THE DEAD ZONE
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
In August of 2001, I
had walked away from a job in
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
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
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
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):
phone rings, interrupting the latest news on Fox News Channel
. It was a slow
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.
hung up the phone, wondering what the weather is like in
Friday, September 7, 2001 – 1:14pm (CDT):
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):
five-mile walk proved refreshing and gave me time to think about possibly
Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 5:30am (CDT):
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
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
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):
decide to take the afternoon off and go walk along the lakefront. The smell of
crawfish and shrimp coming in off the water of
Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 8:00pm (CDT):
evening is peaceful and the crawfish are a
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):
for the Sunday morning talking heads shows, like Meet The
Press. The stories diagnosed this week are the
Sunday, September 9, 2001 – 12:00pm (CDT):
Saints are starting another dismal season today at
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
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 3:30am (CDT):
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
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 6:30am (CDT):
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
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):
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 10:32am (MST):
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
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
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 11:46am (MST):
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
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 1:09pm (MST):
company offices are a pleasant drive to the north of
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 1:15pm-7:30pm (MST):
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
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):
have to say this about that company. They certainly didn’t scrimp on taking
care of me. I was put up in one of
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.
was really starting to get nervous at this point. What the hell was going on?
Was the hotel on fire? Had
OH MY GOD! WHAT THE F**K IS THIS?
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
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
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.
STOP THE TRAIN, MR CONDUCTOR! WHAT THE F**K IS GOING ON HERE?
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
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):
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
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?
I can get even a single thought
TV they’re telling us the President is in
little later, they tell us that President Bush has left
are seen jumping out of the windows on the
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.
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
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.
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
like that fighter, the country started to get its act together. During the next
few hours all federal buildings in
I heard astonishing news about a flight that crashed in
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 10:04am (MST):
Bush speaks for the first time from Barksdale AFB, LA. I think, hey, that’s
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.
ordered a double scotch and soda and joined my fellow
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
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
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
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
“Where?”, the young lady asked.
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
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.”
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.
and Old Paint set out heading south out of
After feeding Old Paint
and stocking myself up with cokes and potato chips we
headed out toward
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
Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 1:15pm-3:15pm (MST):
The radio fades out
shortly after I leave
“THE THING!” screamed the
billboard at me. “COME SEE IT!
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
Where are they now when I really need them?
As the miles go by, I pass
While pondering my
options, I somehow manage to cross over into
Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 3:15pm-6:15pm (MST):
I look at a map and decide
to stop in
How do you get from Deming
While Old Paint gobbles up
the miles to
Thursday-Friday, September 13-14, 2001 – 6:15pm-4:00am (CDT):
The closer I get to
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
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
I get back in the car and
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
“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
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
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
The sign said:
What the sign should have
said was “You are now entering The Dead Zone: half a thousand miles of endless
wasteland that makes
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
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):
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
And the road sign said “
Getting back out on the
road, I did a little arithmetic and concluded that my worst fears would soon be
realized. I would hit
DAMN! DAMN! DAMN!
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
It didn’t work. I hit the
Friday, September 14, 2001 – 7:15am-9:45am (CDT):
Two and a half hours of
bumper-to-bumper traffic to fight my way through
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.
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
© Copyright 2004 Allan Kelly