Today at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time I was writing an article on laser cutting when it dawned on me: 11 years ago, at that very moment, I was writing a case history on the subject. Like most people on Sept. 11, 2001, I stopped what I was doing. The magazine art director scurried into my office to relay the news. Was it a recreational flier, some careless soul? A few minutes later the truth set in, as did the fear. I didn’t accomplish much the rest of the day. Optimizing laser cut setups (the article’s topic) wasn’t on the top of my mind.
Metal fabricators have endured quite an economic roller coaster since those planes crashed into the Twin Towers. Still, on the day of the tragedy, I don’t remember people worrying about the state of business. I’m sure the talking heads on TV said a few words about world markets, but I certainly don’t recall much of it. At that moment, we didn’t care. I recall watching a TV someone had wheeled in from a nearby conference room. We all sat in silence, staring, shocked. After news of the attack on the Pentagon broke, I got up and did what a lot of people did on that day. I called my mother.
Gene Tighe just passed another anniversary of a tragedy. On Sept. 8, 2011, his shop, GT Fabrication Inc., was under 15 feet of floodwater from the Susquehanna. Talking with him last week, Tighe told me he recalled watching the water rise at a terrifying pace. At one moment he had a 30,000 square foot job shop that offered plasma cutting, bending, welding, and one of the largest powder-coating lines in the area. The next moment, it was all underwater. After the flood Tighe, his family, and coworkers began the months-long cleanup effort. They sent pending orders to various shops who agreed to do them for the same price. GT made no money, but it kept its customers happy.
What particularly moved me was not the flood itself, but what happened after. Customers and competitors alike called Tighe to lend a hand, and many sent workers to help sweep and power wash the floor, paint the walls--do whatever was needed.
Be they personal or epic, traumatic events make us realize that, though we may be passionate about our jobs--about optimal efficiency, precision, part flow, customer service, and all the rest--they remain a means to an end. What really matters is each other. The rest is just gravy.