“I can get you into Hagerstown, Maryland.”

It’s the Sunday of the weekend following the 9/11 attacks. Reagan National is closed and will be for six months. I’m in Detroit, being helped by a nice Delta counter person at about 4pm. I have orders to report to DC on Monday, the next day, which are too important to cancel. At one point she says, “I can get you into Hagerstown, Maryland. You can rent a car there and drive to DC.” I say, “Sure.” She gives me the details while she finishes up the boarding pass. I will arrive in Hagerstown about 11:30 that night. That sinks in. They ain’t gonna be any rental car counter open at 11:30 that night, especially at a little airport. Not having a cell phone in 2001 I get a bunch of quarters and retreat to a phone booth. You remember phone booths. After a relatively few calls I’m talking to the nice lady Hagerstown airport manager and explain the situation. She says, “I can have Joe come in for you. He’ll rent you a car.” I say fine and hung up.

(Sound of a few hours passing)

I get off the plane at Hagerstown and into the terminal and get my luggage. Sure enough, there’s Joe at the rental car counter. I’m tired and in a hurry to get on the road to DC. We do our license and credit card thing and he hands me the keys: “Here are your keys. It’s a red Ford Escort. I don’t know where it is.”
“You know when the media said the President was flying into Andrews Air Force Base this evening on Air Force One? Well, that was a deception. He flew into here, Hagerstown. Suddenly all the local law enforcement people and Secret Service people were getting anything which could hide a bomb away from the airport, including all of our cars. Your car is probably out in the cornfield that way.” He pointed. Then he left to go home and to bed.
Luckily, the car keys had the then-novel clicker dealie for flashing lights and horn. After lugging my luggage (look up “impedimenta” in Latin) while wandering around the cornfield for several muddy minutes – the cars were scattered randomly – in near absolute darkness while clicking, I saw headlights flash in the distance and heard a faint “Honk!” I unlocked the car, threw in the bags, got in, and thought to myself, “Myself, what one should do now is get back out, pace forward about a hundred feet or so checking for ditches, big rocks, or other obstacles, get back in, drive forward another hundred feet, stop, check, repeat until out of the cornfield.” I could see the highway I wanted above the end of the field about 200 meters away. One other poor bastard drove by in the direction for DC. Then I, being tired (it was past 1:00am on Monday, the morning I was to report for duty.) thought to myself again, “Myself again, this is a RENTAL car. Screw that responsibility crap!” I selected D for Determined, pushed down the gas pedal, roared right through and over all those stubby corn stalk things and who knows what thumping-under-the-car else, bounced along up the steep hill toward the highway slowing just a bit near the top balancing the fear the rear wheels would start spinning against the fear something might hit me this close to success, and whipped onto the road to DC.

Got in the motel around 2:30am. Crawled into bed. Then I couldn’t sleep.

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