We were both half-asleep, driving as the sun rose on Highway 219 near Somerset, PA. We’d spent the previous day flying in from the West Coast to Pittsburgh, then driving several hours through the Pennsylvania night – stopping at a Chick-Fil-A for a 10pm dinner because Josh, from Georgia, suggested I try one of their sandwiches. There would more driving tomorrow, with video equipment, to a “Customer Success Story” shoot at NA Hoganas, a Cisco customer. Such is life on the road.
We got into the hotel around midnight (9pm Pacific time) and tried forcing ourselves to sleep a few hours before the wake-up call at 5:30 (2:30am by our body-clocks). Since a headache kept me up, I took a walk down the hill to an all-night convenient store called “Turkey Hill.” Nothing says “midnight headache remedy” quite like the name Turkey Hill.
The next morning, J & I piled the gear in the back of the rented Ford SUV and headed further into southwest Central Pennsylvania. (No kidding: that’s what they called it.) After complaining about the snowy-cold weather, we found ourselves cranking the heat while trying to find a comedy station on XM to get the blood pumping. We’d soon be meeting cheery clients accustomed to being up this early at the other end of this short ride. We’d have to up the energy a little and act like professionals.
We were now heading north toward Hoganas’ headquarters in Johnstown, maybe 45 minutes away, on Highway 219. I was thinking what I ALWAYS think on shoot days like these: “Lord, just get me through to lunch time without screwing this thing up.” And then, “I’d rather be a sleeping unemployed guy than a corporate video director right now.”
It was an almost desolate stretch of highway, brown and grey from several months of winter weather. The hills were nondescript, the trees more brown and lifeless than green like in CA. Not a barren place, but just very sleepy, like us.
Then we saw the sign: “United 93 Memorial Park.”
A few miles to the east, on Highway 30, near Shanksville Township was the site of the 9/11 plane crash, where the passengers rushed the hijackers and forced the plane to the ground “in a field in Western Pennsylvania.” It’s November 2011, just past the 10 year anniversary of the crash.
I’m awake now.
The whole day, that entire shoot, seeing it was all I could think about. I felt a little guilty for making fun of the whole “Turkey Hill” thing, taking for granted that I was fortunate to travel and meet new people, doing something I love to do: working with video, with someone as talented and easy-going as Josh. All I could think about was trying to complete the shoot on time. Maybe we’d have a few hours to see the site, before another airport restaurant dinner and heading back to Pittsburgh for the last flight back to the West Coast.
As always, the shoot was interesting and educational. The people of Hoganas were great; they took us to lunch at their favorite haunt. The day was memorable enough on those alone. Still, heading back meant going by the sign and answering some strange questions: Would we have time? How will it feel? Will I want to get on a plane home after seeing it?
We determined we had an hour to get there and back on the road. So we went for it.
Driving up, there was nothing special again: more brown and grey and nondescript countryside. It was a small parking lot, and the memorial up ahead was far from ornate. As we walked up, we were met by a docent who walked with me and answered my questions.
The low, grey-black wall leading up to the memorial and crash-site (Pic. 1) is meant to resemble an airplane wing. The white wall that intersects is the flight path, just prior to impact. Picture two is the impact zone; only family members are allowed there.
The docent walked me up to the memorial itself, which is similar to the Vietnam Memorial wall. He told me about what happened on the flight, how few passengers there were – that hijackers supposedly knew this, figuring it was easier to control fewer people – and how it came that they “took over” the plane and forced it earthward. I was very moved.
After a few minutes, time was up. I reconnected with J before we headed home. There was no interest in comedy on XM during the drive, but no problem getting onto the plane either. Just a lot of gratitude for a day like this one: doing something you enjoy and that people seem to appreciate coupled with a good dose of perspective. We should all be so lucky.
See you On the Road.