Auto lives woven into Sept. 11

Harry Stoffer is an Automotive News staff reporter in Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON - Not quite a month has passed since Sept. 11.

It seems so much longer since life was "normal."

We've been warned repeatedly that the horrific and unforgettable events of that day will change almost everything. Must our concept of time be included?

One theory: The deluge of words and pictures from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside is far more than we are designed to comprehend in such a short span.

And yet, still more stories from Sept. 11 and its aftermath are coming to light - and threatening to add to the mind-altering flood. Some are of heroism. Some are of tragedy and heartbreak. Some are of treachery and deceit. Some are of friendship and goodwill.

But they beg to be told, even if the definition of news, like time, gets distorted. Some should be of particular interest to Automotive News readers:

White House haven

Most Americans heard that federal offices were evacuated on Sept. 11. Those offices included the White House. But evacuated to where?

It turns out about 70 executive branch employees and officials, including National Economic Council Director Lawrence Lindsey, set up shop in DaimlerChrysler's Washington offices, about three blocks from the West Wing.

The DaimlerChrysler folks are reluctant to talk about the day - not only would it sound like self-congratulation for a good deed at a time of crisis, but it would dramatize that the White House was not especially well prepared, a situation that no doubt has been corrected.

This much is known: Anita McBride, then of the White House staff and now of the State Department, went to the DaimlerChrysler offices because her husband, Tim McBride, is second in command there. Apparently many others simply followed.

The DaimlerChrysler offices served not only as a haven but also provided food, computers and telephones so White House operations could continue.

At least a few others from the White House evacuated to General Motors' offices, a few blocks in another direction.

No 'them' or 'us'

On a somewhat lighter note, word has trickled out that two employees of Ford and one each from Nissan and GM were in the DaimlerChrysler building for a meeting of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, located two floors above DaimlerChrysler.

With airports suddenly closed, hotels filled and rental cars taken, the four were stuck until the DaimlerChrysler staff loaned them a Town & Country minivan so the visitors, all from competing companies, could drive back to Michigan.

Now, about getting that van back to Washington ...

A hopeful ending

Finally, there is this heretofore untold tale:

Jean Johnson, manager of the Detroit office of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, was ill at home the morning of Sept. 11 and saw the disasters unfold on her TV screen.

For her, grief and anxiety were compounded. She is a former flight attendant. And her sister was at work for a financial services firm in the World Trade Center.

Days passed without any word from or about her sister. For Johnson and other family members, their story appeared destined to end as sadly as thousands of others.

But on Friday, Sept. 14, Johnson learned her sister was alive in a hospital. She had been unconscious and without any identification. She is still in critical condition and faces a long recovery, but she is improving.

"I can't tell you how much of a relief it was," Johnson said last week. She asked that her sister's name and the nature of her injuries not be published.

Like many others affected by the disasters, Johnson learned a lot about other people, especially co-workers and employees of car companies in the alliance.

"Their prayers and support have been a tremendous help," she said. "Everyone has been just wonderful."

Tags: Commentary

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