Call me stupid, but I was on an airplane to Europe on Sept. 15, just 96 hours after having had my Sept. 11 flights to Lisbon, Portugal, via Newark, N.J., canceled and having evacuated Cleveland Hopkins International airport on foot with my wife. We were not to be deterred on our long-planned, much-anticipated vacation to Gabriela's homeland.
And, after being addicted to nonstop cable-TV coverage of Black Tuesday's terror, I really wanted nothing more than to put some distance between those images and my brain. In my own manner of self-justification, I assured myself that flying Sept. 15 was probably a lot safer anyway than flying, blissfully ignorantly, in the previous months. Besides, I further rationalized, I no doubt put myself at greater risk every time I drive to the office than I do when I get on an airplane — even these days.
On our outbound flights, we found airport security not to be distinctly different and even thought the passport control checkpoints in Newark unbelievably to be more lax than usual. Still, life moved forward, and we made it to sunny, peaceful Portugal in one piece. Once there, the ubiquitous CNN continued to keep us abreast of any major developments, but it was a lot easier to tune out and relax.
The return flights two weeks later were on time, thankfully uneventful, and perhaps 60 percent full.
Two days later, on my way to Plastics USA in Chicago, I was standing in the longest security-checkpoint lines at Cleveland Hopkins I'd ever encountered, and had my carry-on bag hand-searched while I was thoroughly frisked by diligent security agents. I made my flight, but barely.
These atypical actions and the long airport lines served as a reminder that seldom has the world around us felt so fragile, so prone to some potentially terrible, yet unforeseen disruption, as we all anxiously wait for the other shoe to drop in America's so-called “new war.”
That is why walking the aisles of McCormick Place's North Hall at Plastics USA felt so reassuring. Seeing so many old friends, surrounded by the familiar trappings of red, white and blue trade-show bunting, helped to right the compass of daily life. And that is what is vital right now.
Still, the haunting images and topics remained front and center, and all too apparent.
Conversations revolved around various recent travel experiences and difficulties, and personal tales about the Sept. 11 attacks and the likely retaliation and repercussions.
At the opening press breakfast on Oct. 2, SPI President Donald Duncan spoke of the industry's resolute determination to get back to business and fielded questions about terrorism and heightened show-hall security.
The other dominant topic, of course, centered on business prospects in today's tail-spinning economy, as CNN television monitors positioned around the show hall reported the Fed's latest interest-rate cut amidst further staggering layoffs and increased security measures at Chicago's landmark Sears Tower.
Exhibitors and attendees alike spoke of dampened expectations for this year's Plastics USA, but all seemed glad that the event was going ahead.
Everyone tried hard to be optimistic, and hoped for a good turnout, or at least a few good business prospects to brighten the immediate horizon. Some found attendance to be better than they expected.
One thing seems certain — that life will not truly return to “normal” for some time.
How can it when, for example, our discussions about attending the K 2001 exhibition in Dusseldorf, Germany, later this month include making contingency plans for editorial coverage in case airline flight schedules are again disrupted? We also find ourselves wondering if other planned industry events will even take place, much less who we will send to cover them.
But walking the aisles of Plastics USA was an important start — not just for me, but for many people, it seems.
Briefly, at least, product sales took a back seat to claiming the moral victory of returning to a familiar routine, with familiar, friendly faces.
And, no matter how bad business may be at the moment, it seemed petty and pointless to complain when asked repeatedly, “So, how's it going?” Instead, I thought, since I'm walking, talking and soon going home to my family, things are going very well indeed. Life is good.
Those of us fortunate enough to have gathered at McCormick Place last week have much to be grateful for. There was recognition of that by many on the show floor. The rest will sort itself out in due course. It always does.
Meanwhile, it was clear from the determined spirit of those in attendance that the plastics industry is ready and willing to do what is necessary to be a productive foot soldier in America's new war.
Grace is Plastics News editor and associate publisher.