Twelve years have passed, yet the memories of that day are still vivid in my mind. I was in Orlando Florida for a Gartner conference.
The evening before I had bumped into a client from a Montreal project and we were surprised to see each other. I recall thinking it was strange to see him since he wasn’t in a role that typically required attending IT conferences and I had actually voiced my surprised.
I sat in the first row of our presentation room, eager to hear all about Customer Service Statistics. Near the mid point of the presentation someone walked into the room and loudly announced “You are all to gather in the lobby of the hotel” and walked out. We looked at each other and headed to the lobby not knowing what we would encounter.
The hotel staff had brought in two very large screen TV and I recall CNN was reporting on the first plane that had struck the North Tower.
We stood there and at that very moment my eyes caught those of my client I had meet the previous night. A short time later, the second plane hit the adjoining tower and the entire lobby was a cacophony of gasps and “Oh my God” statements.
The pentagon was the next to be hit and by then the hotel manager had announced that the hotel would be on lock down for a short while fearing large public parks such as Disney might be a target.
By then, it was assumed that these were terrorist strikes.
I rushed to the phones (cell phones would not work at that time) and got in line to call home and let my family know I was fine. I returned to the lobby just a few minutes before the first tower crumbled. We all stood in shock as the tower started its descent; the lobby went silent for a few seconds then the sounds of cries were heard. At that very moment our group of guests started to huddle closer together.
The rest of the morning was total chaos. The phones lines were down and frantic New Yorkers were identified and strangers rallied around them to lend moral support. We all became this entity wanting to help those affected by this tragedy.
Later that day when I was able to pull myself away from the television, I ran into my Montreal client who stated “Last night you said how strange it was for us to meet here, and I believe it;s because you and I will be driving together back home”. I looked at him and realized that was my only way out since all the airports had been closed.
We headed out of Orlando passing through three road blocks where we were asked for ID and the car searched. We decided to drive straight through by taking two hour drive shifts in rotation, stopping only to call home, grab food and stretch our legs. We talked a lot during that long 23 hour ride, and as we approached the outskirts of New York we both shed tears seeing the black sky doming the city.
My husband was waiting for us at the border in Montreal as we could not cross into Canada with our rental vehicle. We dropped off my co-driver but not before hugging tightly and recognizing that we had formed a very unique bond that time would not erase.
Today, I remember and pray for those whose lives were tragically taken that day. I pray for their friends and families and hope the love they share with them will have helped them heal.