What’s on your mind?
It was September 11th, 2001. I was sleeping comfortably in my bed at the Pepper Mill Inn in Reno, Nevada. The phone was ringing. 6 am. It was my dear friend Andrew Thibodeau calling to ask if I had heard the news? Was I watching the TV? Was I ok? In a groggy state, in a sleepy voice, confused I questioned him, “What are you talking about?” “New York! The World Trade Centre! Turn on your TV.
As I fumbled to find the remote. I felt panic rush through me. That feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as you come over the first hill on a giant roller coaster. As the television warmed up and the picture appeared. The first tower smoking and then I saw it live. The second plane hit. The newscaster, “America is under attack.”
I called the school I was speaking at that morning. “Sorry Stu the school is closed today. We don’t know what’s happening and this is not the day to have an assembly.” I jumped in my rented Ford Explorer and dashed to the airport. Maybe I could grab an early flight home. Get back to my family. To the safety of Canada. I quickly found out I wasn’t getting out early. In fact not at all. I saw the long line-up at the rental car counters. Heard the angry voices, “But I need a car. I have to get home! You must have something!” Looking down at the keys in my hand. I had a rental. I have a way home. I hopped in my SUV and began the long drive home. Reno to Toronto. Almost 3000 miles. Up the West coast to Vancouver then across Canada to Toronto.
Once in my car I turned on the radio. Every channel screaming at me. “We are at war”, “It was the Russians”, “Terrorists!”, “6 more planes missing”.
I listened to the craziness. Watched gas prices rise to 5, 6 dollars a gallon. People I would meet at service centre talking of not trusting their neighbours, how the government should retaliate and who they should attack. I felt sick. I turned off the radio. Called home. No answer. Nothing. I never felt so alone. I drove quietly for hours. Thinking perhaps this could be it. Was this the end of the world? These are the things I was thinking. If you weren’t in America during those first 24 hours you have no idea the terrified panic that gripped an entire nation. I needed to get to British Columbia. Even though I would still be more than 2000 miles from my actual home, being across the boarder I would be safe.
Somehow crossing the 49th parallel would be better than where I was. My head began to race. I turned on the radio again, hoping for some music. No. Every station became all news. Worse was the talk radio. The world was in crisis. I pulled over to stretch, clear my head. Then I remembered. I had brought CD’s with me. A double set of “Vinyl Cafe Stories”. Stuart McLean. I got back behind the wheel. Placed the CD in the slot. The car gobbled it up. Like it wanted to hear something different too! The second the sound of his voice filled my car, I relaxed. My shoulders dropped and my grip loosened on the wheel. I felt ok. I somehow felt safe. I was no longer alone. I had Dave, Morley, Stephanie, Sam and the neighbourhood with me. My car was full. I listened maybe 3 times to every story. I don’t think I would have survived that trip. That insanity without those stories. There we were, Stuart and Stuart driving through the Majestic rockies, the never-ending horizon of the prairies, the beauty and awesomeness of Lake Superior. I was traveling through MY country with the best tour guide I could wish for. Stuart McLean you saved me on that journey. Thank you. I will miss you. You are part of large deposits in my memory bank! We are all better because of you. You deserve an Arthur Award. Perhaps more than anyone else in history. Here are Stuart’s words that express it best…
“We do this thing. We open our hearts to the world around us. And the more we do that, the more we allow ourselves to love, the more we are bound to find ourselves one day - like Dave, and Morley, and Sam, and Stephanie - standing in the kitchen of our life, surrounded by the ones we love, and feeling empty, and alone, and sad, and lost for words, because one of our loved ones, who should be there, is missing. Mother or father, brother or sister, wife or husband, or a dog or cat. It doesn’t really matter. After a while, each death feels like all the deaths, and you stand there like eveyone else has stood there before you, while the big wind of sadness blows around and through you.” – Stuart McLean