Someone needs to invent a cell phone that activates a recording device when it rings at godawful hours of the morning, because I'm pretty sure I mutter some of the most toe-curlingly vulgar, colorful words that have ever been strung into a sentence when mine goes off at 4:00 in the AM. I just can't be sure, because I'm not nearly coherent enough to remember.
Technically, I think my first wakeup call came at about 3:45 AM, four hours earlier than my alarm clock was set. But at full volume four feet from my head, my cell phone ringer wasn't even jarring enough to disrupt my REM patterns. The second call penetrated a very vivid dream I was having about yelling at the Monroe School Board (see last night's post) and dragged me reluctantly to a state of semi-consciousness.
At that point, I was trying to determine whether I'd really heard my phone ring, and trying even harder to convince myself it was just a part of the dream. I was weighing the effort it would take to check my phone versus the probability that it was actually an important call when the bastard rang again, and I shot out a misguided arm to snap it open.
"Yahisduzzy," I croaked.
On the other end, my boss, Tara, was full of her typical pep, but a little perplexed. "Uh, is Dustin there?"
I was far too bamboozled to grasp the fact that my slurred growl was completely unrecognizable as me. Likewise, I had nowhere near the wits about me needed to shoot back a witty rejoinder like, No, this is his secretary, Dustin stepped out to run some early morning errands. Instead, I just enunciated, slowly, "No, I am me."
And that was how I came to find out I would be watching the sun come up in Columbus this morning.
In case you hadn't heard, an impressive feat of deafness to be sure, a warehouse at Columbus Chemical Industries blew up last night, and then burned for half a day before there was nothing left to combust. All the common sense and firefighting protocols I've ever heard indicate fire officials on scene did the right thing by pulling away and letting the fire run its course. Because they didn't know which caustic chemicals were fueling the fire, emergency management decided to evacuate an area around the site, and all bajillion of the emergency response agencies on scene today deserve some serious props for their role in what could easily have been a much worse situation.
So, granted, there was some drama to the situation, but I still couldn't help but laugh when Pat Simms from the State Journal raised an eyebrow at the collection of reporters representing every newspaper, radio and TV station between Milwaukee and Madison assembled at the 9:00 AM press briefing, and said, "What are we all doing here?"
Not that anybody's complaining, with every newsroom I know of short on staff, but it's been a slow news year.
In spite of being not quite with it, I had a helluva morning in the trenches riding a lucky streak of "gets" that could have lasted all day, if I had stayed. The first four "just folks" I spoke with in Columbus were a former member of the fire department willing to reminisce about the days when they ran fire response drills at the plant, a plant employee who had been laid off a week earlier (who I still suspect started the whole thing), the fiancee of a firefighter who had come home in paper clothes after his turnout gear had been confiscated as hazardous materials during the decontamination process and a woman who lives a half block from the plant itself and witnessed the whole thing.
But then again, that's small town Wisconsin. Steve Walters is the one who taught me the best stories about a disaster or crime scene won't be found at the scene itself, but in the cafe, restaurant, bar or gas station down the street.
The one negative on the day, other than having to get up at 4:00 AM and the fact that a warehouse blew up, happened as a result of me being a complete dope, so I can't really complain. Sleep-deprived as I was, I set my notebook on the roof of my car as I loaded up my bag and my laptop case, then climbed in and sped off down the road.
It wasn't until I was talking "the fiancee" that I realized my microphone hand was occupied as it should be, but my notebook hand was notably empty. A brief panic ensued during which my tactile memory was clicking enough to tell me I set it somewhere at shoulder height, but not specifically where. I ran up and down the gas station, checking on top of the dryers in the bathrooms and the shelves stocked with soup and Doritos before that last synapse fired.
I found the notebook not 20 feet from where I had parked earlier, flattened squarely in the middle of the road with a massive tire tread mark running diagonally across it. Honestly, the tire that did the flattening was more than a foot across, so for the sake of The Story, I'm going to say it was a fire truck that hit it, but I really don't know.
I do know that the fire truck scored a direct hit on the wire coil that binds the pages together, so taking notes on any other page than the one headed "N4335 Tempkin Rd" is next to impossible. With no one injured in the fire itself, this strikes me as the day's biggest tragedy. That notebook was only halfway through its useful lifetime!
What a sad, sad waste.