Stories

My Saddest Visit to New York City: The Anniversary of 9/11

An image of a tile from the Tiles For America display in Manhattan

For the longest time, I dreamed of living in New York. It’s a common dream, well-documented in various forms of literature and pop culture.

I say dreamed because, not only am I not legally allowed to live in the USA, but now that I’ve lived in Toronto on minimum wage for over seven years, I know there’s no way I’d make it in New York.

Still, I’ve been lucky enough to visit the city many times, and one of these times happened to be on the 14th anniversary of 9/11, the terrorist attacks on the Unites States of America that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people and affected so many others.

It was 2015 and we had gone to New York because the Toronto Blue Jays were playing the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium and my boyfriend really wanted to see them. It just happened to be that week of September.

The game was originally scheduled on September 10th and we were going to fly back to Toronto on the 11th. We got all the way up to Yankee stadium (which, in case you didn’t know, is in the Bronx and quite a long ride on the subway) to find out the game had been cancelled due to rain and rescheduled for the next day, September 11th.

So, because we had flown on standby using our Porter staff travel, we were able to extend our stay until the 12th and we went to the game on the night of the 11th.

September 11th – The 9/11 Memorial service

That morning of September 11th, as I was having breakfast in the hotel’s dining area, the beginnings of the memorial service were playing on the small tv in the corner. The names of all the victims (and I think their ages) were read in alphabetical order, one at a time.

Click to see the slideshow.

A member of the kitchen staff came into the dining room and since I was the only one there, I started chatting with her, and she shared her memory of that day. She was a student at an elementary school very close to the site and she remembers being evacuated and seeing lots of smoke and emergency response vehicles. I pictured what she described and it was haunting to listen to.

A couple of hours later we went down to the memorial and we were able to listen to the second half of the service (we weren’t allowed to go in – you had to be a family member or special guest to attend.)

Click to see the slideshow.

Even though at the time I had no connection with anyone who was living in New York City, or D.C, I was still so saddened and affected by these events and just like many people all around the world and this was an opportunity to pay respect to the victims and their families.

The service was moving and heartbreaking. It was also pretty disturbing to see people sitting at the corner of Church and Fulton Street outside St. Paul’s Chapel holding signs proclaiming things like “9/11 never happened” and “it was all a conspiracy”.

I imagined how heartbreaking it must have been for people who were personally affected by the attacks to have to be exposed to such rhetoric on their day of mourning.

September 11th – The Jays vs Yankees Game

Later that day we made our way to Yankee Stadium for the second time to watch the rescheduled game. Here are some pics. Click to see the slideshow.

I got to eat an ice cream in a sweet mini baseball helmet keepsake dish. I soon found out that’s a staple at baseball games.

Soft serve with sprinkles in a baseball helmet souvenir at Yankee Stadium
Ice cream in a baseball helmet

Remembering September 11th, 2001

This year is the 18th anniversary of the attacks, and common thing said about that day is that people remember it like it was yesterday.

Do you remember the day it happened?

I remember it was almost 11pm and I was up too late when I should have been in bed for school. I was living in Sydney, Australia at the time and September 11th was almost over. But it was just beginning in the USA.

It was all over the news but most of us wouldn’t hear about it until we got up the next morning.

My then boyfriend in that pre-social media age called me and told me to turn on the TV. My mum heard the tv and came in to lecture me about being up too late but then she joined me as we watched in horror.

The incredible structures that formed part of New York’s World Trade Centre and famous skyline came crashing down and brought the city to its knees.

But with its typical ambitious gusto New York City strove to restore its former stature, bent but not broken, back to being the financial centre of the world.

The first time I saw Ground Zero

The first time I ever visited NYC was in 2009 At that time, the site of the towers was known as Ground Zero, and there was nothing but eerily cordoned off empty space where the towers once stood .

I have since met people who did see the towers many years before the tragedy. They remember going up to the top and taking in the incredible view from that height.

