Herndon, Va. – Just one look at Paul Veneto and his iconic “Wonder” T-shirt gives a glimpse of his life’s journey.
“I know people think, ‘What is that guy doing in the middle of the street with his drink cart?'” he said.
To understand this, you have to go back to September 11, 2001, when Veneto was a flight attendant for United Airlines. Its normal weekday route is Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles.
A few days before 9/11, his work schedule changed for the week, a stroke of luck that saved him but cost the lives of his friends and colleagues.
“I believe, without a doubt, that I went through everything in my personal life to do this,” he said.
what he does is Poly’s Push 2: The Pentagon.
It’s a follow-up to the journey he pushed last year, when he rode 200 miles in an airline beverage cart from Boston’s Logan Airport to Ground Zero in New York City in memory of his deceased colleague.
“I only had one thing to do: bring this cart to New York,” he said as he drove through Connecticut.
This year he wants to do something a little different.
“I had a lot of ideas to do because a lot of information happened in the last year,” he said. “I did a lot of soul-searching and thinking, ‘Can I? You know, should I?'”
He decided he should – this time in memory of those who lost their lives on American Airlines Flight 77. He was walking the nearly 40-mile journey from a flight from Dulles Airport in suburban Washington, DC to where the Pentagon crashed.
Paulie sees this as a path to healing, not just for himself, but for those who come to see him.
“Then all of a sudden I was walking down the street with a drinks cart and the neighbors were talking to each other. It was crazy!” he said. “They would come, one neighbor would walk away and the other would say, ‘You know what? I haven’t spoken to this guy in five years.
It also touches the lives of those who know what it’s like to work at height.
When retired flight attendant Karen Murphy first met Poly, they were both training early in their careers.
“I was supposed to take Flight 175 on September 12, and I know he was upset because his schedule was very similar,” Murphy said. “Based on the calendar, we all just missed 9/11.”
Like everyone else, Murphy said she admired what Paulie was doing and came out to walk with him through part of the Pentagon.
“I thought of flight attendants because they’re the first responders,” Murphy said, “I don’t think flight attendants get the same amount of attention, and what Pauly did, I think that’s was therapy for flight attendants, including me. Owning.”
However, Poly has another reason to keep pushing.
“I keep that for a generation behind us. It’s important to me – I see these families with their children,” he said. “They don’t know what 9/11 is, so I know these parents are telling them about 9/11.”
Paulie plans to do a similar walk next year on September 11 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed. He said it was important to always remember the sacrifice so many people made that day, adding: “We cannot forget it.”