This year’s trip already has marked, in BIG black letters… avoid Chicago!! It is a nightmare. Driving in Chicago is driving in 24 hour rush-hour traffic.  But in 2001 I was not aware of this, and in blissful ignorance made my way to my next stop – Chicago. The drive was uneventful. It was the hostel that was memorable, and for contrary reasons.I chose to stay at the only hostel in Chicago which had parking onsite. Situated about 8 miles north of downtown, and just off Lakeshore Drive.The old chap at reception did not endear himself to me with his gruff and abrupt attitude, and I was almost sorry from the start that I had chosen to stay here. Weeks later I was to eat these words.

But on this, my first visit, I decided that as all the facilities were clean and the bed looked comfortable, I could cope with him. The hostel was not airconditioned, which in this hot summer was really its only drawback. I was only overnighting, and not actually staying in Chicago to see the sights (that would come later), so it suited my purpose. Next morning I left early to continue my trip to Farmington CT.

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It was around 5.30pm on the 11th September, 2001, that I once again visited this hostel, for a one night stay.

That day I had driven from Pittsburgh PA. An hour or so into my trip, the world stopped – even if only momentarily.

I was driving along, listening to the breakfast program on a local radio station, when suddenly it all went silent… silent just long enough to realise that the program had stopped… when the announcer came on and apologised for the break… explained that they were monitoring CNN and there appeared to have been an accident in NYC… The rest is history!

By this time I was on a tollway. At the first plaza, I stopped to call my daughter in Perth (who in turn called my son in Melbourne). Her voicemail was on, and I left a brief message, continued on my way, all the time listening to the radio. At the next toll plaza, I called my daughter again, and this time got to speak with her. (She had got the message, and had turned on the TV just in time to see the plane fly into the second tower.)

Relieved to hear that I was OK she asked if I had been in contact with her brother in Boston. He flies a lot for his job, and two of the planes had originated in Boston. I promised her I would call him, which indeed I did.

His work number went to voicemail. His home number went to voicemail. The mobile went to voicemail.

To say that I was now getting nervous is an understatement. But I had to continue on my way. As I got to each plaza, I stopped to call Boston, and each time the response was the same – voicemail! I was beside myself!

This was my state of mind, when I arrived at the Winthrop St hostel that evening. To my horror the same guy was at reception.

I had not stopped along the way to buy milk for my cereal next morning, and tried to ask where the best place was to get some. But I was shaking, and apparently not completely coherent.

This is when he asked, “What EXACTLY is it you want?”

“I want to cry!” I blurted out. (All day I had not allowed myself to get upset, I had to concentrate on my driving.)

“Come here,” he said, and with that, put his arms around me and allowed me to cry to my hearts content.

While I was crying my eyes out, and with his arm still around me, he took some cash from reception, handed it to another guest and asked him to go and get some milk for me. Then would not allow me to pay for it.

Since all the hostel telephones had several people waiting, he allowed me to use the office telephone to try and contact Boston. This time the phone was answered, and it was a relief to hear my son’s voice. He had just turned 29, and I swear I had not seen or heard him cry for two decades, but at that moment we cried together.