One Year Later: The Industry Remembers September 11
By Amy Turner (Weiss)
View Article PDF (layout by Amy Weiss)
Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day? — Alan Jackson
Sept. 11, 2001, is a day no one will soon forget. The marks that were made that day on our society, on our country, and on all of our lives will remain for a long time to come. Flags still fly from balconies, car antennas and business windows. People still sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” with a renewed sense of pride. America rediscovered its patriotism that day, and if anything good can be said to have come from the horrors of Sept. 11, it is the sense of camaraderie, brotherhood and national pride that resurfaced in all of us.
The remanufacturing industry was uniquely affected by the events of Sept. 11, due to the unfortunate fact that World Expo was scheduled to begin on Sept. 12 — making the 11th the travel day for most people. While many exhibitors and international visitors had already reached their destination, the majority of the domestic attendees were on their way to Las Vegas, or getting ready to leave, when the tragedy struck. Industry members instantly rallied to the assistance of their stranded co-workers and rivals alike, making the 2001 World Expo a unique experience for everyone involved, whether they made it to Las Vegas or not.
“I was on the second leg of my trip to Las Vegas when I was stranded in Cleveland,” recalled Bob Stiles of Oasis Imaging. “We had two other people stranded in Detroit and Moline, Ill.” All three had flown out of Boston’s Logan airport on the morning of Sept. 11. “Everyone was concerned that we were on one of the planes that crashed,” he said.
Stiles had actually made it onto his connecting flight to Las Vegas, and was sitting on a plane on the Cleveland runway when the attacks happened.
“That was pretty scary. We heard the pilot come over the intercom and announce ‘all flights are grounded, and we are returning to the terminal.’ No one knew what was going on, but thanks to cell phones, we found out pretty quickly.”
Once they got off the plane, things really got bad.
“There was a bomb scare at the airport,” Stiles said. “One of the other planes from Boston heading west had been diverted here. At the time, nobody really knew what had happened, and they were still afraid that the planes might have bombs on them. So the terminal was chaos, and they were evacuating people — only they had stopped traffic from entering the airport as well. So people were walking off of the airport grounds.”
Stiles was fortunate enough to get one of the last cabs out of the airport — which he shared with five other people — and the last vehicle National Car Rental had to offer. “Everyone was so cooperative,” he said. “People were getting rides with each other. I was returning home, and I asked if anyone else was heading for the Northeast, but no one in my line was headed that way.”
Stiles had other concerns that day, too. His brother worked in the World Trade Center. Fortunately, it didn’t take him too long to discover that his brother was in Staten Island waiting for the ferry when the planes hit.
“It was not a lot of fun,” Stiles said about that day. “But you know, I talked to my boss when we finally all got home. He said, ‘We had three people flying west from Boston that morning, and we all made it. We were fortunate. It was a lottery, and our number didn’t come up.’”
Newark, New Jersey
Fred Keen of Repeat-O-Type had a first-hand view of the attack on the World Trade Center. Keen and two members of his staff were standing in line at the terminal at the Newark airport a little before 9 a.m. on Sept. 11. “You could see the World Trade Center from the window of the terminal,” he said, “and someone said, ‘Look, there’s a fire.’”
The passengers still boarded the plane, but after just a few minutes the pilot came over the intercom to announce a delay. “He’d heard a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center,” said Keen. “We waited for another five minutes and the pilot came back on to say that the delay would probably be longer, and that we could get off the plane if we wanted — they’d announce when it was time for us to get back on.”
Of course, that announcement never came.
“We went into one of the bars in the terminal,” said Keen. “CNN was on the television, and they were talking about the plane crash. Just then somebody yelled ‘a plane just hit the other building!’ Then the announcement came for us to get on the plane to get our belongings and leave the airport.”
As Keen boarded the shuttle to go back to the parking garage, he looked out of the window to see that half of the World Trade Center was missing. As they pulled away from the terminal, the bus driver said, “Look, the second building is collapsing.”
“We figured we’d better go back to the office and figure out what to do now,” said Keen. “We purposely took a longer route that took us farther away from the city, because the traffic was so bad.
“We thought we’d go to Expo the next day,” he said, “but each day went by, and there were still no flights. We’d intended to try to get there, but no planes flew again until Saturday.”
Jason Jensen of Parts Now! was flying to Las Vegas from Madison, Wis., via Denver when the pilot came over the intercom. “All of a sudden we were banking around, and the pilot is announcing that we’re going to turn back and land in Lincoln,” he remembered.
Jensen and two other salespeople were on the flight, and recalls that there was “a lot of confusion. Before we landed, people had their cell phones out and were getting a lot of bad information. Someone said a car bomb had hit the State Department. It sounded a lot like a coordinated attack. Then, just as the plane was landing, someone said that the second tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. We saw the stewardess crying.”
Jensen’s plane had almost reached Denver at the time of the turnaround, and as a result was one of the last planes to land that day.
