“Mate, be back in a little while.”
We watched with our jaws to the floor as the kilted man hoisted his bagpipes and headed out the hostel. It was an unlikely gathering of strangers right before Christmas. The Argie, a Mexican, and I, all in our 20s, and then the 40-something Scot checked in. After playing his pipes for sometime in the cobblestone streets of altstadt Zürich, the Scotsman came back and we headed to a pub on Hauptbahnhof Straße to celebrate his earnings. Travelers make friends easily.
“You gotta turn on CNN!” my friend screamed into the phone.
It was a perfect September morning in Washington. The day was sunny and warm and the sky was the bluest shade of blue. Having just returned from South America ten days ago, I was taking my time easing back to life in the rat race.
I watched in amazement as the news commentators debated about the gaping hole in the World Trade Center. Hours later, the Twin Towers tumbled to the ground and the Pentagon was ablaze. Mobile phones crashed and thousands of Capitol Hill staffers, members of Congress, lobbyists, police officers, and visitors wandered the grounds.
“A plane is heading for the Capitol!” some speculated.
Just then a sonic boom thundered across the southern sky. I dropped behind a metal file cabinet and thought it was my time - and I couldn’t even use the mobile to call mom. But it was an air force fighter climbing to intercept possible inbound airliners.
What followed was months of anger and confusion. The government had to act but anthrax chased us out of our Capitol Hill offices. We held meetings at cafes and I scribbled floor speeches and drafted legislation in hallways and on notebook paper. Those were uncertain times.
NOUS SOMMES TOUS AMÉRICAINS, declared France’s Le Monde.
We are all Americans indeed. Outside of my family, the first people to contact me about my safety were Marie and Xavier, a Parisian couple I met at San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Travelers make friends easily.
“It’s time to stop being scared,” I thought to myself. “It’s time to travel again.”
Three months after that day of days, I bought the first cheap ticket to the first attractive location I saw. It was Zürich.