By Times staff reports
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001
Price gouging includes Stars and Stripes
Price gouging on staples such as water, gasoline and batteries is common enough after disasters such as a hurricane.
But merchants across the state marked up another commodity consumers wanted following Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington: the American flag.
State officials disclosed that at a news conference they called to announce they issued 15 subpoenas Friday as part of an investigation into gasoline price gouging following the attacks.
Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson set up a hotline this week after hearing reports that some gas stations were taking advantage of grounded airline flights and were raising gas prices.
But they heard about more than just gasoline: Floridians who heeded the call of brothers Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush to display Old Glory complained that unscrupulous shopkeepers were charging far more than they should for the symbol.
"That's sick," Jeb Bush muttered Friday when he heard about the markups.
But the purpose of the subpoenas was to get a look at the records of gas stations that appear to have raised their gas prices by at least 10 cents a gallon. If the state determines the stations illegally raised their prices, the stations could face fines anywhere from $1,000 per incident or $25,000 for multiple incidents in a 24-hour period.
Only one of the gas stations, a Farm Stores gas station in Pinellas Park, was in the Tampa Bay area.
Three Florida executives stranded in Chicago during airport shutdowns this week found an unusual way to get back home: They took a taxi in what became a cross-country, multicultural odyssey.
The driver, who introduced himself as Ali, agreed to make the 24-hour trip because he wanted to help the men return to their families, said Bruce Gross, chief financial officer for Lennar Corp., a Miami-based home builder.
"Ali called his office and called his wife, then said he would do it," Gross said. "He just turned around and said, "Does anyone have any money for gas?' "
The four left at 10 p.m. Wednesday. Ali drove the Mazda minivan until 5 a.m., then they switched drivers.
The men learned Ali's full name was Mohhamed Ali and he was a mechanical engineer who moved to the United States from Bombay, India, in 1999. They also discovered he was Islamic and had been outraged and saddened by the terrorist attacks on Tuesday.
The taxi was stopped by state troopers in Georgia. They questioned Ali and examined the drivers licenses of all four men. The troopers said Ali had been speeding and warned him to slow down but didn't issue a ticket.
The group dropped off Scott Campbell, an analyst for Raymond James & Associates, at his home in Tampa, then headed southeast to drop off Waynewright Malcolm, Lennar's vice president and treasurer, in Pembroke Pines.
Finally the taxi arrived at Gross' home in Davie at 10 p.m. Thursday. Gross introduced Ali to his wife and three children. They had a late dinner and set up a bed for the exhausted driver to rest before he headed back north.
The fare: $700 and a "very generous" tip, Gross said.
Joining President Bush at the prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington was a veritable who's who of national politics. However, for security reasons Vice President Dick Cheney was not there. Cheney, the first in line to succeed Bush in the event of catastrophe, was taken to the secluded safety of Camp David on Thursday.
Even as the smell of smoke wafted through the corridors and black soot covered the floors, the Pentagon began to honor its dead.
Three days after terrorists slammed an airplane into the building, killing scores of people, standing room-only crowds of military personnel and civilians packed the Pentagon auditorium Friday for four separate memorial services.
Several women wore scarves of the American flag. Several men wore ties of the American flag.
Army Capt. Henry Haynes, the Pentagon chaplain, spoke eloquently of the need for Americans to look after each other.
"We have to come together," he said, "so that we may draw from each other's courage and each other's strength."
The most poignant moment came at the end of each service, with the crowd singing America the Beautiful.
Army Sgt. Matthew Brown, 31, said in an interview after one of the services that he was angry at the terrorists and that striking back was the right thing to do.
"If I sat down for a minute, I would cry," he said.
And then, he just about did.
From their lofty spot 250 miles above Earth, the astronauts aboard the international space station saw dark smoke billowing from New York on Tuesday.
On Friday the space station's commander, retired Navy pilot Frank Culbertson, noticed something else -- the absence of jet vapor trails.
"Normally when we go over the U.S., the sky is like a spider web of contrails, and now the sky is just about completely empty," Culbertson said. "It's very, very weird."
Near South Pasadena's busiest intersection, the corner of Pasadena Avenue and Gulfport Boulevard, St. Petersburg resident Wes Cooke stood for hours Friday on a raised concrete median, waving a U.S. flag against the dreary backdrop of a tropical storm.
He said he planned to keep waving the flag in memory of those killed in this week's terrorist attacks, even through Tropical Storm Gabrielle, until his "arm gets tired."
