I-5 drive was start of a long road back

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Monday, September 17, 2001 9:00pm
  • Local News

It was already going to be hard, moving her and saying goodbye.

Ink on the Glacier Park calendar pinned to my cubicle wall is the only trace of travel plans we abandoned last week. In the calendar’s Sept. 14 square is penned "7:25 a.m. Alaska Airlines." For Sept. 15 it says "6:36 Alaska flight home, lands 8:44 p.m."

My daughter and I were to have flown together to California, where she started college this week. I was to have flown back alone, a little sad but assured that she was where she belonged.

She is where she belongs, on campus. But I spent much of Thursday through Sunday on Interstate 5 because of the fiery hell that rained from the sky Sept. 11, consuming thousands of lives and the sense of safety we take for granted in this country.

On my calendar, Sept. 11 is ludicrously marked "wedding gift for Briana."

My hair stylist never got her gift. We never made our flight. College started, though, and my daughter was there.

Life both did and did not go on last week. My freshman was typically giddy one moment, yet seriously shaken the next. Goodbye wasn’t easy. Nevertheless, we smiled, we hugged, and off I drove (and drove and drove).

We went through the motions in a world profoundly altered.

I can’t speak for air travelers. From the interstate, green and brown scenery has changed to red, white and blue.

Near Roseburg, Ore., a trucker cruised by at 80 mph with an American flag beach towel flying from his door frame.

"Pray for our victors, bless our people" said blocky letters on an old Chevy Suburban filled with blond children.

In California, between Sacramento and San Francisco, a more ominous message covered a minivan’s rear window: "NUKE ‘EM." No one was honking or giving the driver a dirty look. It seemed, I guess, to some, an acceptable sentiment. Nuke ‘em.

Flags flapped from antennas and waved from overpasses. Signs everywhere implored "God bless America."

When we pulled off, for $1.75 gas, the mood was more small-town Mayberry than anonymous freeway stop. Strangers shared their business with strangers, about where they had been Tuesday and what flights they were supposed to have taken.

At a rest stop south of Olympia, a Muslim man told his life story to people waiting in line for caffeine.

He had come from India to Canada 30 years ago. His children are so westernized they’d rather eat a hot dog than spicy Indian food. He is proud to be Muslim. "But this … this … has nothing to do with being Muslim," he said, shaking his head and looking at each of us in line.

People asked if he had been harassed since Tuesday. No, he said, but he sees fear in others’ eyes. He drove away then, in a small red car that had British Columbia plates and an American flag.

Somewhere near our destination, we used our cell phone to check our phone messages at home. My late husband’s sister, Cecilia Muhlstein, had called from her Manhattan apartment. She spoke of smoke and sirens and people walking around with pictures of lost loved ones.

"It’s just a very scary place to be," her message said. "You don’t know if it’s over."

It’s not over. That is the one thing we know for certain.

That’s why the familiar ribbon of I-5 was such a strange place to be. It feels eerie out there, wherever you go.

Alone on the long haul back, I turned to National Public Radio for hours and hours of company.

In a soothing voice, NPR’s Weekend Edition host Liane Hansen wrapped up her Sunday broadcast with something I’ll share:

"Hang in there, folks."

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