Perhaps it wasn't the greatest idea to try to breeze into Reagan National Airport on September 11 with just over a half hour to spare. Thanks to the awful events of that day eight years ago, air travel has become far less forgiving of time shavers and stragglers -- as I've learned from painful personal experience. The days of late arrivers racing down the terminal to just barely make their flight is now the stuff of comic movies. There now exists an inflexible 30-minute cutoff before each flight. Miss that, even by a minute, and you, my friend, are in serious trouble.
It sure seemed I was in for it that day. A combination of meetings and last-minute work and uncooperative taxi drivers delayed my arrival at the airport that Friday until just after cutoff. The automated check-in said I could fly standby on a flight six hours later or purchase another ticket for an even later flight. The lady at the other end of my usual booking service kept me on hold for 10 minutes, then said she could book a new flight -- the next day. And for a few primal scream-inviting minutes, I believed I had somehow left all my credit cards and driver's license in the cab.
When the cards finally surfaced (wrong pocket) I decided to try the checkout machine again and see about that standby flight. Then the good Lord smiled and delayed my original flight just long enough so I could print the boarding pass and make it through Orange Alert-level security. The plane managed to snag the first available takeoff and the flying conditions proved perfect and picturesque. We arrived at the St. Louis airport within kissing distance of on time. Take that, Osama.
I wasn't the only resident of my Fairfax, Virginia, townhouse to go away to a rehearsal, bachelor party, and wedding that weekend. Two friends and former townhousers had planned on getting married this year and they didn't consult each other before setting the dates on the same day. In their limited defense, they must have figured, "Who in their right mind would pick the day after September 11 to tie the knot?" Just a few years ago, the likely travel headaches alone would have made that unthinkable.
So my roommate headed to Poughkeepsie, New York, and I went to the Butterfly House in Chesterfield, Missouri, to witness the nuptials of sometime AmSpec contributor Robert VerBruggen and his bride, the former Jackie Stewart. Through the modern miracle of text messaging, we kept each other apprised of the goings-on at the other wedding. At 8:23 Saturday night came the coda: "They're married." My party was well into the reception by that point, somewhere between toasts and dancing. After the married couple's first slow dance, to a love song Robert had written and recorded for Jackie, the pace of the music picked up. That was my cue to vamoose: I am a lousy dancer and tuxedos only add to the horror. So I looked out on the duck pond and thought for a minute about how odd this was: two weddings the day after September 11.
Weddings are chock-full of symbolism. The rings, the dress, the candles -- the old, the new, the borrowed, the blue -- are there to acknowledge the past while signaling a transformation. And maybe, I thought, the date can point to something new as well. For a while there, most Americans wouldn't dare consider holding a wedding that close to that wretched day. But now, we're a little more hopeful. The sentiment that is slowly forming isn't so much "move on" as "move forward."
Was I right about that? Who knows, but it was one of those smiley notions that you just can't shake -- even if you are normally a devout pessimist. I rejoined the party, danced like there was no yesterday, and clapped so hard that I burst a blood vessel in one hand. I was smarting the next morning but it was worth it.