Is This Really Happening?

Article by Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief, Panel World May 2022

At the risk of repeating myself (what the heck, I’ll be 67 in September), I remember at the beginning of the 2020 Panel & Engineered Lumber International Conference & Expo (PELICE) in Atlanta, as I spoke to the gathering on the first morning, when I referred to one of the scenes in the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” It was the scene when Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore) and the remainder of their small team of Army Rangers found Private Ryan (Matt Damon) and his 101st Airborne unit defending the bridge in a French village only a few days following the invasion of Normandy. Miller had been given the mission “straight from the top” to comb the French landscape, find Ryan, pull him out of combat and deliver Ryan to safety behind the lines so Ryan could go home to America. The reason for the mission was that Ryan’s three brothers had all been recently killed in action, and the U.S. military brass felt three brothers was enough.

But Ryan courageously refused to leave his outfit at the bridge and depart with the Rangers, who had lost two men while trying to find Ryan. This prompted Captain Miller to shake his head and comment to Sergeant Horvath, “Sergeant, we have crossed some strange boundary here. The world has taken a turn for the surreal.”

It was the word “surreal” that I wanted to emphasize, because literally in the middle of that 2020 conference in mid- March the pandemic crashed the party. Those of us in attendance didn’t really know what to do, except for those from Europe and Canada who began making a beeline for the Atlanta airport in order to beat their border closings. It was all very surreal, which means something like there is no way this is happening even though it is happening.

Move forward to the 2022 PELICE, held recently in late March in the same Atlanta locale in the Omni Hotel at CNN Center, specifically the Grand Ballroom North. Here I was again giving the opening remarks to a room full of people, many of whom hadn’t “gotten out” since the 2020 PELICE.

Given all that had gone in the two years between each PELICE—the illnesses, the deaths, the masks, the virtual communications, the vaccinations—as I spoke I could hear another voice inside my head whispering, “This is still very surreal.” All of these people sitting out there surely can’t be sitting out there. The pandemic can’t be over, or close enough to being over to the point we’re all gathered here, in-person, smiling, talking, even hugging one another after having not seen each other in-person since the last PELICE.

But here we were indeed. Maybe by the time you read this, the pandemic will have picked up momentum again and we will have retreated again to the confines of somewhere. But no matter what happens, the joyous occasion of PELICE 2022 is in the books. It was, after all, very real.


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