By September 10, 2001 our first DC vacation was almost over...I was booked to fly home the following morning, when her business conference was set to begin. On the night of the 10th we decided we had time for one activity before my flight. She wanted to visit the Pentagon...I wanted the White House.
Fast forward 12 hours: standing in line on the White House lawn, waiting for the tour to begin, security told us to "move back". Everyone responded with the typical nonchalant zombie trance. Security told us nothing else and only pushed us to move a few feet away. We assumed it was a bomb scare, but I I told her "this IS the White House...maybe we should take this seriously." So we walked across the street.
In lieu of the tour we wanted a front view picture of the White House, so we walked down an oddly empty E Street. Enjoying the classic view, we were abruptly interrupted by a Secret Service man hanging onto a moving SUV. He informed us "get back...RUN!!!" A bit shocked, I said "we'd better run" and so we did.
As we walked through the now crowded streets towards the subway (everyone was evacuating), we saw a huge long billow of black smoke in the distance. I said "I bet this is related to whatever is happening here." (We now realize this was the smoke from the Pentagon explosion.) As we crammed into the subway car, I overheard a man talking next to me and I asked him to clarify: "a plane hit the World Trade Center?" We thought it was a small private plane perhaps.
Back at the hotel, we turned on the television and were shocked. The fire alarm sounded. We evacuated the hotel and joined everyone from surrounding buildings on the street. The roads were jammed with cars as commuters tried to exit the city. I heard an airplane in the sky. The driver in front of me heard it as well...he reached his head out of the car window. I remember this guy craning his head...and staring up.
We were trapped in that city for about one week. We saw the National Guard, guns in hand, on every street corner. Many of her co-workers had arrived early for the conference and we spent this week together. Amazingly the White House tour resumed just two days later. As we walked the rooms, Laura Bush was giving an interview on the White House lawn, but the Secret Service purposely stood in front of the windows so that we could not see her.
With airports closed, we ultimately rented a van and drove to Charlotte, NC., so that we could all return home. Someday we will return to DC for a true vacation...but I always feel a moment of hesitation. It's impossible to shake this thought.