Welcome back to another Ask Me Anything, a weekly series where we talk to our friends, our viewers, and our community about all of their pressing needs, questions, wants, and desires.

Rather than answer a question this week, I wanted to reflect on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

It Started As a Media Tour for Caterpillar

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years. That’s insane.

Caterpillar was a client of ours and we were doing a media tour with all of the agricultural journalists on September 11, 2001.

In normal times, I would not remember that at all.

Of course, I would remember we had had a media tour and more than 50 journalists showed up and, for all intents and purposes, it was a success. But I would not remember what I was driving, what I had for breakfast, or even what the date was.

My team and I had flown to Omaha for the event a couple of days in advance and spent the day before getting all set up and ready for the journalists to arrive.

When we got to the airport, they were out of cars. The only car they had available was a Cadillac, which they offered to us at the same price as the Corolla we had reserved.

We were 20-somethings and were like, “Heck, yeah, we’ll take the Caddy!”

We got into that beast, turned the radio up, rolled down the windows, and drove around town like we owned the place.

That Caddy rolled up to the Caterpillar plant in the middle of corn and soybean fields and the client raised an eyebrow at us as if we were spending their money on frivolous things like a Caddy.

If I were writing a story about this experience, that car would definitely be foreshadowing.

A Reflection of 9/11

The media began to arrive the evening before.

We have dinner and drinks. Everyone networks and gets to know one another a bit, and then we make plans to meet in the Caterpillar cafeteria for breakfast the next morning.

The next morning, as we ate breakfast, it happened.

There was a TV in the corner of the cafeteria and the news was on. They were talking about the World Trade Center being on fire and nobody knew what had happened.

There was a ton of speculation. They thought maybe a small aircraft had run into it on accident.

But nobody knew anything yet and, at that point, no one imagined it was a terrorist attack.

Because we had 50 journalists with us, we went about our morning with them—providing Caterpillar spokespersons, answering questions, driving the equipment, and shooting photos.

A couple of hours later, we stopped for a coffee break and went back into the cafeteria to learn it had been a terrorist attack. By this time, of course, they had crashed another plane into the South Tower, another plane had crashed into the Pentagon, , another flight had crashed in Pennsylvania, both Towers had collapsed, and all flights were grounded.

As we tuned in, Manhattan was being evacuated.

I remember sitting in the Caterpillar cafeteria with all these people I had just met the day before in complete and utter shock.

To this day, it makes me cry—and I wasn’t in New York or DC. I was in a cornfield in Omaha.

Because all flights had been grounded, we changed from Operation Media Tour to Operation Get People Home.

And that’s where the Caddy comes back into the picture.

Anyone who lived between Omaha and Chicago got a free ride in that car, driven by yours truly (which is funny today because I haven’t had a driver’s license for five years now).

My friend and colleague Amy and I dropped people off along the way. By the time we got back to Chicago, it was just the two of us. She was very pregnant at the time and I felt responsible for her and the baby (who is almost 20 years old now!).

I got her safely home and then I drove myself into the city, where it was like a ghost town. The only other time I’ve experienced that is during the shutdown last year, but right after 9/11, it was more eerie and disturbing.

We Stood Together

The whole thing was horrific, but what happened afterward was incredible. The entire country came together in a way I don’t think we experienced before or since.

I’ve thought about that a lot in the past five years— how we endured a horrific man in the White House, a pandemic, the social justice movement, all of the natural disasters just in the past couple of weeks, women’s rights being denied in Texas—and with how a virus and its vaccine have been politicized versus bringing people together to save one another’s lives.

You think about how all of those things have completely polarized us, made us weak, created hate and fear, and pulled us apart.

I hate that it took such a significant attack in our country’s history to bring us together, but it did.

People were kind to one another. They smiled at one another on the streets and in the stores. They asked how they could help.

The only thing that mattered is that we were Americans—and our country was under siege.

We’ve come so far apart from where we were 20 years ago.

But if you think about 9/11 and what it’s meant to this country, remember that. The world stood with us. Everyone helped us heal.

Remember that we stood together.

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Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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