This is Part 4 of a series. You can find the other parts at Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Day Four: Friday September 14, 2001
Bright and early, we piled back into the car for the next leg of our journey. We had a sort of deadline in that Northwestern’s orientation was to begin at 6:00 that evening. I was calculating that the drive from Toronto to Chicago would be about 8 hours, so we would be there in plenty of time.
As we headed toward the border, traffic was getting heavy, and the radio was reporting delays ahead. I remembered the advice I had been given the night before, and we got off the highway and started heading north. It only took about a half hour to get to the border crossing that had been suggested. We passed a few signs and a couple of cute gift shops that confirmed we were on a native Canadian reservation. As we approached the border crossing, we were suddenly in a long line of cars. Even worse, what had not been told to us was that this border crossing required a ferry, which only ran once per hour. So we sat waiting for almost a full hour for the ferry to arrive, then it took another half hour to load the cars aboard, a 15-minute ride across the river, and then some additional time to unload. We had lost significant time.
Worse yet, we began to realize how far out of our way we now were on the U.S. side of the border. In order to get Jeff to his orientation, I would have to step on it. This meant, of course, that we couldn’t afford to stop too often or for too long. Gas stops would also have to be quick take-out food stops and also quick bathroom breaks. Everyone was getting grumpy. Everyone, that is, except Emily, who always falls immediately asleep in cars.
Meanwhile, the radio continued to blare out the latest blather. Bush was talking of war. Americans in the heartland wanted revenge. It was headache inducing.
By the time Chicago was in sight, we were wrecks. What I thought would be an 8-hour leisurely trip had turned into a 10-hour mad scramble. So much for short cuts.
We arrived on campus with 5 minutes to go until the orientation was to begin. Fortunately, since both Beth and I had gone to Northwestern, we knew exactly where Jeff’s dorm was. We rushed him in and, after figuring out which room was his, dropped him off at the orientation. In the meantime, we began unpacking the car and bringing all his belongings to his dorm room.
When Jeff got back to his room, we quickly helped him unpack just the essentials, and headed off to the Evanston Holiday Inn, where thankfully we still had the reservation that Beth had made as part of her original plan to bring Jeff to school. As Jeff settled in to his new home, we collapsed at the Holiday Inn.
Day Five: Saturday September 15, 2001
The next morning, we took Jeff to the local Target store and did the things parents do when they drop off a kid at college. We were there when the store opened up since we wanted to hit the road back to New York before it got too late. As you would expect, there were many other parents there doing the same thing. It was oddly comforting to be in what seemed to be a relatively normal environment, as we raced around, stocking up on groceries, toiletries and various odds and ends to make Jeff’s dorm room into a home.
We went back to campus and assembled what needed to be assembled, got his computer onto the school’s network, and generally helped him get organized. His roommates seemed like nice kids, and he seemed to be in good spirits, but I couldn’t help but think how traumatized this particular class would be, having begun their college experience under such duress. A generation that had grown up without ever experiencing war was now in the middle of one.
We didn’t have time for any long goodbyes, and Jeff seemed pretty anxious to focus on his new environment. So, we kissed him goodbye and we were off. It wasn’t the kind of goodbye that we would have liked, but then everything else in our lives was not exactly ideal at the moment either.
The goal was to get to Youngstown, Ohio by evening, where we would spend the night. From previous trips, I knew that Youngstown was just about half way from Chicago to New York, and we were not in the mood to drive the entire way without a break.
As usual, Emily fell immediately to sleep. Beth and I continued to listen to the radio for the latest news, but now we began to talk about what things would be like when we got home.
Upon arriving in Youngstown, we went for dinner at the hotel restaurant. There were a number of families having dinner, and we realized that many of them were wearing Northwestern clothing. As we began to overhear their conversations, we realized that they were all families that had just dropped their kids off as we had. NU is one of the few schools that start this late in September because they are on the “quarter system.” Most other schools had started well before 9/11.
We all started talking to each other. One particular family was from New Rochelle, and told us that a lot of the people who worked at the World Trade Center had lived in their town. Even though the families were in the process of a kind of shared experience, the conversation was reserved. We were all still in shock.