Kate and I had some bidness in Royal Oak last night, and started for home right about the time this happened. I’d estimate we were moments behind the action, which if you don’t want to click, is this, in summary: A tanker truck crashed on I-75 about 8:30 p.m. and burst into flames, involving another semi and a car. The fire melted and collapsed the 9 Mile Road overpass and, as the journos like to say, sent a roiling plume of heavy black smoke 200 feet into the air.
We weren’t on 75, but I-696, another freeway that crosses it, about a mile north. From that overpass we were able to briefly see the whole thing — the smoke, the terrible fire, the location. About this far away, but in the other direction.
So what did I do? Called Alan at work, told him to tell the city desk. I’ll be calling the damn city desk until I die. When I was in Fort Wayne, at the beginning of my time there, we still had stringers to cover the rural areas, paid them a pittance to be there when tankers crashed and burned in their neck of the woods. Most of them were old, veterans of days when being a newspaper reporter meant something (which is to say, barely more than it means today). But they brought real enthusiasm to the job — no one could cover all the angles of a feral dog pack terrorizing rural sheep herds — and, by our eyes, real comedy, sometimes.
Our man in Adams County was Simon Schwartz. (Carrying that name in that neck of the woods is like being called Abe Goldberg in New York City. It’s an insider’s name.) He was well into his 80s, and had health problems that sometimes took him off duty for a spell. But at least twice a week, he typed up the week’s news on onionskin paper, on a manual typewriter probably as old as he was, addressed them with a quavery hand and always added a note off to the side on the envelope: RUSH. The editors got a kick out of that one, but I’ll tell you, when a natural-gas explosion in Berne took out a house and burned its occupants, man, Simon dragged his old bones out of bed and got to a phone, dictated the news on deadline and filed a follow by mail, which was rushed to the metro desk.
As I recall, he added a cover note to the editor with whom he’d been working, whom he addressed as Miss Montgomery: “They say (the burn victim) is suffering terribly. It must be like the way sinners will suffer in the fires of Hell. A useful reminder to prepare for Eternity!”
I’m sure Simon is in Eternity by now, and I hope, wherever he is, he’s not suffering. Any man with that kind of work ethic can’t be all bad.
Anyway, the fire is still smoldering here in Detroit this morning. Love quotes like this: “There’s still something burning under there,” (a fire chief) said. “We poured water on the section that collapsed and it boiled.” The freeway will be closed indefinitely, and the overpass, which was brand-new, will have to be rebuilt. Cause of the crash? Still unclear, but it looks like speeding. A car lost control on the curve. A useful reminder to slow down.
I don’t have much bloggage, but I have some:
The Brits have had our language longer than we have, which is how they can come up with so much great slang.
Chickens as art objects.
And now time for breakfast, and the gym. I spent hours at the keys yesterday. Time to spend a few hours away, eh?