Friday, November 1st – 2013
It was like a scene out of a zombie movie, as hundreds of people flooded out of the Los Angeles International Airport and walked on foot to get to a safe place. I was one of them. I knew there had been some kind of shooting inside terminal 3 of LAX, but information was scarce because I had been flying (en route) from Miami to LA, with a brief diversion to Phoenix, when the drama unfolded.
Once I landed, I found myself in the middle of a bad situation. I didn’t experience the shooting per se, but I was definitely in the middle of its aftermath. The entire structure/order of the airport seemed to have fallen apart. No one knew where to go, what to do, or what the hell was going on. I’d even heard rumblings from fellow passengers and airline employees that the shooting was a possible diversion to make way for a bigger attack. I was scared.
Plus, once I landed, I knew instantly that LAX was operating in some kind of DEFCON mode, which worried me even more. As an entertainment reporter and film critic, this particular airport was like a second home to me (simply because I had flown in and out of it so many times) and to see and feel it under duress was very upsetting.
I’d lost track of my friends, too (other film critics, from around the country and Canada,) who were also en route to LA to cover the same assignment as me, which was (hopefully, at some point) to interview the stars of a few new movies (The Best Man Holiday, Nebraska, The Delivery Man and Black Nativity.) I’d been keeping track of most of them via social media or by text message, but my phone was dying and they were all too scattered about (on diverted flights, sitting on the tarmac, trying to get out of locked down areas of the airport, or trying to walk out of LAX,) for me to keep up with them.
I made a mental note of everyone I could think of and sent out a positive prayer to the universe. “Let my friends and colleagues be okay,” I whispered. Then, I tucked my phone into my back pocket to save its juice and walked with throngs of other people, out of the airport and into the eerily empty streets in front of LAX.
There was absolutely no ground transportation coming in or out of the airport and most people, including myself, were just trying to put as much distance between themselves and the airport as possible. Hence the nerve-racking mass exodus on foot. Destination, unknown.
With the airport behind me and hundreds of people beside me, I still had no idea what was going on or how far I had to walk to get to safety. I mean, was I safe? Had anything else happened? Did anyone realize A LOT of people needed a ride?
I started to panic and reached for my cell phone. I knew I had just enough battery to make one call. I dialed Channel 7. The station already knew where I was, we’d been in touch all day, but there was only so much information they could give me. It was official. I was on my own.
I’m embarrassed to write this, but at that moment, I came to the realization that I wasn’t exactly a seasoned hard news reporter from WSVN. I proudly work at one of the best stations in the country, one known for spitting out aggressive network reporters, producers and anchors (news hounds, if you will,) but they had not reared ME that way.
Deco Drive had nurtured my creative side, given me the tools and freedom to blossom into a full-fledged Entertainment Journalist, Film Critic and Fashion Blogger. I’m not saying it hasn’t been hard, that it hasn’t been a hustle, what I’m saying is…
I’m NO Rosh Lowe. I’m pretty sure HE wouldn’t panic at the scene of a bank robbery, murder or airport shooting. He’d get the story, no doubt, but WHAT would Rosh do if he became part of the story? More specifically, this story. He’d never told me as much, but I’m assuming he would put his family first. Rosh would make sure they’re safe, because that’s the kind of guy he is AND then… then what would he do?
My Rosh rationalizations were interrupted by my phone. It was ringing. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t dead. I answered quickly. A fellow entertainment reporter (Maria Salas) said she had gotten wind of my whereabouts and calculated that I was about twenty minutes behind her (in walking distance.) She explained that she had secured a seat (for a lot of money) on a random minivan, to get us the hell out of dodge.
I could hear the panic in her voice as she told me to walk as fast as I could. I could also hear the other people in the van (strangers) yelling at her. They didn’t care that I was her friend, they weren’t waiting. I told her to go ahead, to get to safety and that I would find my own way and meet her later in Beverly Hills. “Shireen, I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU!” Maria shouted above the naysayers.
Over the next few hours, things would get progressively better. I did indeed make it to the van and despite being chewed out by a bunch of scared, angry people, my friend greeted me with a hug. She held me tight and said: “I told you I wouldn’t leave you.” My eyes swelled with tears.
As we drove past hundreds of stranded people, I was awestruck by how just one incident (the shooting,) could have such a powerful domino effect on one of the busiest and biggest airports in the country, leaving hundreds, if not thousands, of people with nowhere to go. I was also, for the first time in my life, incredibly grateful to be wedged tightly between a bunch of sweaty people I didn’t know, who frankly, at that moment, pretty much hated my guts.
When I got to my hotel room and opened the door, one of my best friends and fellow movie critic (Patrick Stoner,) was waiting to greet me. He handed me a glass of my favorite red wine. We smiled at one another. He had been at the airport, too. Not much else needed to be said.
That weekend, it was business as usual. However, I did come to the realization that being thrown into the middle of a sea of chaos, ultimately meant, for me, Thanksgiving had come early.
The events of Friday, November 1st – 2013 opened my heart, in a way, usually reserved for the holidays. I became more thankful for my family, my friends and my job. The days following, I loved a little more, gave a little more freely and absorbed the goodness around me. Sometimes, life gets so busy, I forget that it’s the little things …(based on true events) that mean so much. Like…
a seat on a van, a glass of your favorite wine, a friendly embrace, the kindness of strangers, even if they put up a fight. (Hello, they STILL waited for me.) Phone calls, text messages, tweets from friends, viewers and colleagues, all to make sure I was okay AND a rather large glorious bouquet of my favorite flowers that greeted me upon my return to Miami.
It’s true, I’m no Rosh Lowe, my hard news prowess needs major practice, but today, I’m just thankful for who I am and for all the little things (based on true events) that make life so beautiful.
Happy Thanksgiving & Happy Hanukkah!
ps. wear something sparkly to dinner (rhinestones are back in!)
pss. all of those aforementioned movies are in theaters now.