10 Years Ago…A Family Odyssey (part 2)

Part 1 of this article can be found here.

Day Two: Wednesday September 12, 2001

When morning arrived, the apartment started to empty out. Subway service had been partially restored, and there was now a way for everyone to get home. Everyone, that is, except for Laura and her kids. Their Tribeca loft was still in a cordoned off zone, and it was unclear how much longer she would be kept from going home.

The phone rang, and it was a perfect stranger. This person wanted to reach out to a New Yorker to express her solidarity, so she dialed 212 and then her own phone number, hoping to reach someone that way. I thanked her for her good wishes, and it crossed my mind that this was the first time I had ever experienced being considered a “victim.”

The television was still the center of attention as we awaited word of further developments. The phone kept ringing with relatives and friends checking in to make sure we were alright. Emails came in from such far flung places as Los Angeles, Chicago, France and Switzerland. Beth took to emailing reassuring updates to all of them.

At noon, I started calling Toronto to see if the festival was going to be cancelled. Finally, I reached someone who told me that the press conference had just ended, and that it was announced that the festival would indeed go on.

I stared at the 35mm film cans sitting in the foyer, and my adrenaline started to flow again. I turned to Beth and said, “Promise me that you won’t shut me down until you hear my entire thought.” She nodded warily. “Here’s what I’m thinking. I’ll rent a car. We take the entire family on the road. We first go to Toronto and I have my world premiere. Then we drive to Chicago and drop Jeff off at school. Then we come home.” There was a momentary pause, and then she said simply, “Okay.”

The fact that we were pulling Emily out of school for the duration of the week didn’t occur to either of us at that moment.

I whipped into action, running first to the computer and to the Avis web site. Within minutes, I had reserved a full-sized car and had a printed confirmation in my hands. Meanwhile Beth woke up the kids and starting throwing things into bags. All of Jeff’s stuff was already packed for college and ready to go, so we only needed to grab a few days worth of clothing for the rest of us.

I called Stephen and told him what we were planning, and he told me that he was meeting up with Tanya Wexler, the director of the film, and they were all going to drive up to Toronto as well.

We explained to Laura what we were doing and left her the keys to the apartment to stay until her husband could make his way back to Manhattan, and as long as she needed to.

I ran down the three blocks to the local Avis office. There was a line of people waiting to get in that stretched all the way down the block.  A woman wearing a red Avis smock was walking up and down the line yelling “If you do not have a reservation, there are no cars left. I repeat, if you do not have reservation, you will NOT get a car.”  I held my confirmation up over my head (the confirmation I had just printed out 25 minutes earlier) and yelled to her, “I have a reservation.” She looked at the piece of paper in my hand, and walked me to the front of the line and into the office.

About 15 minutes later, I was parked in front of our building, loading up the trunk. This was no small challenge since we were carrying all of Jeff’s possessions for his first year of college, small suitcases for the rest of the family and two 35mm film cans. Somehow it all squeezed in and we were on the road.

As we headed up the New York State Thruway, the only vehicles heading in the opposite direction (toward the city) were military ones. A strange, empty feeling washed over me. I felt like I was a traitor. I was abandoning my city at a time of crisis…running away. At a rest stop later in the trip, Beth expressed that she was feeling much the same thing.

Listening to the radio in the car provided no solace. Every station was broadcasting nothing but non-stop vitriol. Right-wing types were yelling about how we have to bomb the shit out of everyone responsible. Left-wing types were talking about blow-back from our misguided foreign policy over the last century. I was getting angry. Why New York? Why would they target the one place in the country that would likely be most sympathetic to their cause?

Jeff chimed in that we couldn’t possibly understand the anger and resentment of other cultures, and that there is a different code of conduct that we can’t judge by western standards. I was in no mood for this kind of naive relativism. Sorry, Jeff. Killing thousands of innocent people is just not justifiable under any circumstances. I found myself uncharacteristically in the “bomb the shit out of them” camp.

The we came to the topic of the draft. Jeff was potentially at risk if all this talk of war was to lead to reinstatement of conscription. I thought about how Canada was the destination of those in my generation who had faced that dilemma.

We argued as a family for hundreds of miles, while the radio pundits yapped in the background.

Along the way, we were in cellphone contact with Tanya and Stephen. We had taken slightly different routes and ended up at different border crossings into Canada. There had been reports of long lines at all the border crossings, so it would be luck of the draw as to which of us would get to Toronto first.

Sure enough, the lineup of cars at the border was over a mile, and it took more than an hour to get to the front. I was nervous about the possibility that the customs agents would tear apart my carefully packed trunk, the contents of which made it look like we were moving to Canada (a thought that had actually crossed our minds)…not to mention those two 35mm film cans. I knew enough about shipping film prints to Canada to know that there was a possibility the print could be confiscated.

Sure enough, after questioning me as to why we were going to Canada, “Uh, you see officer, first there’s this screening, and then my son has to get to school,” the agent asked me to open the truck. I popped it open. As he ran his flashlight around the contents of the trunk, he finally said “thank you” and waved me on. I slammed the trunk closed and got back in the car, my heart still racing, and off we went.

It was 1:00 in the morning when we finally arrived at the Marriott on Bloor Street, I was informed that they didn’t have a room ready for us. Under normal circumstances I would have exploded, but I was drained, and I probably looked it. The woman behind the desk asked where we had come in from. When I said “New York City,” she looked me up and down, and looked at the rest of the family standing there. I guess we looked like what we were…refugees. Then she said, “I’m upgrading you to a suite.”

When we got up to the room, we didn’t have time to marvel over having been upgraded to one of the nicest rooms in the hotel. We were too tired, and grateful for a place to collapse.


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