Finding a Way Home in the Midst of Tragedy

Jackie Bland, Managing Director, PRIMIR/NPES, Reston, VA

I was in my room at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, on the phone on hold, waiting for a United representative to tell me whether I could get on an earlier flight back to Washington. The Today Show was on in the background. As I waited, I watched in horror as Matt and Katie narrated the breaking new story…and yet another plane hit the World Trade Center.

I was horrified at what followed, and immediately got on the phone with my husband back in the DC area who hadn’t heard the news yet. He was safe. Then I tried to reach my sister who worked at FBI Headquarters as I listened to the story unfold, and all the rumors about other potential sites in and around the metro DC area. Words can’t describe my feelings and my fear for my family and friends back home as I scanned the Chicago skyline at the other potential target sites mentioned in the news reports.

Fortunately, I learned quickly that apparently another PIA staffer was at the airport for an earlier flight. Quick thinking on her and her boss’ part landed a seven-passenger minivan rental. Calls went out to other staffers who were also planning to go home that day, and after a lot of calls, fear and confusion, finally I was told I would be picked up in front of my hotel for the long drive back to Virginia. Little did we know at the time how lucky we were and how difficult the transportation situation would become for the other folks in Chicago.

I was thankful to know I was on my way home. I could only imagine the stories unfolding for all those other folks who were at PRINT. That afternoon, as we drove across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, we were silent as we listened to the radio in horror about all the atrocities created by these terrorists, about all the lives lost and shattered, and about all that we did not yet know about who was behind this senseless tragedy.