Just Too Busy
This is seventh in a series called “Not Rain, Sleet, Snow, nor Floyd or Lance’s Yellow” about the Postal Service sponsorship of its ProCycling Team.
“And you were just too busy being fabulous
Too busy to think about us” – Frey/Henley/Smith – The Eagles
By the time John “Jack” Potter arrived at the USPS’s WF Bolger Academy (WFB) in Potomac MD late that Tuesday afternoon of September 11th the COOP (Continuity of Operations Plan) was in operation. Two Zip Codes had been wiped off the postal map with the attack on the World Trade Center. We went to WFB because it had been set up as the COOP location if ever the DC headquarters had to be evacuated. Potter, who replaced Henderson in June, was just in his 73rd day as the new Postmaster General.
The good news, if there was any that day, was that no postal employee was known to have been lost in the attack. Delivery service to the Twin Towers for that day had not yet begun. Nearby, the 16 story Church Street Station was damaged by falling debris from the WTC and everyone had evacuated without incident.
The FAA for security reasons grounded all commercial and cargo flights in the US– and would do so until the following weekend. Subsequently, there were business/facility/landmark closings and event cancellations across the US. Nationally, mail was being diverted to processing locations around NYC and long distance ground service was being implemented to move mail as a substitute until FedEx was allowed to resume flights.
Sporting events became the first symbol of respect, recovery and eventual return to normalcy. Major League Baseball canceled games for six days. The NFL canceled games up through Monday Night Football (9/17), NASCAR cancelled weekend races, Even the USA Cycling canceled a Pro Cycling key event the Tour of Houston that following weekend, along with the NCAA who stopped Division 1 play and the Army-Navy 10 mile road race around the Pentagon all was cancelled.
When things returned to a level of acceptance to move forward– the sporting world led the way by introducing tributes to the first responders, NYPD and NYFD hats were everywhere and all of us sang the National Anthem with renewed gusto. Who could forget the 2001 World Series between the Diamondbacks and the Yankees when during the 7th inning stretches that “God Bless America” rang out as it still does today.
But after September 18th things just got worse for the USPS. It started with the receipt at the New York news offices of NBC and the NY Post and at AMI in West Palm FL. Letters with white powder mailed through Trenton NJ. It was the first of two attacks.
The Brentwood Mail Facility in Northeast DC serves the US Capitol. On an evening in early October at Brentwood, mail from Princeton NJ postmarked on October 9th addressed for Senators Daschle and Leahy passed through processing machines that pressed and squeezed anthrax spores contained in those envelopes into the facility’s air circulation system. Two USPS Brentwood employees, Thomas Morris, Jr. and Joseph Curseen would be among five people who would die from this anthrax exposure.
Potter was PMG nearly 100 days when this tragedy hit. The Beak in the Box, fly like an eagle, yellow jerseys all took a back seat to this event. An institution, a nation’s trust was stealthy under attack. People handled mail with gloves and masks. Facilities would shut down with any poof or sight of white powder. Operational chaos ensued.
In the weeks that followed solutions would evolve to identify, isolate and in some instances irradiate mail to instill trust in the service. The USPS organization was spinning plates on poles trying not to let anything drop – like the massive reorganization, or mail to NYC, or just protecting the next group of first responders – mail handlers.
It was in this time frame and setting that inquires begun on Armstrong’s US Postal team quest for a 4th attempt (2002) at winning the TDF. The Sales group was in an upheaval, the organization was trying to concentrate on the “core” things to succeed, Potter’s massive reorg was underway and frankly the Executive’s really did not need another distraction.
How could anyone think to put at further risk an American institution and an iconic American sports team for a 2000-mile ride around France after 9-11 and then ask a wearied-worried public (not to mention Congress) to understand?
Was it “And you were just too busy being fabulous
Too busy to think about us”
In a way, sports aid in the healing process.
Next: A Decision