“It was just chaos in the terminal when we finally got off the plane,” he recalled. “We hadn’t realized the scope of the thing yet, and so immediately went to get a rental car. Fortunately, the Lincoln airport wasn’t as busy as some of the others probably were, so we were able to get one of the last rental cars.”
Once the car was secured, the three went upstairs to the lounge to see just what was happening. “It was jam-packed with people,” said Jensen. “We spent about 15 minutes just absorbing it all. We were in shock. Finally, we all called our families. It was almost an afterthought to us, but we didn’t realize that they’d been worried sick about us.”
The next step was a call to find out the status of World Expo. “Once we found out that the decision had been made not to cancel the show, it was an easier decision for us to go west than return east. I don’t know. We just never thought about going home. We were here to do the show, and so we continued on to do the show.”
Going on with the show meant driving, of course. “We had three fairly big guys in a Ford Escort for 16 hours. We left Lincoln at about 1 p.m., drove right on through, and got into Vegas at 5 a.m. the next day. It’s a 1,200 mile drive, and we rotated drivers every 300 miles or so. We drove through the Painted Desert in the middle of the night — it was pitch black.”
The other challenge was that they had been unable to retrieve their luggage from the airline. “We had no clothes, toiletries, anything. The first thing we did when we got to the Riviera was buy toiletries. We bought clothes after the first day of the show.”
The first day of the show was a story in itself. “We got in at 5 a.m., slept for about two hours and were on the show floor by 9:30 a.m. We had our booth up by noon, and were rockin’ and rollin’ by 1 p.m.,” Jensen said.
Was it worth it? “Absolutely,” he said. “We felt it was important to be there, and it was, in so many ways. There was so much teamwork, people pulling together to make things work. I had no laptop in the class I was supposed to teach, so we moved it into the Internet cafe. It was just a lot of teamwork and effort. We kept up the positive energy to make it a success, and I think everyone who was there felt that it was a success.
“Everyone showed his or her commitment,” he said. “There was a very humanistic element about the whole thing, with everyone relating stories. It wasn’t just about vendors and customers. It was a healing process.”
Las Vegas, Nevada
“I woke up that morning expecting a long day at the Riviera setting up for the World Expo, and was stunned when I turned on the television and saw what had happened,” said Rebecca Parker, Recharger Magazine’s lead editor. “I was glued to the TV. When I heard that it was terrorism and that there were multiple attacks, I was worried about my husband’s safety.”
Parker’s husband, Russ, a captain in the U.S. Air Force, had shipped out to Kuwait two days before, and she spent the next few days closely monitoring the news. “I knew I wasn’t going to hear anything directly from him. I’d heard that the phone lines at his base were closed to all but official military calls and that they were on the highest alert and were unable to leave the base. So I just kept checking the news to make sure there were no attacks on any bases in Kuwait.
“When I made it to the Riviera that day, I hadn’t even fully comprehended the impact it would have on travel and the show,” she said. “It was a really emotional time. There were so many people wandering around in shock. Complete strangers came up to me with tears in their eyes and they just wanted to talk about what had happened. No one could believe it.”
The camaraderie of those who had made it to Las Vegas before the attacks made an impression on Parker. “Nothing pulls people together like that,” she said. “In a way, I was glad to have the Expo to focus my attention on and I think the exhibitors and attendees that had already arrived and were stuck in Vegas felt the same way. A tragedy had happened and there was nothing anyone could do about it, but just sitting in front of the TV for 24 hours a day and worrying was not going to make anyone feel better. So, we all pulled together and tried to make something positive come out of a difficult experience.”
Dana Enerson, Expo conference coordinator, knew she had a crisis on her hands as soon as she heard the news of the attacks.
“I was walking in from outside when someone told me what happened,” she said. “I went running for the nearest TV.”
Most international attendees had already arrived in Las Vegas, and many others made it in shortly afterwards, meaning a decision had to be made.
“It was a difficult decision,” said Enerson. “We wanted to respect the fact that a national tragedy had occurred. But there were 2,000 people here, and I think they really wanted something to do, other than sit around and watch the TV.”
In the end, Recharger Magazine staff, after meeting with many industry vendors, made the decision to go on with the show. While most applauded the decision, there were some logistical problems. Primary among them was the fact that not all of the course instructors had been able to make it. “I remember a kind of scruffy-looking guy coming up to me and saying that he could clean up better, and take over some classes. He turned out to be Mick Carlotta from Inkprocess, and he taught two different classes on ink.
“People just really pulled together,” Enerson said. “I couldn’t believe how many people drove in when they couldn’t fly. We had people still coming in on Thursday night.”
It was that kind of attitude that most people remember when they speak of the show, and the events of Sept. 11. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the event, and as World Expo 2002 draws near, it’s time to try to recapture that feeling. This year’s World Expo will give us a chance to look around and be grateful that no one traveling to last year’s Expo was lost that day. But it will also give us a chance to take pride in ourselves, as individuals and as an industry, for our courage, our commitment, and our ability to face disaster and remain standing tall.
Recharger Magazine, September 2002