On September 11, 2001 the world changed. About ten months later, I had the presence of mind to record my recollections of that time, which I present below unedited.
My September 2001 Experience
Recorded by Jean Taeuffer in July 2002
In retrospect, the events of the weekend seemed to foreshadow the unthinkable events to come.
Friday, September 7, 2001, Jerry Carlson and I flew to Las Vegas with plans to run a plant trial at the Ocean Spray factory in Henderson, NV. We were scheduled to meet with the plant personnel on Friday and then to run our nectar products for the first time at that location on Saturday.
After a normal, 45-minute flight on Southwest Airlines, we reached the Hertz parking lot and loaded our gear into the car sitting in the spot labeled “Taeuffer.” After several unsuccessful attempts to start the car, I figured out that it was not going to happen. The spare time that we had allowed to reach the factory before our meeting was quickly running out, so we hurried into the Gold Member office to resolve the problem. After waiting my turn and then making a quick explanation, they brought another car around. We transferred our bags from the trunk of the first car into the second and we were off.
When we arrived at Ocean Spray and I reached into the back seat for my briefcase, I realized that I had left it in the first car!
The time for our meeting had arrived, so Jerry made a quick call to Hertz to explain our dilemma. I’m sure this was not the first time this type of thing had occurred, and they quickly located the missing bag.
We held our pre-production meeting without the benefit of the agendas that were sitting back at the Hertz lot. At that meeting we learned that the factory was running behind on their production schedule, and that it was unlikely that we would be starting up on our trial the following morning. They estimated that it would be later on in the evening. Yeah, just where I want to spend a Saturday night in Vegas: standing next to a juice filler.
But this type of delay is normal in the life of manufacturing folks, so we took it in stride. I gave them my cell phone number and left the facility. After driving back to Hertz and picking up my briefcase, we headed to the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino to check in.
We spent that afternoon relaxing by the pool. I received a call from Ocean Spray later in the afternoon and they let me know that the run would not happen until Sunday morning. Well, if you have to be stuck somewhere waiting for a plant trial, poolside at the Monte Carlo is not so bad. Also, the Pack Expo trade show was scheduled for the following Monday through Wednesday, so there were plenty of vendor reps in the area just waiting to entertain Nestle.
Sunday morning we arrived at the factory ready to work. The blending went smoothly, as did the filling, capping, and packing. Most of the vendors decided to return to the hotel early in the afternoon, but the tech rep for the closure vendor (Fred Foco) and I decided to stay until they were completely finished. We all planned on meeting later at the Rio Hotel and Casino for a cocktail in the Voodoo Lounge on the 52nd floor.
Finally, the run was completed and Fred and I drove back to the Monte Carlo to get cleaned up. The group gathered downstairs and headed to the Rio in several cars. In addition to Jerry, Mike Rodero (Jerry’s manager) and I, a number of people from the closure vendor were there. Fred, Rich Perkowski (our Sales rep) and his wife, Karen, Tom Sweeney (Rich’s manager), and a couple of other people completed the group. Rich had brought along cigars for the group to enjoy later and he asked me to carry them in my purse.
The Voodoo Lounge is located on the 52nd floor of the hotel and features a large patio area. This location may offer the best view of the Las Vegas strip, especially at night. We all got the beverage of our choice at the bar inside and headed out to the patio. I, of course, was enjoying my usual Sapphire Martini. By the time Rich decided to retrieve his cigars, we were all on our second cocktail.
Having spent the entire day at the factory and having had only a very light lunch, I was really feeling the Martinis. Unfortunately, instead of asking me for the cigars, Rich simply reached into my purse for them. This was a mistake.
I began to snarl at him and berate him for getting into my purse. By now, the group began to realize that there was trouble with one of the womenfolk and all the men backed away from me instinctively. Rich’s wife then began to scold him and tell him that he knew better than to get into any woman’s pocketbook.
Finally, Rich was able to retreat and I handed him the cigars. I was placated and we went back to drinking. Thankfully, it was soon time for our dinner reservation downstairs at Busio’s. We enjoyed a wonderful seafood meal complete with numerous bottles of wine. Somehow we all managed to get back to the hotel in one piece.
The next morning, we were schedule to meet with several film vendors along with the representatives of our potential pouch co-packer, SoftPac. The people at SoftPac had arranged for a suite at the Mirage. Jerry, Mike, Clark Rasmussen (my manager), and I were to be joined by Shannon Gavie and Kirby Wells of our Purchasing group. We were all planning to meet with three potential suppliers for the juice pouch project, one after the other. I was enjoying a roaring hangover from the night before. Martinis, red wine, and cigar smoke is a deadly combination. The meetings were relatively boring anyway, and I was having a difficult time following the conversation.
My plan for the rest of the week was to spend Tuesday morning walking the floor of the trade show and to then meet Clark and another potential co-packer for lunch. Jerry and I planned to eat dinner with the people from TetraPak that night, and we had flights back to Burbank on Wednesday morning. At about 8:30 am on Tuesday morning, I was just finishing getting dressed. For some reason I had not turned on the TV to CNN as I would normally do on the road. My phone rang and it was Jerry. He told me to turn on the TV immediately. I asked him which channel and he said it didn’t matter. Obviously, this could not be good. Soon the picture of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on fire was filling my screen. Jerry said that there was footage of the plane hitting the second tower. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Jerry and Mike had plans to go golfing with one of the vendors that day and he indicated that they planned to proceed with that, since there was really nothing else to do.
