Clinging in the dead of night to frozen emergency stairs near the top of a three-storey airport hangar while a mid-winter nor’easter lashed my exposed face was probably not the best time to make a career decision. I did, anyway. No more daily deadline journalism!
It was about 1 a.m. on the morning of December 13, 1985 as I clung to the side of the hangar in Gander, Newfoundland and peered through a frosted window at the bodies of U.S. servicemen who had died in an air crash the previous day being laid out on the concrete floor of the temporary morgue.
I’m sensitive, I’m scared of heights and I didn’t want to be there. What drove me? Fear of failure. As the Montreal Bureau Chief for United Press International at that time, I had been sent in haste by my boss in Washington, D.C. to cover the crash of Arrow Air Flight 1285 carrying 248 U.S. servicemen from the Kentucky-based 101st Airborne Division. All 248 plus eight crew members had died when the plane crashed in woods about half a mile from the airport runway.
Gander was mobbed by media, all of us looking for fresh angles. A source told me the bodies were being collected and brought to an unidentified hangar. Together with my UPI photographer, we secretly breeched the RCMP cordon around the hangar. His photos and my story made the pages of newspapers around the world the next day. By then I had made up my mind that I wanted out of the 24-hour news cycle.
Writing is my passion
Three years later, after a 16-year career working for The Canadian Press, The Montreal Star, The Gazette, United Press Canada and UPI, I and a fellow journalist started a weekly newspaper called The Hampstead Herald (The Weekly Herald) in west-end Montreal.
It lasted until February 1991 when we ran out of money. For the next 20 years, I kept my hand in freelance writing while helping to run a graphic design and marketing company called Ponctuation Grafix.
But I never gave up on my dream of returning to full-time feature writing and editing from my base in Montreal. New Internet technology is allowing me to follow that dream through BestStory.ca; I am beginning to write some of the many stories I have in mind while collaborating with other motivated and talented freelance writers whose copy I edit.
Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks and have a ball doing it?