with different rules, different enemies. And new friends.


Thank you, America. I love you too.


Epilogue: after sleeping 24 hours I turned in the rental car at Dollar, who only charged me $240 and waived all relocation charges – with a smile. I turned down the job in Phoenix and decided to work for my country for a while. For the next two years I worked at a secure government location for NASA and NOAA as a government contractor before returning to the civilian sector in the Fall of 2003. Osama bin Laden is still unaccounted for. Over 3,000 Americans died on September 11, 2001. I extend my heartfelt sympathies to every member of their families. They will not be forgotten. Not if I have anything to do with it. Never again!


© Copyright 2004 Allan Kelly