I spent the next hour watching the news. Soon the towers collapsed. More and more footage of the second plane became available and the networks played it over and over. Aaron Brown of CNN provided a calm, yet comfortingly horrified, and at the same time empathetic, commentary. The images that were playing did not seem real. I felt as though I had been transported into the middle of a Tom Clancy novel. But I wasn’t able to close the book and return to normal life.
I tried to call my stepchildren in Phoenix. I left word on Jason’s machine that I was safe. I was able to reach my sister-in-law, Cheryl Hoopes to let her know my situation.
All air travel was suspended. It was unclear when it would be resumed. I clung to the keys to my rental car, which now literally represented my freedom of movement. Not knowing what else to do, I drove to the Venetian Hotel and Casino. From there I walked to the Sand’s Convention Center. The trade show was proceeding, although another show at the Las Vegas Convention Center had been closed for security reasons. There were crowds of attendees grouped around the limited number of televisions throughout the hall. Many of the TVs were not connected to cable and offered snowy reception at best. It didn’t matter. People were transfixed. There was little news or explanation provided. The footage of the carnage played again and again. The crowd was subdued. The atmosphere was funereal.
I walked the floor of the show in a daze. My cell phone rang and it was my sister, Joanne. She had called my office and got the message that I was traveling. I assured her that I was safe and that I had the rental car so would be able to get home easier than most. Later I found out that the QA Manager at our Wisconsin co-packer had called our co-packer in North Carolina to make sure that I had not just left there (knowing that I would have been traveling through Dulles if I had).
I was able to reach Clark and confirm that our lunch appointment had been cancelled. He was heading back to California immediately and wanted to be sure I had a way to get back. I assured him that I was OK and that I would be bringing Jerry back with me as well.
The Monte Carlo delivered a letter to each room assuring the occupants that extensions to reserved accommodations would be provided if needed.
Later in the day I heard from Jerry. We were still on for dinner with the Tetra Pak people. I wasn’t sure if it was a great idea, but since I had to eat, and at least they had a reservation, I agreed. That evening, Mike Rodero, Jerry and I headed to the Hard Rock Café Restaurant and met them for a drink. We ate at the upscale Japanese restaurant where the waiter selected the menu for the table. The Sake was flowing and the sushi was served family-style. Mike got into an argument with the waiter because he didn’t like the way he was looking at him.
Everyone was on edge. Conversation centered around alternative travel plans. The Tetra Pak people needed to get back to Texas. They had a total of ten people from various divisions of the company at the show. They had managed to rent one mini-van and a U-Haul truck. The folks from our Purchasing group had arranged to rent a taxi to drive them to California for $300 total. Other Nestle folks were car-pooling with those lucky enough to have rented a car for the show. Rich Perkowski had agreed to drive Mike Rodero all the way to his home in Connecticut, even though Rich was headed for Florida.
Wednesday morning, Jerry and I took off across the desert. I insisted that we fill the gas tank and buy water before embarking. It was an odd drive. Radio reception is spotty and there was no news to report anyway. But without direct contact to the world, we felt cut off. The traffic was heavy, but moved steadily. We saw more than one Las Vegas taxi cab and numerous rental cars filed with business people. Jerry made several attempts to reach Hertz on the cell phone to inform them that we would be returning the car to the wrong airport. He finally was able to get through to a recording that indicated such notification would not be necessary.
When we finally reached the Ontario area, we pulled off to have lunch at El Toritos. Both Jerry and I were even more anxious to see some TV reports than to eat. After satisfying hunger and curiosity we continued on our way to Burbank.
The Burbank airport was deserted. Once on airport property we were stopped by a group of Burbank police officers. I explained that we were there to return the rental car and they waved us on. The man working the counter at the Hertz booth explained that they were not penalizing travelers for returning cars to locations other than the one reserved. I got my paperwork and then Jerry and I walked to the Hilton Parking lot to our cars. The atmosphere was eerie. The sky, normally filled with arriving and departing planes, was empty and still. The street through the airport was completely empty. We walked down the center of the usually busy drive dragging our luggage behind us. I felt as though we were in the middle of a Steven King novel; the one where a plague had killed 99% of the population.
When I got home, my newspapers from the previous days were waiting for me on the washing machine as always. Again, the image of the burning towers greeted me.
One benefit of working for a huge global company like Nestle is that the company has deep pockets. It was only a couple of days before the CEO announced that Nestle USA would match employee donations to the Red Cross, even offering two additional vacation days in 2002 for those who made a minimum donation. In the three weeks following the event, Nestle USA employees had donated over $125,000 which was matched by the company. I was never more proud to be a part of that organization.
The next time I flew for business was October 16. On that day I made the following entries describing my observations in my daily planner.
• Three National Guardsmen at the Burbank Airport (literally two men and one woman). Overwhelming sadness. A Burbank policeman at security checkpoint, semi-automatic weapons at the gate.
• Plastic cutlery in First Class and radically scaled-back breakfast (fruit and plain bagel.) At least the plane is relatively full – only a sprinkling of empty seats in Coach.
• The view outside is of a beautiful America. At least they cannot take that from us.
• Comments in line for security – “Not like the old days.” “It will never be the same again.” I have no rebuttal ready. It is hard to spin this as a positive.
• The Premier check-in line has been removed and a longer Disneyland-type maze created below a huge US flag at the United counter.
• I am aware of even the slightest direction change that the pilot makes, despite the Bloody Mary which does not help me forget.
None of us who were there will ever be able to forget.