By Chaim Markowitz
I have always wanted to take a tour of the United States. I got that opportunity on September 11, 2001a day whose tragic events have been seared into the hearts and minds of all Americans. On this Tuesday morning, I, along with a few hundred actuaries from across the country, was attending the Casualty Loss Reserve Seminar in New Orleans. When the announcement came that the towers of the World Trade Center had fallen, my reaction was one of shock and disbelief. I worked on the 23rd floor of the WTC and thoughts of my fellow coworkers and friends flew through my head. There was nothing I could do from New Orleans, so my immediate concern was determining how to get home to Passaic, New Jersey.
A check of rental car locations disclosed that every rental car in New Orleans was taken. A train was not an option, as Amtrak was booked for the next three days. Thanks to the help of the hotel concierge, we were able to locate a 24-passenger bus chartered for the long trip to New York City.
We had no problem filling the seats, and the decision was made to set off as soon as possible. We packed and bought food, and at 2:30 p.m. (3:30 EDT), 24 actuaries set off on an unplanned tour of the Southeast.
Although this was an experience to remember, the mood was far from joyous. Many of us were worried about friends and family back home in New York. We passed the time reading, playing cards, and making new friends. Being actuaries, we did our best to put an actuarial spin on the trip. Some of us, having paid close attention to the opening session of the CLRS, tried to come up with a best estimate of when we would arrive in New York.
We quickly made our way north past two of Louisiana's most picturesque lakes; Maurepas and Pontchartrain, until we reached the Mississippi border. Our first pit stop was at a visitors center, where in true Southern hospitality, they offered us free cups of soda. Then we drove on through the rolling plains of Mississippi, soon passing the historic town of Jackson. About six hours after we started, as we crossed over into Alabama, our spirits lifted. We had spent five hours traveling the highways of Mississippi and we were glad to leave it behind.
As night fell, we realized that we would need a place to spend the night. Normally, looking for a hotel room for one or two people, or perhaps a family, is not a problem. Finding rooms for 24 people plus our driver was a challenge. Luckily for us, we had Tim Aman, navigator extraordinaire, who works at Guy Carpenter. He mapped out our route and also found us lodging at an Econo Lodge in Chattanooga. Before we could think about sleep, we found ourselves very hungry. At about 9:30 p.m., a mere seven hours after we began our trip, we pulled into Tuscaloosa, Alabama for supper. Much to our surprise, we encountered another charter bus of actuaries who had also rented their own bus! What are the odds of that? They decided to follow us to Chattanooga, which meant finding hotel roomsfor about fiftyand so after dining on some of Alabama's finest delicacies we set off again. We pulled into the city around 1:00 a.m. CDT.
After a five-hour nap, we set off on the second leg of our journey. As we started out the next morning, our spirits were a little better. The shock of the previous day's events had not entirely worn off, but now we were only 15 hours from our goal. We were heartened by the knowledge that when night fell on Wednesday, we would be sleeping in our own homes and close to our families and loved ones. Thanks to our fellow actuaries on the other bus, we borrowed a movie. With The Blues Brothers playing on the bus' video monitor, we were greatly entertained by John Belushi and company while we sped through the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and made our way into Virginia.
In Virginia we were treated to the magnificent sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Between mountain peaks, we caught glimpses of peaceful farmland and we enjoyed watching the cows and horses graze in the fields. Like little kids, some of us took great pleasure pointing out the various farm animals we passed. It took the harshness off the reality that we knew we would soon know more about the tragic events once we reached our homes.
The road to New York led us through several states and we were soon able to add West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to our list. Finally, as night fell, we reached our first destinationAllentown, Pennsylvania. We changed navigators and were soon in the capable hands of Eric Gottheim. As we got closer to New York, the bus took on the feel of a war room. We heard numerous rumors about which roads leading into New York were open or were closed. After making calls on our cell phones, and discussing our options, we decided to head for the George Washington Bridge. Finally, at around 10:00 p.m., we made a second stop in New Jersey. Several passengers, including myself, got off and headed home. The bus then continued into NYC to drop off the remaining passengers. After 31 hours and 1,300 miles, we had made it! We were finally home!
Many of us had mixed emotions. While we were happy to be home with our families, we also realized that many thousands of people would not be going home to their families. Our hearts go out to all those people affected by this tragedy. May the world never know such a tragedy again.