LONGLEAF STORIES

full circle in the hundred acre wood

September 29, 2001

Flight 5462: Delta

Asheville to Cincinnati

We are told that when the terrorist hijackers entered the doomed airplanes they were encouraged to repeat to themselves prayers which called upon God to be with them and reminded them that his angels would protect them.

Flight 947: Delta

Cincinnati to Salt Lake City

As Buck and I turned the Lincoln into the entry drive of the Asheville Airport, it became very clear that the ripple effect from September 11’s criminal disaster had settled into our normally serene Smoky Mountains.

First, we saw the flashing lights of a four-wheel drive police vehicle, a big red stop sign, and a very large, burly fellow in a uniform replete with side arm, day-glo strips stuck on his chest, and a sweater cap in deference to the chilly morning.

No more pulling up to the curbside to unload our bags. Concrete barricades had been erected to keep a safe distance between vehicles and the terminal entrance. Several rows of the parking lot — the ones closest to the terminal — had been closed off. We were able to unload our bags at a designated concrete barricade where we were greeted by a cordial, experienced Sky Cap. Buck took my driver’s license for I.D. The Sky Cap said he would let them know at the desk that he had seen me, and that I matched the i.d. I drove back around slowly, allowing Buck time to check us in, knowing his Blaser hunting rifle might take extra time.

We had planned to go somewhere for breakfast, but after checking out the security measures, we decided to park and stay. There is a new parking area for travellers, to the right, well past the terminal building. A shuttle back to the terminal was offered, but we declined, opting instead to walk the short distance on this pristine Autumn morning.

Luckily there was no line at the security checkpoint. Our carry-on pieces were x-rayed. The laptop was removed from its case. Although Buck’s camera case also contained binoculars, a range finder and gun strap, the case was not unzipped or examined. We were both checked rather thoroughly with metal detecting wands. All metal detectors were set much more sharply than I had ever experienced. It even picked up the small American flag pin in Buck’s pocket that he had not yet had time to affix to his shirt.

He got a more thorough check, including a pat-down. The young man checking Buck had to ask his boss about Buck’s plastic “tooth swords” (dental floss thingees). They were examined and x-rayed and pronounced okay.

After all this, when we were through security and hoping to find a locker to stash our bags in while we went back out to the airport snack bar, I looked in my wallet and there, in the change compartment, was my miniature Swiss Army knife. I had totally forgotten it was there. It might not help us a great deal for self-defense, but if anyone could use it effectively to help us all, it would be Buck. He demonstrated to me at home how his camera swung on its strap could connect with an attacker’s temple — if surprise and time were on our side — to actually make a knock-out blow.

All of the lockers were either in use or broken and so, with his usual keen eye and good judgment, Buck approached four burly, fairly tough-looking military type guys in t-shirts and jeans, with pagers strapped on their belts and cell phones sticking out of their pockets, and asked if they would watch our bags while we went to the cafe for some breakfast. They quickly assessed us and agreed.

Coming through security after breakfast, the very nice older woman with a New England accent had us walk through the metal detector. Buck set it off, but she paid no attention and waved us on through even though we stood by the table arms out, ready for the metal detector wand. She had obviously “profiled” us as good citizens. Lucky for other travelers, she was right.

It was a fairly short, comfortable flight to Cincinnati. We left about 15 minutes early. The airport there was not very crowded. Some signs of economic distress: the “Laptop Lanes” franchise was closed and padlocked with a “closed forever” sign on the door. In the little news and snack kiosk near our departure gate, there were only a few old Romance novels and westerns on the shelves; no bestsellers. Looked like they might have lost the current books concession.

October 12, 2001

8:45 a.m. Glasgow, Scotland time

Sunrise over the North Atlantic

Boeing 767-200 American Airlines, Flight 52 Chicago to Glasgow

We (the United States and Britain, primarily) have been bombing Afghanistan for five nights and several days. I passed the night aboard this crowded, reasonably comfortable airplane — one of the first since September 11 that I haven’t spent a portion of the night with a tiny earphone in my ear listening to reports from the front, or reports on bioterrorism, or suspects detained, or geopolitical issues, or the various Muslim sects, and what does the Koran (Quran) actually mean when it speaks of Jihad? All on the BBC,  which is broadcast from midnight to 6 a.m. on our Asheville public radio station.

Buck is snoozing gently, trying to squeeze in 40 more winks. Meanwhile the pilot has advised that we shall be landing in thirty minutes, which will put us about 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

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