Pittsburgh International Airport

Far From Home, Compassion and Kindness for Pittsburgh


Far From Home, Compassion and Kindness for Pittsburgh

By Jeff Martinelli
Jeff Martinelli, Manager of Customer Programs, has been in Europe for the past few weeks – first on vacation and then in London to attend the World Travel Market, a travel industry trade show where he joined a team from Pittsburgh promoting the airport and region to tour operators and travel industry press from throughout the United Kingdom.

Martinelli was vacationing in Hamburg, Germany, when the horrific events occurred at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. This a compilation of reactions he encountered while traveling in Germany and France prior to attending the London trade show on Monday, Nov. 5.

On Friday, Nov. 9, the airport joined the City of Pittsburgh and organizations around the region to observe a moment of silence at Noon in remembrance of shooting victims and in a collaborative prayer for peace and unity.

I had just finished packing for my Sunday morning departure to Cologne, Germany, when I decided to call my wife to see how things were at home. It was then I learned of the shootings that occurred earlier in the day. I ended our call, then lay in bed watching an English CNN broadcast. From a different continent, I watched people I know giving updates and reaction through a news feed from KDKA.
I drifted as best I could into a restless sleep for the night, waking up occasionally and in my sleepy haze thinking it was a dream – “that kind of horrific event doesn’t happen in Pittsburgh, it happens somewhere halfway around the world,” I thought to myself, before realizing that I was the one halfway around the world.
As I checked out of the hotel, all TVs in the lobby were showing a doctor in Pittsburgh giving a medical update at a press conference. Overnight, the death count had almost tripled – from four when I fell asleep to 11. Eleven people from one of Pittsburgh’s most diverse and welcoming neighborhoods – gone.

What’s a Pittsburgher going to do in Cologne on a fall Sunday evening when he and his hometown are grieving? Try to find the Steelers game on TV. After a 20-minute walk, I found it at Joe Champ’s Bar. I sat down in front of the lone TV that would show the Steelers’ victory over the Browns and next to Kevin, from Moon Township, who is working temporarily in Germany and who had traveled over an hour by train to get to the bar.
I asked him about Saturday’s events, what he heard, what he thought. He looked across the bar and then looked back and said “you know, I came to watch the game today because I’m a big Steelers fan, but really I don’t want to talk about that. This game is just a way to escape the bad news.”
That’s when the bartender, who spoke fluent English, came over. She had overheard our conversation and, seeing the way both Kevin and I were dressed in black and gold, quickly deduced we were from Pittsburgh.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she put two beers on the bar. “I’m sorry what happened in your city. It must be tough being here. These are on me.” It was the most Pittsburgh-like thing that happened in my three weeks in Europe.
The next night I stopped at the Hard Rock CafĂ© for dinner. After taking my order, the server, who was obviously American, asked me where I was from. “Pittsburgh,” I said proudly.
As he started toward the kitchen to put my order in, he stopped in his tracks when he heard the city. “I’m so sorry,” he said slowly. “I went to Pitt for four years and it’s my favorite city. The people of Pittsburgh deserve so much better than that.”
After some discussion I learned it was strange set of circumstance that led him from being a manager for K.C. and the Sunshine Band to waiting tables in Cologne. “If I could go back to Pittsburgh I would,” he said. “It’s the best city in the world.”
It was a long, rainy Monday. I had spent the entire day walking from attraction to attraction in Paris, ending up in the Saint Germain section of the city and enjoying all the little shops and restaurants along the way. But I was wet, cold and hungry. I hopped into an Irish Pub, and a few minutes later a couple from New Zealand sat down next to me.
After a few minutes of chatting, they asked where I was from. When I told them, the husband put his head down, shook it back and forth, then looked up and, like most people I met this week, offered his condolences to the city. “I don’t understand,” he said. “I don’t understand the hate.”
I talked at length at how great of a town Pittsburgh is; how this is not reflective of its residents. “It sounds like an amazing place,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.”
The next day I took the train from Paris to London. During the ride my mind drifted to the work I would be doing there, when I thought a terrible thought: “How was I going to do my job of selling Pittsburgh when this heinous act just occurred there?”
And then I thought: “How could I even worry about that? I was upset that I was being insensitive to the victims, their families and friends. But as I thought about it more, those feelings faded. They were replaced by pride and by love, and the thought that the victims – and their incredible stories that had come out since – are the true representation of the compassionate, loving, caring, hard-working, friendliest people you’ll ever meet. Anywhere.
Each day during this massive trade show of more than 50,000 people, our team was approached by attendees offering their condolences. Everyone has been so nice, warm and gracious. We sit down and begin to tell them all the great things Pittsburgh has to offer.
It is a job I love because I love my home town and city. And, now, strangely, it’s a job that I love even more – because I realize the love of those victims is stronger than hate. I have a responsibility to represent them and all residents of the region well. And it feels good to know that even halfway around the world, good people are sending Pittsburgh their love.