I lie awake typing this column on my Blackberry after hearing the report of Osama bin Laden's death. For me, and many others, this historic news called up memories of where I was on Sept. 11, 2001, the day the World Trade Center towers collapsed. I also remembered commuting to Vending Times's New York City office with my father the very next day, and how frightened I felt returning to the city where the terrorist attacks had just taken place. Later that day, there was a bomb scare in the Macy's store at Herald Square, just a stone's throw from our headquarters.
I remember asking my dad if he ever could have ever predicted something like this would happen in our lifetime, on American soil -- in the land of opportunity -- and whether he was scared. I thought he had seen it all, since he had served in World War II. He confided that he was frightened for all the children, and the world we would inherit. At the time I didn't realize, as he clearly did, the magnitude of the change that had taken place. But change is continual, as is loss, even though tremendous losses like the 9/11 attacks or the recent Japanese earthquake are infrequent.
I have begun feel like I'm a member of a club that's growing by leaps and bounds. In the past six weeks, we have lost amusement industry leaders Ed Yaffe, Gordon Smart and Joel Kleiman. Last year it was coffee service pioneer Stuart Daw and celebrated trade publisher Ben Ginsberg -- and, before that, coin-op veterans Fred Skor, Bill Cravens and Al Toranto. There have been many more, but these names come to mind because my father had a special relationship with each of them. And I now have a special bond with their children, because we all lost our fathers and mentors with a single blow. Indeed, these men were part of a generation that shaped, and was shaped by, epochal events unlikely ever to recur, and we have inherited the world they helped to build.
But I'm writing today not to "get lost in let's remember" (we've recognized our predecessors many times in the pages of Vending Times), but to make a point. We, too, are part of a generation that will not be seen again. Every generation is defined by singular experiences, and it's up to us to make the best use of them.
At the recent NAMA show, I ran into a client who has become a very dear friend. He said to me, "It isn't your fault."
"What isn't my fault?" I asked.
"You can't blame yourself for what happened to the economy, and the change in your company's business model. Your father could never have predicted this, and he would have grappled with the transition, too. You're not alone and you're doing a great job," he assured me.
I was touched by his comments and the fact that he felt the desire to share them. Of course, I've thought about his observations many times, and often wondered if there was anything I could have done to prevent these changes from happening in the first place.
I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only one who has engaged in this kind of introspection or (dare I say) self-doubt. So today I decided, as a senior Successors Club member, to dedicate this column to all my distinguished colleagues and new associates. While those who came before us surely made their mark in our industry, we have an important job to do, too. If you're reading this magazine, chances are you are already doing it.
We inherited the world our fathers built, but that world has been redefined and the rebuilding has already begun. The foundation has been laid. One day, the next generation will be talking about us -- saying "wow, they inserted coins in those vending machines? Operators had to do their reconciliation manually? They didn't know that their equipment wasn't working until they got a call from a patron? How did they know how much product to put on the truck without a remote monitoring device? Boy, I wonder how they managed!"
Club members, we are the next great generation. We are responsible for the next big thing, and we need to make the changes we want to see in the world.
The singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks, thinking about an avalanche of difficulties that had descended on her, wrote a song recorded in a 1975 Fleetwood Mac album. She called it "Landslide," and it might have been written just for us, striving to remake a world shaped by our parents. Whenever I hear it, I think, "This is for you, daddy."
I've been afraid of changing,
'Cause I've built my life around you.
But time makes you bolder,
Children get older.
I'm getting older, too.
So the execution of bin Laden is a milestone, but much more road lies ahead. We may hope that it signals a correction of the unhappy trends that the 2001 attacks seem to have launched, but that really is up to us. It is our turn now.