Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Airport Singer - Redux

The following occured on Friday September 14th, 2001

The Story

It is worth noting that I was only in Quincy Mass. because of the lack of proper facilities in the NYC area offices of this particular client. There was not an available training room in the Jersey City office. I had two participants from the Boston area and six who had traveled up from New York. Had we been doing this where we should have been, I would have been staying in the Marriott Hotel World Trade Center, which allowed easy access to the Jersey office via the PATH train station deep beneath the twin towers. That hotel used to be right between the two, directly connected to one of the lobbies. I still remember one story of a man who credited his rescue of a woman as the reason he was alive himself. He saw the woman silhouetted in the revolving door that connected the tower lobby to the hotel. He picked her up and carrying her to safety, saved himself as the crowd made way to let him through. I have walked through that door many times. I could picture exactly what he was describing. Needless to say, this event had a DEEP impact on my psyche.

End of the week and I was flying back from TFGreen Airport in RI. (Quincy is on the Southern edge of the Boston Metro Area. Easier and just as fast to drive up from Providence as to fly into Logan and fight your way through the tunnel to the Downtown/East/South locations that are the destinations dictated by my customers. (Of course this was pre-9/11, when the words easy and fast make any sense in a statement related to air travel…)

If I had flown into Logan I would have not even attempted the flight home, as it was a crime scene. Even with that, I was on the phone with other people from my office who started out that same Friday morning on the drive back. They were downtown and originally had no rental car. They had flown into Logan and only delayed until Friday for the return drive because they were frantically searching out transportation. Rental cars were scarce commodities that week. I didn’t give up mine until I was SURE I wasn’t going to drive back. I have heard anecdotal evidence of many car purchases for trips home. One involved two Suburbans purchased in Vegas, loaded to the gunwales and driven to Florida with a dozen occupants. I had spent a collected few hours on the phone with another trainer who was in Toronto the previous day. Figured I would drive over the Buffalo, pick up Rob as he got off some ferry that surely exists and drive home together. Couldn’t convince him of the hopelessness of his plan to return by rail. I think railroad tickets, already a limited resource, went even before the cars.

So, Thursday afternoon I trundled my self down to RI, ate dinner at best restaurant between Boston & NYC and settled into the Residence Inn. This pre-positioned me perfectly for a early and quick arrival for the expected long wait at the airport the next day.

Next morning at the breakfast buffet (Love those fresh made Waffles!) I met Jerry Vale. He had more troubles than me. He was on tour of a sort and had several boxes of orchestra scores that travel with him for the local players at the gig. At that point you couldn’t drive a car up to the curbside. Assuming he got a reservation back to sunny CA confirmed sometime that weekend, he had no idea how to get the ‘freight’ to the check-in, let alone if they would allow such, even for the extra fees he normally shelled out. I have no idea if my suggestion of posting them did him any good, but wished him well and beat feet to check in.

Arriving to the expected mass pandemonium, I started dutifully waiting in lines. I did notice a news crew filming as I arrived, but that seemed as ‘normal’ as anything else that day. (Being in the Boston area those first few days gave me access to some local news that I assume was unique, given the starting point of the fateful flights. But that is another story.)

I also noticed a huge portable scaffold/bucket at the escalators. Keep in mind Green is not that big an operation, that’s why I like it. There is one set of escalator/stairs to the lower level for baggage claim. I figured, given new security measures, they might be installing new cameras or some such.

Hours later, as my flight was, big surprise, delayed, I saw what was really going on.

They were hanging a huge American flag in the rafters of the check-in/arrival atrium.

I, like many or my fellow passengers were moved by this. It was eerie in a way. At least in the seating area around the central area, there was a kind of hush as the workmen completed their final touches.

Then, spontaneous applause and cheering.

I stepped over to one of RI’s finest and asked if he thought it would be OK to sing the anthem.

He said, “Yea, I ‘tink ‘dat wood be a gud, ideeea.” I explained that I was an opera singer, and it was going to be pretty loud.

He said go for it.

I start belting it out. I had no idea the news crew was still around, this was an hour or two later. The camera operator rushes from out of nowhere and starts filming. (That explains the orchestral start…) I caught his hurried set-up out of the corner of my eye, if I wasn’t a trained professional I would have been very distracted. ;-) The lovely young on-air personality asked me a question of two. I don’t remember the specifics that much, the response of the crowd and camera in my face was a bit overwhelming. Apparently the three facts that I did manage to convey accurately were my name, the home city I was returning to and the fact that I sang with the Lyric Opera of KC.

I then fly home (A complete story in itself.) and don’t give it a thought.

Thus started my 15 minutes of fame. (What Warhol didn’t make clear, is that the 15 minutes can be spread out in dribs and drabs over a fairly long period… ;->)

By Sunday I had received a phone call at home from a ‘fan’ in Providence. By Tuesday, which I took as a mental health day, everybody at work had heard from every client contact they had in Mass. (A not inconsiderable amount of phone calls.) Apparently, after I left for home, not only had the Providence CBS affiliate run the clip, the Boston affiliate had also. We have various offices in Australia, where ex-Pats called to report that: ‘Bruce Barr is all over CNN, they keep saying THIS is the American reaction the tragedy…” Anecdotal evidence indicates that it played in Europe, but no confirmed sightings. ;-) The Lyric’s PR staff called and asked me for an e-mail address, as they were getting inundated with ‘requests for information’ that were really fan-mail from New Englanders. Even received some real Honest-to-Creator postal notes.

By that Friday morning I arrive to both e-mail and voice-mail indicating that some morning guy on one of the rock stations is putting out the call to get me to the big human-flag event at a local KS park later that day. Ended up doing a follow-up interview and leading the audience at the Lyric as we sang the Anthem before the Saturday opening of Magic Flute. KCMO-TV the CBS people here in KC passed that on to Providence. Got a call from the local federal judge and sang at the swearing in ceremony for a group of new citizens. (Wow, you should talk to him. I thought MY 9/11 story was interesting.) Sometime later I did a EARLY morning radio interview back in Providence from my hotel room in Denver. Apropoh, as I was in Colorado completing the tasks originally scheduled for 9/13-14.

Quite a 15 minutes, huh?

In summary, the most humbling event of my life.

Please feel free to send this link to whomever you think might be interested. Especially anyone in the active military. I attended a Lunch and Learn session this week with a young programmer who is also a Military Police Team-Leader that recently returned from active duty over in Baghdad. Those kids are living in unbelievable conditions to protect their country and it’s citizenry while, in the process. freeing the citizens of Iraq of an unspeakable tyranny. (And when I say unbelievable conditions, I’m not even talking about venturing out of base camp and getting harassed.)

If this small offering could let them know how much we love them and appreciate their service, I would be honored indeed. Nothing would thrill me more than receiving an email from in-country saying they had watched this and been uplifted in the good fight.

One last thing. I had the occasion to return to that same Quincy office a year or so ago. First time back and booked through TFGreen. Felt kind of eerie until I arrived and was waiting for the National Rental Car bus. Standing next to me were a bunch of Marines waiting for mass-transit of their own.

I took this as a sign.

As has been my habit since 9/11, I took the opportunity speak with them:
‘Ladies and Gentleman, before you haul-ass out of here, I would like to just thank you for you’re service to you’re country.”

Hand-shakes and thank-yous and smiles like you wouldn’t believe.

Warmed my heart as I boarded my bus just after their’s had pulled away.

And people claim there is no God…


At 9:28 PM, Blogger Dan said...

The link above to the video of Bruce isn't working anymore. Would you happen to know where it might be living on the interweb?



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