I also discovered that my sister was there in the year 2000! I had no idea until today when I was writing this post and asking her about it. She currently lives and works in Manhattan. But at the time she was living and working in London, England and we barely even had cell phones then so since she was on the other side of the world I’m not surprised I didn’t hear about it until now.

My visit in 2012

This was my third time going to NYC and I think it was around late September.

Construction was well underway at the WTC site and the Freedom Tower was being built. Here is a pic of it from the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge or “DUMBO” (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).

View of the Freedom Tower from Brooklyn

Later that day I accidentally stumbled across a memorial known as “Tiles For America” while exploring Greenwich Village. It was a collection of tiles that were hung on a chain link fence, hand-painted by people and children commemorating those who had lost their lives in the attacks.

Not long after I saw it, the memorial was taken down for a few years. I felt grateful that I had gotten the chance to see it, reflect on it and take some pictures, but I checked today and there is a Facebook page and a site that tell me it’s back on display.

Here are some pics of the original tile memorial as it was when I saw it. I’m already not a great photographer, but these were taken 8 years ago on an iPhone 4 so don’t judge me too much.

When went in 2015, other parts of the site was still under construction but the Freedom Tower was completed.

Click to see the slideshow.

It is an incredible structure. From afar it reflects the sky, and when you stand underneath it and look up it appears as though the top of the building is touching the sky and doesn’t have an end.

Click to see the slideshow.

September 11th will forever be a day of pain and mourning for the people who lost their loves, their loved ones, their jobs, their property, their peace, their trust in things, their ability to enjoy life.

But those attacks changed not only the USA, but the world, forever and it’s effects are still evident today.

9/11 changed air travel forever

I also worked in aviation, and I saw the effect 9/11 had on the aviation industry. So many flight crew lost their lives, their loved ones, their colleagues, their friends.

So many others were traumatized and couldn’t continue their flying careers.

Aviation security was heightened, and gone were the days when non-passengers could escort passengers right to the gate for domestic flights within the USA. Now they cannot go past security.

On flights from Australia to the USA, the flight attendants began making announcements that passengers aren’t allowed to congregate in groups and have discussions, likely because that occurred on one of the flights involved in the attacks.

They still make that announcement; I heard it on a flight to and from Sydney in February of this year. I don’t know if they do it from other destinations to the USA because I’ve only ever flown to the States from Australia and Canada, and they don’t do it on flights from Canada.

After 9/11, it seemed like terrorist attacks started to happen on a fairly regular basis. Bali, London, Paris….There were so many smaller scale attacks after 9/11, but their impact was still huge.

We can’t change what happened. All we can do is live our lives, appreciating each day as a gift and hope we are never impacted by something so callous, heartless, and pointless

Never forget.

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Stories

Food poisoning, Christmas and explosive underwear: that time it took me 35 hours to get from Toronto to New York. By plane.

With the amount of air travel that goes on these days, I’m sure many of you have at least one insane story about how a trip took several times as long as it should have, or something terrible happened with your luggage, or you happened to suffer the most dramatic injury or illness you’ve ever had in your life while you were travelling.

Well, up until the last few years when visa restrictions prevented me from travelling, I was considered someone who traveled a fair bit, and to this day, my most insane travel story remains the one about that time it took me and my best friend 35 hours to fly from Toronto to New York City.

This is another one of my posts that’s pretty long, but so was the trip, so let’s call it art imitating life, shall we? Great!

Back in December of 2009, three years before I decided to move to Canada, I got on my very first flight from Australia to Canada and the USA.

It was a massive Christmas holiday trip that cost around $10000AUD (cannot IMAGINE spending that much on a trip these days!) and followed a typical itinerary for an Aussie going to the the USA for the first time: New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles (including Disneyland), but with an added twist – Toronto, Canada.

My dream trip

This trip was a huge deal for me. Not only was it the first time I was heading to my top bucket list destination, but it was also the first time I would ever see snow! But I was mostly looking forward to seeing New York for the first time, especially during the holidays. I would feel just like Kevin in Home Alone 2!