Motorists honked their support. Many did U-turns, returning to take Cooke's photo.
"It's just very sad," Cooke said, his voice cracking with emotion as rain pelted his face and his flag. "I just didn't know what else there was for me to do, really."
The residents of a small, windblown village on the rugged coast of Newfoundland have become accidental hosts to 6,650 international passengers diverted to their town Tuesday.
Among the throngs of stranded travelers are a couple of executives from Pier 1 Imports here, the mayor of Frankfurt, Germany, and two gorillas headed to an American zoo.
To accommodate this crowd of guests, residents of Gander have closed schools for an emergency shelter and turned the ice rink into a makeshift refrigerator for trailer loads of donated food. Although the town is small enough to walk, anyone with a car has become a potential taxi driver. Many have donated decks of cards, dart boards and even their golf clubs to offer guests a distraction. A Canadian zoo offered space for the gorillas.
Parisians were somber Friday, as they stopped for three minutes of silence to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks in the United States.
A special service was held at Notre Dame Cathedral on Friday morning, where the bells rang for 15 minutes. People stood outside the cathedral and on the streets, quietly and respectfully. Many wept.
People started gathering by 11 a.m. inside and outside Notre Dame. The bells rang at 11:45 and went on for 15 minutes, then faded to silence.
Traffic stopped. People stood still. The only sound came from a few birds and the choppy water from the nearby Seine. One young woman and her boyfriend held each other and cried. A man stood near the front of the crowd facing Notre Dame holding a tiny American flag. A woman held up a yellow ribbon on a wire.
There were many Americans in the crowd, standing near a great landmark to mourn one of theirs.
In a March episode of the short-lived TV series The Lone Gunmen, radicals tried to take over a passenger jet and crash it into the World Trade Center.
Trying to link such works to Tuesday's attacks lingers on the absurd, some say. But it does point out a startling truth: Fiction can become reality. And whenever a work of fiction depicting any crime is published, the potential for copycats is there.
In the Lone Gunmen pilot episode, which aired March 4, it was a small, radical faction within the U.S. government that tried to crash the jet into the twin towers so it could blame terrorists and revive the arms race. Faction leaders used remote control to commandeer the airliner. The plot is thwarted at the last moment.
Microsoft Corp. said Friday it will remove depictions of the World Trade Center towers from future versions of Flight Simulator. The popular computer game allows players to fly planes over New York City and other metropolitan areas.
"We certainly want to do the right thing, and we're obviously as devastated as everyone else about this horrible tragedy," Microsoft spokesman Matt Pilla said.
The new version of the game is due out this fall.
In existing versions of Flight Simulator, players can pilot aircraft over much of the world, with detailed scenery of New York and other cities.
When a player makes a mistake, the program shows the plane has crashed, but the buildings do not blow up.
As New Yorkers have turned to those closest to them for comfort, many who live in lower Manhattan have been kept from their most loyal and loving companions -- their pets.
Likewise, many pets have been left alone and unattended -- their owners missing and presumed dead.
The hotlines of animal control agencies have been ringing incessantly, mostly with calls from frantic Battery Park City residents who left pets when they went to work Tuesday morning -- and because of the wreckage have been unable to return home.
Beth Ender, 27, was on her way to work as a day-care worker at Merrill Lynch, in 2 World Trade Center, when the attack occurred.
Ender has been desperate to get home to her cat, Motzey, but doesn't have identification with her and can't get through to her apartment in Battery Park City.
"I'm going to sit here all night if I have to," she said. "I want my cat. I'm sure all the water's gone by now."
In New York, donations of food from Italian and Chinese restaurants, delis and families loaded tables outside the triage area at St. Vincent's Hospital. More food was sent to New School University, where lists of survivors were posted. The Salvation Army set up 20 canteens. Pizza, cheeseburgers and submarine sandwiches were also delivered. They came from chain restaurants, sent to nourish thousands of rescue workers and investigators, as well as people gathered at crowded blood drive centers and in airports.
"We have two stores operating near the World Trade Center; we're trying to do 1,000 pizzas an hour out of those two stores," said Holly Ryan, a Domino's spokeswoman. -- Staff writers Bill Duryea, Paul de la Garza, Stephen Hegarty, Susan Taylor Martin, Waveney Ann Moore, Chris Sherman, Alisa Ulferts, Amy Wimmer and information from Times wires contributed to this report.