One interesting aspect of this story was how I shifted from bystander to reporter. I gathered the concrete, with the man holding them, thinking they should be preserved, for the young woman who was hit. And I took a picture of the chunks, thinking I didn't want to hang onto them. But the woman was in the background, and I angled the shot to include her. I still wasn't quite in the reporter mode. I followed her and my wife back into the train car, said some reassuring words, then left with my wife.
I got maybe 10 feet, realized this all should go in the paper, then doubled back and got the victim's name.
To be honest, even later, back at the office, I wondered whether I was blowing this out of proportion because I happened to be there; maybe this wasn't news, but just an incident that occurred in my vicinity. But it seemed more real than riffing on Donald Trump's latest. Every TV station in town leapt to cover the story, so I wasn't alone in finding importance here. It felt good, catching the 9:45 to Northbrook after staying late, to see Metra had closed down the track we were on. That might not have happened had it not been in the paper.
Union Station is dangerous. The place is falling apart in chunks, showering debris on commuters hurrying through its dim, decaying bowels. People get hurt.
At least one person got hurt Tuesday. The Metra Milwaukee North line had just arrived on track 9 at 8:37 a.m. Passengers poured out to begin the loud, slow shuffle toward the Madison Street exit. Several pounds of concrete, blackened by soot, fell from the ceiling. A piece struck Hilda Piell, 48, of Northbrook, atop the head, fracturing her skull. She let out a cry and doubled over in pain.
A smaller chunk also struck my wife, Edie, standing in front of Piell. But it glanced off her back, and she wasn’t badly hurt.
“I thought somebody smashed me with their bag,” Edie said. “It was the debris that hit me, really hard. I turned around, thought maybe she had dropped her bag. There was still more stuff falling down.”
I was next to my wife, lost in the commuter bubble, wearing Bose noise-canceling headphones. But I felt a spray of gravel and noticed Edie was gone, so I turned to see a woman crying, my wife comforting her, commuters flowing around. I yanked off the headphones; the roar of the station turned to a howl...
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