originally published on 9.20.04
I watched my friends drive off in their rental cars. I decided that if I was going to be stranded without cute girls, I would be stranded near to the airport so that I’d be among the first to get on a plane when they released the planes to fly. The Sheraton Hotel was directly across the street from the Cleveland Airport. I joined about 80 milling travelers in the lobby. To my delight I found free high speed internet and went to town. There was free coffee in the lobby and that along with my writing kept me going throughout the day. The news was just starting to grate on all of us and many of us were talking to each other instead of watching the monitors.
That evening I found myself at the bar, calculating how much a $4.99 cheeseburger would cost with tax and tip. I realized I would be able to scrape by on my $7.50 in my bank account. A young gentleman and his girlfriend sat down next to me and we got to talking. He was a business owner from Pennsylvania. Being the Asian who’s always looking for the money hookup, I let him know that he could save 30% on his room by showing his boarding pass. He was surprised, did so, and came back and offered drinks for the night. I was excited and continued to drink with him. He asked where I was going to stay and I told him I planned to crash out in the lobby. He seemed dismayed but I emphasized that I was a student, and a Marine, and that I would be fine. I went to the bathroom and when I came back I found a room key sitting on my chair. I was amazed. I can’t repay this, I stammered. Rooms at the Sheraton were at least $80/night, and I had $0/night in my bank account. Be able to do this for someone else, that will repay me, he said. I slept soundly that night in plush sheets and took a shower before heading out again in the morning, for flights were once again grounded.
I had to get away from the airport, but I couldn’t leave my bags there. There was a subway station under the airport and with the $7 that I found in my jacket I headed into downtown Cleveland.
Cleveland’s downtown reminds me a lot of St. Louis’s downtown. It’s relatively clean with a lot of brick architecture. Mass transit helps a bunch. I made my way to a mall that had a Ritz Carlton connected to it. First stop: Banana Republic. I worked for Gap/Banana at the time and so I leveraged my employee card to leave my bags there and bought a shirt with a Gap Card because I didn’t have any other clothes with me other than military gear. I had a movie pass with me which I used to see the movie “O.” When I came out of the movie I saw a sign that noted that the Ritz Carlton’s bar gave free food at happy hour. Well, free sounds good when you have no money. In fact, free sounds good anytime. I headed upstairs and casually strolled into the Ritz at 4:55. I ordered water on the rocks, started chatting with people, and before I knew it, platters of sushi and pizza were coming out. What’s this? I pretended to be surprised. Free food. Oh, that’s nice, I said, concealing my salivating glands and teeth that must have looked like the Big Bad Wolf in any cartoon caricature you could ever have imagined. Before we knew it I was tossing a few back that others bought for me and making new friends. New friends that invited me out barhopping and offered me a place to stay for the night. Are you speechless yet? Because I was.
The atmosphere that surrounded the days after September 11th was almost Pleasantville. Sure, I’ll buy you a hotel room, sure, you can stay at my place, sure, I’ll drive you to the airport tomorrow and buy you coffee. Wow. And that’s exactly what happened.
The morning of September 14th a bunch of travelers crowded onto a full flight to head back to Kansas City. Someone shouted, if anyone sees anything suspicious, we’ll take him down together, right? We cheered and anxiously headed home to resume our interrupted lives.
When people talk about September 11th, they often do so with sadness. I cannot help but feel sadness for the attack on our soil. Yet, my remembrance of September 11th is one of warmth, trust, and love. From strangers.
Thought for today.
Trust is good.
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