Frank Stoltze and I were sent to cover the Metrolink crash. It was the kind of story that makes you want to turn in your press pass.
Police cordoned off the scene for almost a mile around the tracks. But Frank drove over curbs to get around the police barricades and reported live all afternoon from near the scene.
I did not drive over curbs in my car with 130,000 miles on it. Instead, I was sent to the high school to wait with families for word about their loved ones on the train.
It was an awful assignment. I didn't want to be there. The families sure didn't want me there. No one wanted to talk. No one knew what to feel - yet - because they didn't know for sure whether their beloved person had survived. And they sure as hell didn't want to jinx any possibility of their family member being found alive. That night haunted me for months.
I finally put those thoughts down on paper and they turned into a one-act play about a reluctant reporter at that high school and the family member who mistakes her for one of the grief counselors. The reporter sums up my feelings about that night in "Top of the Hour":
"MAURA: I’ve been reporting for fifteen years. Earthquakes, fires, political conventions. This is different. You know, after a brush fire, people want to talk to reporters. Maybe it’s the adrenalin. I feel like it’s imposing on someone’s misfortune, wandering around those burnt canyons, nothing but a fireplace chimney left in the rubble. And there’s always someone digging around in the ashes, looking for their grandmother’s silver spoons or a little league trophy or something that reminds them of the life they had the day before yesterday and that person lights up when they see you with a microphone. Actually lights up. They want to tell you what happened. Where they were when they smelled the smoke. How they barely escaped the flames. You don’t have to ask for an interview. They ask you. But this is different. Nobody knows for sure. They don’t know what to feel. Yet. But I still have to go live at the top of the hour and say something.
You know, there were two women on the tracks. One was crying. The other one was holding her up. Her best friend. She kept asking everybody – police officers, the firemen, even us reporters – whether anyone had seen the woman’s husband. He was on the train and hadn’t come home. But he kept calling her cellphone. Or at least, the cellphone kept ringing and when she’d answer it, there was no one there. So she was convinced he was trapped on the train, injured, waiting for help. And she kept asking us to find someone to help her friend’s husband. And all this with ten television cameras and six radio microphones in her face. It was like a bad movie about the press. You know, I took that piece of tape of that weeping woman and I played it on the air and it was terrific radio. And I feel awful about it. I’m not a very good human being and I’m not a not a very good reporter."