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Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2001 / 20 Kislev, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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A trip to forget: Terrorists be darned -- THE airlines are desperately trying to get a nervous public back on airplanes following the Sept. 11 attacks. Now, reinforced cockpit doors and better security are fine as far as they go, but I've got a surefire way to get people back into the skies: Have anyone who is skittish about flying drive to a destination at least 12 hours away with four young kids.

Even before the attacks, we'd considered driving from the East Coast to the Chicago area for Thanksgiving. After the attacks, the decision was made. I wasn't getting on a plane and neither were my kids.

The goal was to leave at about 5 a.m. the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We planned on packing our sweet little sleeping bundles into their seats. We had visions of the kids blissfully snoozing away the first three to four hours of the trip, while my husband and I sipped rich, fresh coffee from a high-tech thermos, watched the sun come up and had thoughtful discussions about our family life.

Well we finally departed about 7 a.m.. in the pouring rain. The kids were wide awake and had been since 5:30. The coffee was forgotten in the rush and the intimate discussions centered around who was to blame for getting out the door so late and thus hitting rush hour traffic.

And that was the easy part.

About 15 minutes into our journey, just after we'd gotten onto the interstate, we heard a slight banging from above. Better check that roof rack attachment at one of the next exits, we agreed. But there was no need. Seconds later, the soft vinyl car rack bag filled with children's clothes ripped free of its straps, becoming what must have seemed to drivers behind us like an unidentified projectile being launched from the roof of our van onto the highway. (Thankfully, no one was hurt.) This was not on the itinerary. Complete shock descended. Worst of all, we soon realized that the bag and the duffel inside it had ripped open, strewing children's clothes across three lanes of traffic. My husband pulled over, backing up in the emergency lane to reach the scene. There was too much time and money tied up in those little wardrobes to do anything else.

In the rain, in rush hour, he stopped the cars that had already slowed. With one hand holding up traffic, he gingerly reached out with the other for a piece of underwear here, and a pair of khakis there. I soon joined him, wondering why we weren't being mercilessly honked at. It quickly became obvious - the drivers observing the scene were doubled over in such hysterical laughter they had no ability to curse us.

My focus was shoes. I wasn't leaving before I found my son's new loafers or that second little patent leather. One of my favorite pullovers for my middle daughter was a full three lanes out into the highway. I snatched it. By this time a highway safety crewman had arrived to assist us. I hoped he would say something comforting like he'd seen this before - he didn't. We had nothing else to do but pile the wet clothes onto crying children so we could exit the scene before we died of embarrassment. Now, it's not that the car trip got any worse after that - it's just that it didn't really get better. We had borrowed a TV/VCR for the trip but it wasn't the salvation we thought it would be. The driver and front passenger can't see the movie if they like it, but without earphones they can't escape it if they don't. Thus we had to listen to the "Ooompa Loompa" song from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory about 50 times.

I soon began noticing the planes overhead - and thinking how lucky those people were.

It may have been most frustrating for my husband. He likes to set land speed records while driving, but traffic was a nightmare on the Sunday we returned. He suggested we not let the children have anything to drink so they wouldn't have to stop to go to the bathroom. I said that 12 hours without liquids might be a bit much for them. I prevailed.

And safety? Planes aren't supposed to get within a mile of each other. I wish I could say the same for trucks.

Anyway, we finally pulled into our driveway about 1 a.m., two hours after our estimated arrival time. Days later, I'm still stiff and miserable.

Terrorists be darned. I can't wait to get back onto a plane.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2001, Scripps Howard News Service