The Epic Summer Road Trip - Flight 93 Memorial: Day 5

Thursday, July 9th

Normally, I tell the story of the whole day of travel (whether you want to hear it or not).  But for two reasons today, I'm not going to do that. I mean, we drove from Philadelphia to Cleveland.  So, for six hours, we were in the car, stopping at rest stops and fiddling with the iPod for another music choice.  The reality was this day was mostly boring.  But it was designed to be boring.

The real reason I am not going on and on about the journey is because of the stop we made.  And being silly or glib about the day as a whole feels wrong.

We visited the Flight 93 Memorial.

As we drove to Philadelphia a few days ago, we saw the exit for the memorial on the highway.  Until that exact moment, it didn't occur to me that we were even in the neighborhood.  Or even that there was a memorial.  Plus, we were too tired from the drive that we didn't want to divert on that trip.  But we banked the idea in our memory.

This time, I budgeted the time.  It felt wrong not to for various reasons.  For one, while I didn't start heavily traveling until after 9/11, I did fly every so often, so all of the changes to air travel happened during the time I was occasionally flying.  On that day, I had recently moved back to Chicagoland after losing my job in North Carolina.  I was living with my parents and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.  So this wasn't my greatest time as an adult.  On Tuesday morning, I was working at Williams Sonoma in a suburb of Chicago, listening to the radio as we unboxed stock, moving robotically as the news continued flooding in, all while fielding calls from friends from NC wondering if I was ok in Chicago.  Driving home early from the store was surreal and quiet, and I spent the rest of the afternoon in front of the TV.  It's what we all did on that day.  Elias arrived at my parent's house after school.  And it was one of the first times I had to really consider what a five year old should be exposed to.  I wasn't a mom.  I didn't know what he should or shouldn't see.  And Elias and I were still figuring each other out.  But he came home and we sat for a while, watching the coverage.  Me, comprehending what all was happening.  Him, hopefully not remembering this day in the future.

We couldn't not go here.

We drove on 76 towards Cleveland and we took an exit towards Route 30.  I will say, I didn't entirely know how long it would take to get to the memorial.  And this was the time I was happy we didn't try this on the way to Philadelphia.  It took us almost 45 minutes on very country roads to get to the memorial.  The signage was a bit lacking, but the memorial isn't 100% finished.  Maybe there will be more signage one day.  Or maybe you just have to trust your navigation.

Once we made it to the memorial, parking was obvious.  When we arrived, the skies were ominous.  We knew the rain would come.  We just hoped we would be able to experience the memorial before the rain washed us all away.

We did.  Well...mostly.

There is a Visitor's Center (which I really did not get a picture of...sorry) which you can see information about the plane and passengers.

The start of the Memorial Wall and Walkway marks the northern edge of the crash site and debris field.  There are benches to sit and reflect, plus small alcoves where people leave tokens of remembrance.

Then you see the Wall of Names, with 40 inscribed white marble panels.  This is the part I had the hardest time comprehending.  There were only 40 people on the flight.  Between the flight crew and passengers, only 40 names.  Have you been on a flight with less than 50 people on it in the last 14 years??  I don't think I have.

And there is a boulder.  The boulder marks the general location where the plane crashed.  We met up with a Park Ranger on our way back to the entrance.  She said everyone wanted to know where the plane crashed.  The boulder was unearthed during the excavation of the plane, so they added it to provide context for visitors.

The Park Ranger asked us what we thought of the memorial.  Even now, I have to pause.  I told her that I wanted to use the word nice.  Because it was.  It was a simple memorial.  It was nicely done.  But nice is not a word I feel comfortable using.  The Park Ranger smiled.  It's something she'd heard before.  She used the word powerful.  And it probably was the best word that could be used.

The gate to the debris.
What I appreciated about this area was that visitors were very somber and quiet.  There were no selfies.  People spoke at a whisper.  There was a reverence of sort here.  It makes me feel better about society.  But realistically, you have to want to go here.  You're not going to fall into this memorial because you're right around the corner.  You are here for a reason.  You want to remember.

The skies opened up as we walked back to the car and we had to run to not get completely drenched.  Overall, the stop added about 1.5 hours to our journey.  It was good for us to do this.  And as we dried out in the car, we continued on to Cleveland.  The next leg of our Epic Road Trip was right around the corner.


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