The Open Door

by Misty Tosh

"Girl, you know you don't have to check those bags if you don't want to," said the young African American girl from behind an x-ray screen to her co-worker, who was checking passenger baggage at Logan Airport.

Maybe it was the way she said it that caused chills to shoot up my spine as I grabbed my bags from the conveyer belt. Her tone made it sound as if it was a big inconvenience and a huge waste of time for two of them to root through passengers' belongings.

The woman in front if me whose bags were being checked just stared at the girl with no expression, silently waiting to get her hands back on her bags. As I walked away, my two unchecked carry on bags in hand, I had the urge to turn back and say to the girl, "Are you kidding me? You think it's a burden? Searching those bags is your job. It's the reason you get a paycheck every week."

Of course I didn't say a word. I just kept walking toward my gate. My internal dialogue kept running though. How many bags do those girls check? Why would she tell her co-worker not to bother loud enough so passengers could hear? But, I mean, come on, what were the chances? Did anything ever really happen at these airports? We're protected, right? Three hours later, I would know how wrong I was.

It was 8:38 a.m. Central Standard Time on Tuesday, September 11 when my cell phone rang as I got off the El train in Chicago. It was my dad calling from home in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to make sure I was safe. Safe? Safe from what? When he told me that two jetliners had been hijacked and slammed into the two Word Trade Center towers, I couldn't respond. When he told me that they had taken off from Boston's Logan Airport, I was sick to my stomach. We had left that airport at 6 a.m., Eastern Standard Time.

My traveling companion and I ran back to my apartment and flipped on the TV. The footage was on every channel. The top of both WTC towers on fire and black smoke billowed out from them. We were dumbstruck not only by what we saw on the screen, but by the fact that we had just spent the night at Logan Airport before catching an early United Airlines flight back to Chicago. As more information poured out of newscasters mouths and random uncertainties became solid facts, we began to slowly process it all.

We arrived in Boston at 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning after driving down the coast of Maine. We were afraid that if we slept at our hotel in Maine, we’d never struggle awake to drive the 4 hours to catch our 9:30 a.m. flight. So we figured if we drove down on Monday night, we could just hang at the airport for a few hours, maybe have cup of coffee and some breakfast, and get on the earliest flight out. After we dropped off the rental car, we arrived at the airport at about 1:30 a.m. We wandered through baggage claim and took the escalator upstairs to the United ticketing booths. There wasn't a soul in any of them. All restaurants and shops were locked up and a metal gate was pulled down over the entryway leading to the gates. The whole airport was a ghost town. So much for breakfast and checking in early.

As my friend laid claim to a row of chairs with our luggage and sat down for what was going to be a long wait, I got a sudden burst of energy and went exploring. If you have ever been in a major airport in the wee hours of the morning, you know that it can be terrifying. All that space, normally bustling with activity, is deserted. While wandering around, I passed a few Spanish men standing around, part of the night cleaning crew. I saw about five other people spread out on chairs, attempting to get some sleep. Going down a hall, around a corner, down an escalator to the cavernous restrooms, all the while not seeing a soul was like a scene out of The Shining. Although I passed no one and saw nothing suspicious, at times like these, you are most aware. You can feel everything and your imagination runs wild. What was that noise? Was someone lying in wait in the last stall of the bathroom, waiting for an unsuspicious stranger to wander in at 2 a.m.? Good Lord, who knows what is going on in the bowels of the airport and has anybody ever heard of security? What in God's name was going to be around the next corner?

As I sprinted up the stairs back up to the waiting area, I happened upon a little room directly outside the security check with an Internet kiosk and a few rows of chairs. There were maybe four people sitting and sleeping in there; it was the perfect place to spend the next few hours. After I retrieved my friend from her station outside the United ticketing booths and we moved our luggage in there, I walked back past the row of totally empty ticketing stations. At the very end of the row was a door, presumably leading to the back of the United ticketing booths. It was open. Why was that door open? Silly juvenile temptation beckoned. Could I just walk in through that partly open door? And who would ever know if I did? What was back there? The desire to go behind that open door and dig around and see what was going on was almost overwhelming. As I walked past, I couldn't help but wonder, where are the employees, and why is that door standing open?

My friend and I sat in the Internet kiosk all night until the gates opened just after 5 a.m. and we checked in on the "wide open" 6 a.m. flight. Once we got through “security,” I headed to Starbucks, the only place open that early. There was only one person working, so the line formed rapidly. I now think of all those people lined up behind me. I am sure that some of them were on the ill-fated flights. And, I can't help but wonder, as we sat there in that tiny room reading, attempting sleep, talking and just waiting, what was going on behind the scenes? Were the hijackers just arriving at the airport? Were they already in the airport, wandering around as I had just done? Did they actually walk through that open door behind the United ticketing booths? Just freely checking out the restricted area, with no one to stop them?

I will forever think about those two girls who were running the X-ray screens at the security check. They had simply arrived for work at 5 a.m., ready for another boring and annoying day of work. How could they have known that the shaving kit they saw on the X-ray screens would contain knives? Knives that would be used as weapons to take over entire airplanes full of innocent people. How could they have known, with their $6 an hour jobs and indifferent attitudes, that murderers and suicide terrorists were walking through their security check, about to destroy the World Trade Center and way of life as we know it? And I will always remember that open door, just sitting there, inviting anyone who had enough curiosity, enough gumption or enough reason to stroll right in.

Named by SCREEN MAGAZINE Chicago's “Queen of Independent Films,” Misty Tosh, is the Line Producer of DESIGN, which has just been accepted at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. Her boutique catering company has fed independent filmmakers all over Chicago. The first episode of a food/travel show she is currently prepping will be filmed in Louviers, France during May 2002. Her production company, Misty & Company, is based in Chicago.

(c) Misty Tosh

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