Night shift

The private plane went into the Lake Michigan trying to land on Christmas Eve.  I was working evenings, 6 to 2 AM so I was there when it happened and the city editor sent a photographer went over to Meigs Field which was on landfill off downtown.  Meigs is no longer an airport, but is very big in the world of video games.  It was on a peninsula, so it was easy to land in the Lake if you were careless, or drunk, as this pilot probably was.  We sent a photographer over who said the cops told him it had been the woosy end of an office Christmas party, that there had been three aboard, and that the young woman had been pulled out of the water alive but not the two guys.  They were dead.

So back at the paper we had to find and call the families at home on Christmas Eve to discuss the violent, and probably scandalous death of husband/father.  Boss handed out the names.  I got one.

Usually the papers print language like – ‘Authorities have not released the names pending notification of the next of kin.’  Actually, at least then, we got the names about as quickly as anybody knew them.  At Meigs Field that night I think they gave the names to our photographer.  There was no question of waiting for some official to get around to finding the families because there was another newspaper in town, the Tribune, and they bloody well were not waiting.

I figured out and looked up the home phone of the drowned party animal, upscale north suburbs, and dialed it.  At the moment they answered I knew they didn’t know.  I could hear the kids playing in the background.  Maybe music. Other voices. I asked if it was the home of what-ever-his-name-was.  Stalling.  Said I was from the Sun-Times, babbled some more, and gave the phone to somebody else, somebody who’d done this before, somebody who had made a phone call from a fluorescent-bright news room pushing a deadline and delivered bad news. The fucking worst news you ever got.  

* * *
The guys who made that kind of phone call, and who wrote the fast little stories that come from them, were ‘nightside rewrite.’  They created my abiding picture of what a newspaper guy is supposed to be like.  Smoked a lot, had booze in brown bags in their lockers, used the phones for virtually all their reporting, and could write any story, about anything, at any length in however long they had until the home deliver edition deadline.  There were three of them, sometimes four, and they were like…. utility infielders in the Majors.  I can see their faces to this day.  One of them had a stroke and died there one night.  I was there.  Were I to have to choose a way to die someplace besides surrounded by my loving family…..

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