Why did we add Toronto to the trip? Because I had friends there, and since it was the Christmas holiday season, I was dying to see a white Christmas, and I was assured I would if we went there.

We had planned to be in Toronto until Dec 27th. After that we would head to NYC for four nights, one of which was New Year’s Eve, then we would cross over to the west coast and go from San Francisco to Vegas to LA, including a couple of nights in Anaheim so we could do Disneyland and be sufficiently thawed out by the time we got on the flight from LA back to Sydney.

It all sounds perfectly normal, and do-able right? Wrong.

Little did I know that flying around the Americas during the holiday season is a logistical nightmare at the best of times, let alone when your travel plans are disrupted.

“…flying around the Americas during the holiday season is a logistical nightmare at the best of times, let alone when your travel arrangements are disrupted…”

And boy, did we have a disruption. On the last night we were supposed to be in Toronto, my travel buddy came down with a severe case of food poisoning.

The food poisoning

On Boxing Day we had gone up the CN Tower for the touristy thing and then taken in a decadent meal in the lower level restaurant. We all had the same thing, a burger, except for my travel buddy, who also ordered a Pina Colada. Well we don’t know if that’s what it was, but whatever she came down with had her vomiting every 20 minutes like clockwork for the next 24 hours.

She barely slept because she was throwing up all night, and the next morning we had to go to the airport to catch our flight, but she was in no condition to even get in a car let alone go through the airport process and get on a plane.

Cancelling our flights – BIG, but unavoidable MISTAKE

So we called the airline and cancelled the flights. “We’ll book on another one”, I assured her. I called our travel insurance company and told them what had happened and they said we could book another flight and they would pay “reasonable” costs – whatever that meant.

In case you weren’t aware, the flight time from Toronto to New York City is about an hour and a half.

Apparently watching Home Alone 1 & 2 five hundred times had taught me nothing, because of course, there wasn’t “another one” to book. At that time of year, you’re lucky if you find an empty seat on any flight.

But that particular year was even worse.

Explosive underwear: The almost terrorism

On Christmas Day of 2009, a passenger on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit attempted a terrorist attack on board just before the flight landed in Detroit. He had a very odd plan that involved trying to light his underwear on fire.

Well, obviously this put the United States on extremely high alert and for however many days afterwards, passengers were required to present their carry-on luggage at security where it would be searched manually.

The endless delays at security

You think security is slow on a regular basis? Imagine how much longer it took now that the handful of security officers working were required to open and look through every single bag and scrutinize every item each passenger was carrying into the cabin. Now imagine this at during the holiday season when most flights are at capacity. The travelers in the security line were all sitting on the ground because it barely moved.

This obviously caused delays and disruptions, caused bags to miss flights, and what have you.

No seats available

It was during this time that we were trying to find two seats on a flight from Toronto to New York City.

We looked at every possible option. My Canadian friends suggested “flying from the island”. I pictured a sea plane teetering off a jetty or something insane, but my friends were referring to Porter Airlines, which had begun operating off the Toronto Islands at Billy Bishop Airport three years earlier.

I checked and not only was each one way trip like $1200 (which the insurance company did not approve) but at the time, Porter only accepted bookings under Canadian and US passports. (This has since been changed.) We scrapped that option.

We finally got seats

Countless Google searches and phone calls later (there was no Google flights back then!), we finally found the only two seats available going from Toronto to New York City.

The flight departed Toronto at 9pm and had an overnight layover in Montreal, with the second leg to New York departing at 6am.

We went through the insane security lines in Toronto, which my travel buddy had to keep ducking in and out of to throw up. We arrived in Montreal bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived. My poor friend looked like she was going to die.

Sleeping at the airport in Montreal

Of course, it wasn’t worth getting a hotel for 6 hours (and we didn’t think to anyway), so we slept at the airport on benches made of marble that were lined up beside the windows. Outside, it was around -20 degrees Celsius and the stone-cold benches were not kind to us.

