Fritz Plous, 72
A newspaperman never forgets.
Wed Aug 8 2012
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
What do you do? I’m a writer. I went to the Sun-Times in 1970 and worked there until ’78, when they merged the Sun-Times with the Daily News, and I was laid off.
What beat did you cover? I was a general assignment reporter, but I tried to grab every transportation story I could. Rail is my specialty. I was the first reporter on the scene of the 1977 El train derailment. The Sun-Times building was located where the Trump Tower is now. That night, I was in the city room on the fourth floor. The society writer, Kay Rutherford, was looking out the window, and she said, “Fritz, there’s a lot of red lights flashing down there.” I looked out at the corner of Lake and Wabash, and my God…the El fell off the tracks. So I raced down there and arrived as the first ambulances were taking the dead away. After I’d interview a cop or an ambulance driver, I’d pump quarters into a pay phone to talk to a rewrite man, just like in the old movies.
Do you still get the reporter’s urge to chase ambulances? Oh, yeah. If my wife and I see police cars speeding by, we still call the Sun-Times city desk. My wife worked in the features department at the paper. We were introduced by Roger Ebert, who got me my job there. When he was the editor at the Daily Illini in Champaign, I’d contribute folk-music reviews. One day, Roger said, “You really oughta meet this girl, April, who’s working for the features editor.” Our first big date was in 1974. I told her, “I’m taking my vacation on the Canadian Pacific Railway out to Vancouver.” She said, “Can I come?”