It’s difficult to find any humor about the events of September 11, 2001. However, probably the most humorous and moving experience related to the terrorist attacks happened on the other side of the world in Australia.
After my employer released me to go home early after watching the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse on television, I decided that I would do what anyone would do at such discombulating moment: I went shopping for a beach towel.
Since I was graduating from The Art Institute of Atlanta with an associate degree in Multimedia & Web Design, I decided that I wanted to celebrate by taking an exotic vacation. I had always been fascinated by Australia, so I convinced Jeff, Reid, and Laura to go with me. Since we were scheduled to visit Sydney (Bondi & Manly Beach) and Cairns (Great Barrier Reef), I figured that I probably needed a beach towel. And as I visited one store after another, I’d pick up a towel and consider it, then think, Almost 3,000 people died today and nothing’s ever going to be the same again. Eventually, I just grabbed a blue one and paid for it. I don’t even like shopping. However, I didn’t want to go home, either. There was nowhere to go, in fact, that you could escape the aftershocks of the terrorist attacks … and the unknown of what would happen next.
A week or so later, my travel agent contacted me to explain that Ansett Airlines of Australia had gone under due to some financial problems from the grounding of all flights on September 11, so our 1:00 p.m. flight had been bumped to a midnight flight on Qantas Airlines.
As my vacation approached people began to ask everyone in my group if we still planned to fly to Australia. “Aren’t you afraid?” a co-worker asked. “I wasn’t until everyone started asking me if I was afraid to fly,” I said. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life afraid of doing anything. Now get out of my way, I need to use the copier.” Of course, that was easier to say before I arrived at the airport.
Flying used to be fun. You could practically take a rocket launcher onto your flight without anyone batting an eye before September 11, and afterwards you had to check an ever expanding list to find out what was now anathema. Overall, we didn’t have too much trouble until we made it to the security check point at LAX for our international flight. We now had to remove our shoes as we went through the metal detector. I watched a security guard scream at a man who appeared not to speak English and was presumably flying back to Mexico. The guard kept trying to make the man take off his shoes by screaming “Sabado! Sabado!” and the man looked bewildered, because I’m sure he was thinking, What about Saturday? Why do you keep screaming Saturday?
Once we made it to Australia, we spent time in Sydney, flew up to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, then traveled to Alice Springs to experience the famous Outback. We arrived in the afternoon, dropped our bags off at the hostel we were spending the night at, then Jeff, Reid, and I wandered downtown. Jeff talked asked a few Aboriginal women if he could take their picture. They agreed, but then would turn away when started to snap the image. I had an inexplicable craving for apple pie, which is unusual because I don’t like apple pie. Then we heard a boisterous “Yoohoo, boys!” Laura pedaled up to us on a bicycle from the hostel.
“Did you rent that?” Jeff asked.
“Oh, are we supposed to rent them?” Laura asked, before spying a beer garden. “You know, I’m kind of thirsty.”
So the four of us ended up in a beer garden in the Outback, and were chatting with a nice German couple when distinguished man and woman strode in, followed by a crowd of photographers and reporters. He smiled and extended his hand to us as the paparazzi surrounded us. “I’m John Anderson, Deputy Prime Minster of Australia and I want to know we have your vote in next week’s election.”
Then Laura said, in her Southern drawl, “Well, howdy. I don’t know who y’all are, but you’re welcome to sit down and have a beer with us. This is Dieter and Uta from Germany, and they were just telling us how they met.” It was all I could do not to bust out laughing as media watched John Anderson anxiously.
For just a second, you saw a flicker in John Anderson’s eyes where he must have been thinking, Crimey, here I am dragging my wife around in the Outback with the media to get the support of the typical rural Australian and it’s just my luck that I walk right into a gaggle of Yanks. Then he smiled and explained that his position was comparable to Vice President of the United States. “I just want you know that we feel terrible about what happened on September 11 and we’re with you.” With just a few words, something inside me that had been hard and frozen since the terrorist attacks melted inside me. Sometimes we just need for someone to say that they’re sorry to make everything all right, and in this moment, I just needed to know that somewhere, even Down Under, someone cared.
Immediately sensing that there were no rural Australians in the beer garden, John Anderson spun on his heel and led his wife and the media onto more promising sound bytes, while Dieter told us all about Uta’s strudel.