I slept through many of the seminal events of the past 30-plus years. It's an occupational hazard for newspeople who work late into the overnight.
I had slept through the Challenger explosion. My boss, Bob Granger, called just after the event. We had been out talking and having a few drinks the night before and my addled brain couldn't comprehend what he was saying. I thought he was joking.
This time, my wife woke me. I don't remember why she was home so far into the morning on that Tuesday, but she woke me to tell me of the unfathomable events. I asked her if it wasn't some overproduced movie. The tears in her eyes told me all I needed to know.
I was in the shower when the second tower fell.
I called my office. My boss at what is now The Journal News in Westchester County, who has long since left, was unreachable, so I called his boss. He told me to get there as soon as I could. He thought there would be an extra. Of course, my boss was horrified that I talked to someone else but him. The things you remember.
After pausing long enough to see both towers fall, thanks to one of the innumerable replays, I got on the highway.
It's said God protests fools. I don't think I hit under 90 mph all the way down the Merritt and Hutchinson River parkways down to the office, across the highway from White Plains. I know I passed a half-dozen cops sitting along the side of the road. Ordinarily, I would have collected speeding tickets.
This was no ordinary day.
I got to the office and helped edit the EXTRA!
It wasn't long before photographers who had been at Ground Zero started coming back with unbelievable photos. We had a version of THE photo, the firefighters raising the flag. A paper in New Jersey just got theirs on the network a few minutes sooner. Such is life.
We huddled with the photo editors, the wire editors. You probably don't know Dan Murray. He's a gruff bear of a man who loves Van Morrison, the rock star.
He's also a great, great newsman. The EXTRA! Page One was basically a screaming headline and a photo of the blazing towers. The regular edition Page One was THE photo with a headline. It told it all.
Murray had the situation well in hand, while lesser editors were arguing about things like quote boxes, type styles, overtime and the rest. The night was a blur. Although what has become known simply as Sept. 11 was the top story, there were also other stories, things of transient importance that had to be told. I think I spent much of the time on those, getting all that under control so Murray could organize history.
Now, because of budget considerations, Murray has retired. It's a great loss.
We huddled about how much to tell the photographers about the white powder that clung to their clothing, shoes and hair. It was dust from the building, but we knew that some of the dust was organic, if you know what I mean. People.
We got calls from Oklahoma City. They had been through it with the Murrah building bombing. Sage advice. Get some counseling as soon as possible.
It's been seven years. Our national leadership has done a rum job of it. They used fear to keep their jobs in 2004. The people who actually knocked down those buildings are still running free, while we have ruined the lives of millions in the U.S. and Iraq fighting the wrong war.
Thanks for reading. It helps to write about it. After you've looked into the eyes of a kid barely old enough to drink, a photographer who has just seen things normally experienced only by soldiers in combat, nothing is ever quite the same.
But then again, because of these mistakes, tens if not hundreds of thousands of kids barely old enough to drink have seen things that will curdle your soul.
Let's hope another generation of kids don't have to see these things. My father used to say, "Don't be a hero with somebody else's guts."
Sage advice for our president. And the next one.
Until next time...