The check-in kiosks mockingly declared, “This kiosk is currently closed. Please come back after 3:00 AM.”

YES OK THANK YOU.
The uselessness of an airport after hours

Finally 3am rolled around and we took our bags to the counter.

And then we had ticketing problems

It was at this point that the check in agents discovered some sort of problem with our ticket, and somehow my travel buddy was cleared but I wasn’t.

At the time, I had no experience working for an airline so I had no idea what the issue was, or what they were talking about, so we waited helplessly while they figured it out. I can only assume the last minute booking wasn’t processed correctly and they were having issues with the ticketing or something.

The flight had also been delayed until 8am, so in actuality, we were lucky because it took them that long to figure out how to get my ticket to go through.

I don’t remember this clearly but my travel buddy made some sort of demand and they figured it out and we were on the flight.

We departed and were on our way to arrive at JFK by about 9:30 am.

The maintenance issue and turning back to Montreal

About halfway through the flight, we had a maintenance issue.

The flight attendant announced that we had a problem with one of the doors and we would be returning to Montreal.

Back in Montreal airport, we joined a long queue where one by one we were rebooked onto the “next available flight”. All around us people were making phone calls and speaking French which was kind of cool.

Our grounded plane with its maintenance issue

Getting rebooked via Cincinnati

Eventually it was our turn and we were advised that we had been booked on the next available flight, which departed at 4pm, made a stop-over in Cincinnati, and continued to New York, arriving at about 9pm.

Sleeping on the floor in Montreal again

Since we were already through security, there wasn’t much to do but hang out around the gates. So we set up camp and made Montreal airport our home for the next 6 hours. My travel buddy slept on the floor while I wandered around.

My travel buddy sleeping on the floor with our stuff

We finally got on the plane to Cincinnati, and after more security hell, boarded our last flight and made it to New York, where we had to go through US Customs.

Passed out on the flight to Cincinnati

Almost getting refused entry at the border

At that point we were so exhausted that we had barely any awareness of where we were or what we were doing.

The customs officer at JFK began the standard port of entry script, asking, “So why are you travelling to the United States?” Without even pausing I exclaimed, “Because we’re insane!”

My friend gasped and quickly explained that we were on holidays and we’d had a rough time crossing the border from Toronto and I was only kidding.

We are so lucky that he had a sense of humour, or at least understood the blunt Aussie one, not to mention knew what travelers had been through the past few days, because that could have gone a whole lot differently.

We finally arrived

We finally checked in to our hotel, which was near Macy’s, on December 29th at around 1am, almost 40 hours after we had left Toronto. We told the concierge about our travel ordeal and she said, “Wow. You’re lucky your luggage made it with you.”

Not sure I’ve ever heard a truer statement. How on earth did our bags make it through all that? Props to the ground staff that worked all those flights!

We missed two of our five days in New York, and we weren’t sure we’d ever have the opportunity to travel there again.

Remember, this was a time before social media was that big. You didn’t know what to expect then as much as you do now because you couldn’t readily find the answer from the 500K people that had gone before you and posted about it on social media. If this same situation happened today, maybe the outcome may have been different.

It also wasn’t that common to take long trips like this on a regular basis. It was more a once in a very long time thing, so we realistically may not have been able to try and come back to New York again to make up for the time we missed.

A lot of people who hear this story respond with, “Wow. It would have been quicker to drive.”

Yes. Yes it would have!

So next time you have a travel disruption, think of me and my 35 hour journey from Toronto to New York City.

Oh, by the way, it didn’t snow in Toronto that Christmas. It was one of the greenest Christmases they’d had in a long time. I also learned that Toronto doesn’t get that much snow compared to surrounding areas! New York often gets more than Toronto does apparently. It certainly did that year!

Luckily, I’ve lived here long enough that I’ve now had three white Christmases and that craving has been sufficiently satisfied. Now if only winter would end in January…

What was your craziest travel experience? Let me know in the comments!

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