A business seminar featuring such nationally known leaders as Colin Powell and Rudy Giuliani created a traffic nightmare Tuesday as the thousands of attendees and tens of thousands of commuters headed to downtown Albany at the same time.
“Get Motivated” packed the Times Union Center, like hundreds of sporting and entertainment events before it, but most of those events are at night or on weekends, when downtown streets and parking areas aren’t already at capacity.
Businesses near the Times Union Center seemed to enjoy the boost in customer traffic, however.
Pizzeria Sapienza at 51 S. Pearl St. — just a few doors down from the arena — was swarmed at lunchtime, so much so that its regular customers stayed away, said assistant manager Josephine Amore.
“We had a line out the door,” said Anthony Ciccone, an employee at the pizzeria. “I [had] been here since 7 a.m. making pizzas and we still ran out.”
Amore herself was one of those delayed by the event.
“I got stuck,” Amore said, between buses and bumper-to-bumper gridlock downtown, from the time she left home at 7:30 a.m. to the time she finally arrived at work at 8:40 a.m.
Then the store’s deliveries were late — traffic got in the way of the trucks, too.
Powell and Giuliani were among the highlights of the event.
Other speakers included Steve Forbes, president and CEO of Forbes Inc.; motivational expert Zig Ziglar; Tamara Lowe, author of the New York Times best-seller “Get Motivated”; and Dr. Earl Mindell, author of “The Vitamin Bible.”
The TU Center was near capacity by the time Powell spoke around 2:30 p.m.
The former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff trotted on stage as a standing ovation and orchestrated techno music and pyrotechnics rattled the arena.
Powell warmed up the crowd with a variety of short stories.
He talked about how he grappled with transitioning from prominent positions within the federal government and U.S. military to becoming a civilian.
Powell said he had to overcome a sense of emptiness, an emotional gap and intellectual void caused by the change.
“So I bought a Corvette,” Powell joked. “It works.”
Powell also discussed more serious topics, like how he was an integral part in changing the rules and procedures for the nation’s travel visa system and at airports because of the needs of the post-Sept. 11 world.
Powell said since the world has become Internet-driven and “flattened” by globalization, it was necessary to make sure the nation wasn’t typecasting foreign students as terrorists. The country’s greatest strength in the fight against terrorism, Powell said, was for America to embrace openness and the country’s core value system to create more opportunities in the world for others.
“It’s amazing that he’s gone through so much and he’s so down to Earth and humble,” said Terrilia Guy, of Albany. “It really came out in his speech.”
“I felt that Colin Powell, as usual, was solid and persuasive — he gave examples of leadership from his personal life. He commanded the stage. He was humble and it showed through his sense of humor,” said Royal Cutler, of Delmar.
Frederick C. Muller, of Oneonta, said Powell delivered the most memorable line of the event: “ ‘As a leader, you want to give people purpose.’ ”
Some attendees were not so pleased, saying some presenters pointed out the obvious and spent too much time plugging books, other events and other promotions.
“This was life lessons compiled into a day, and if you don’t know this stuff, then shame on you,” said Gina Tarbell, of Oneonta.
Michael Kanciruk, of Niskayuna, said he was looking for more business tips.
“It was kind of cheesy,” Kanciruk said. “Some of the things you already know. To see the people try to sales pitch, it was kind of degrading.”
The very last speaker at the event was Giuliani, who spoke around 4 p.m. about the same topic Powell did — leadership.
Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who aborted a run for president in 2008, said all good leaders have strong beliefs, optimism, courage and the ability to facilitate teamwork and effective communication.
Using personal stories about dealing with the Sept. 11 attacks on his city, overcoming prostate cancer and building his career as an attorney, Giuliani talked about what it took to lead.
Giuliani referred to one of his first jobs in the legal profession, as a law clerk for the late Lloyd F. MacMahon, a federal judge in Manhattan.
McMahon told him for every hour of court, there should be four hours of preparation, Giuliani said — a key principle that taught him the importance of using preparation as a way to be comfortable under pressure.
“You have to rehearse and anticipate everything,” said Giuliani. “During the presidential election, John McCain and Barack Obama had four debates. Imagine how long they prepared for those.”
As the end of the seminar drew near, people like George Howard, of Athens, began filtering out of the arena.
“It was great. He talked a lot about New York stuff,” Howard said. “I was getting tired toward the end. I did start losing my attention span.”
By the end of the day, some seminar attendees who skipped out on Giuliani’s speech to beat the traffic stopped to grab a slice of pizza — but Pizzeria Sapienza’s late-afternoon rush crowd was mostly absent, Amore said.
“I thought we would get more people, but I think everybody is going home,” she said.
Amore believes better planning could have prevented the traffic congestion.
“If they do this again, they should shuttle them in from a parking lot somewhere,” Amore said.