Madras couple on Flight For Freedom to New York
Cate & Steve Evers
Wanting to do something to help New York following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Cate and Steve Evers of Madras were among the Oregonians on the Flight For Freedom excursion to New York City.
Between Oct. 4 and 11, 950 Oregonians aboard 62 flights (with other passengers) streamed into New York in an effort to encourage other Americans to begin flying again, and to help New York City's devastated economy with their tourism dollars.
The Everses had postponed a vacation to San Diego following the Sept. 11 attack, and almost the next day saw an article in the Oregonian about the Flight For Freedom, which was trying to gather 200 people for the trip.
"We wanted to do something productive for New York rather than just send money," Steve said.
They e-mailed to let the organizers know they were interested and learned the response had been so great that people had to be turned away.
The airlines welcomed the effort and supported it with reduced fares. As the Everses boarded their first flight, they realized just how hard hit the airlines were.
"It was sad. There were only six passengers on the flight out of Redmond. I'm really concerned whether or not Redmond will be able to continue the service," Cate said.
In Portland, United Airlines said the announcement about the Flight For Freedom was the first good news they had been able to give their crews.
In New York, the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel also gave the Oregonians greatly discounted room rates. "We were clueless about the Waldorf-Astoria," Cate laughed, admitting she and Steve weren't aware of its reputation for high-class luxury.
After checking out the hotel's website, Cate told her husband, "We'd better dress differently."
When Oregonians began arriving Saturday, Oct. 6, an appreciative hotel employee told the Everses it was the first time the hotel had been full since Sept. 11.
That night they attended a reception with New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, representatives from the New York police and fire departments, and Portland Mayor Vera Katz and other dignitaries.
On Sunday, they attended an ecumenical service in Union Square where Vera Katz and the mayor of Eugene spoke. Memorial wreaths made of Douglas Fir boughs from Oregon were presented at the service.
After the service, Cate's niece, who lives just outside of New York, met them and gave them a tour of Rockefeller Center. Ironically, the Everses found out later, that was the building where a letter containing anthrax disease was delivered to Tom Brokaw's office.
Oregonians were also given discount tickets to see two Broadway plays, since the lack of tourists was causing castmembers to be laid off. Cate and Steve chose to see "Kiss Me Kate," and said, in an unusual gesture of thanks, the whole cast signed programs for the Oregonians after the show.
People had to sign up for the different events, and they missed out on attending a 10-course Chinese dinner aimed at getting the group to visit Chinatown, which was also suffering from lack of tourists.
Instead, the Everses went out to dinner in Little Italy and said people thanked them for being there and supporting their business.
They had all been given "Oregon Loves New York" T-shirts and buttons to wear and the word about the Oregonians spread quickly.
"Every time we rode the subway with our buttons people would come up and shake our hands," Steve related.
They had been scheduled to appear on the "Today Show" TV program on Monday, but that was the day America started bombing Afghanistan, so the appearance was canceled. Some Oregonians did appear on an NBC TV show.
"At that point, the security at the hotel changed. Where there had been four entrances to the hotel before, there was only one and we had to have photo I.D. and a room key to get in," Steve said.
Despite security concerns, New Yorkers decided to go ahead with their traditional Columbus Day Parade, which all 950 Oregonians marched in. Some carried "Oregon Loves New York" posters made by Oregon school children and everyone wore their T-shirts. Crowds of New Yorkers packed both sides of the city streets for 30 blocks.
"The parade was the highlight of the trip because of the response of the people. They were all yelling `thank you Oregon' and people were crying, shaking our hands, and hugging us," Steve said.
The Waldorf-Astoria was only three blocks from where the World Trade Towers had stood. So, that afternoon the Everses walked by themselves to see Ground Zero.
"It was very sobering. We were so depressed we didn't take many photos. The (surrounding) buildings were so burned and obviously going to collapse," Cate said, adding, "Seeing it was not as impressive as the smell. It was still burning and had the smell of death."
Steve said what depressed him was "the knowledge that there was a huge building there, that dwarfed the others, and now it was gone and 6,000 people had died."
Memorial photos and signs were posted on walls around the area, and they also heard stories about some of the survivors. Cate, who used to raise guide dogs for the blind, related, "There was a blind man and guide dog on the 50th floor who was evacuated down the stairs to safety by his dog."
Later they walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, from which they could spot the Statue of Liberty. They noted Ellis Island was shut down Oct. 2, for security reasons and tourists aren't allowed to go there anymore.
Back in Madras last week, the couple said the Flight For Freedom was an experience they will never forget.
"It was neat. We saw so many different races in New York, I've come to appreciate how diverse our country is," Steve observed.
Cate said the trip made them want to return to New York. "We'd like to spend six months there and really explore it," she said.