Eating ice cream at a Waco Dairy Queen seemed like a perfect interlude during our long bus ride home.
We were part of an original caravan of six coach buses hired by Avnet Computer Marketing's Hall-Mark Division to ferry stranded solution providers home from its hastily canceled San Antonio partner conference. The buses' destinations crisscrossed America from Orlando, Fla., to Newark, N.J., from Chicago to Los Angeles. San Francisco was on one route, as were Atlanta, Philadelphia and Toronto.
Stopping at a Dairy Queen gave bus passengers on their way home from last week's Avnet partner conference time to reflect and brought back thoughts of simpler times.
The Midwesterners on my bus had spent countless summer afternoons as children eating ice cream at Dairy Queens like this one. This latest stop gave us time for flickering memories. As we ate, a pickup truck with oversized tires drove by with two large American flags planted in the back corners of the pickup truck's bed.
Those who boarded the buses home last week did so for many reasons. No one knew for sure when the FAA would reopen the nation's airports. Some expressed safety concerns. "I'm not sure I'd want to be on that first flight [back in the air]," said my busmate Christine Haeggquist, a principal with Kirtley Technology, Darien, Ill. Others didn't want the hassle of fighting airport crowds. And some of us simply needed time to remember the America we once knew but may never see again.
"I haven't been on a bus trip since high school. This will give me some time with my team to do some brainstorming that we never get a chance to do," said Denise Zelt, engineering manager for Hall-Mark's IBM Business Unit, prior to her 17-hour bus ride to Tempe, Ariz.
"This is a week for reflection and atonement," said Hall-Mark North America President Rick Hamada, who also was riding the bus to Tempe. "We will be open all week, but we are encouraging people with personal issues to stay home and take care of them. But next Monday we will be open for business and carry on, because that is what America is all about."
Fred Cuen, Hall-Mark's newly appointed senior vice president and general manager of the IBM Business Unit, assumed the role of travel coordinator, working with companies to arrange for the buses and rental cars to bring solution providers home.
Tuesday, the last night of the partner conference, found Cuen introducing a local minister, who offered prayers while hundreds of us stood and held hands.
Ted Cotti, the solution provider whose hand I held, told me his partner in his business, Haines, Cotti and Associates, Pasadena, Calif., was scheduled to be on one of the ill-fated flights from Boston. He'd been dropping off his son in Andover, Mass., for the start of the school year and planned to leave Tuesday. But the son had gotten his room set up so quickly that Cotti's partner left a day earlier for Los Angeles.
Too many people at the conference had stories of close calls and missing friends and relatives. It seemed as though no one escaped unscathed from Tuesday's attacks.
As our bus drove slowly through America's heartland, the rest of the world seemed light years away and held the illusion that life was still simpler than we knew it ever would be again. Thankfully, we'd been away from the television for hours by the time we stopped at Waco. Instead of voice-mails and meetings, e-mails and dashes through airports to catch our flights, our group made uncomplicated and swift democratic decisions: Which hotel do we want to stay at tonight? La Quinta. Which rooms do we want? The cheap ones. Do we want fast food or a cafeteria? Fast, please.
As I ate the last of my Pecan Cluster Blizzard standing outside the Dairy Queen, I wondered if the FAA had opened the nation's airports. Suddenly, I realized the answer was before me. Not a single vapor trail scratched the brilliant and endless Texas sky.