Omar L. Gallaga is an administration reporter for The Oklahoma Daily,
the campus newspaper for the University of Oklahoma.
He has been on staff for two years and will serve as managing
editor next fall. This is his account of his sixth day helping
to cover the bombing in downtown Oklahoma City.
Part of an ongoing series!
News is interesting.
Hmm. I don't like that lead. It's a bit like saying "Sex is
good." What Joy would call "A no-shitter."
News is funny, in a way. That's maybe better.
News is strange? Well, good news is.
News is more like a sponge that seems so full of water one day
then completely dries up the next.
That one, for the purposes of today, will probably work.
Tonight was the first night I got out of the newsroom before
midnight since last Tuesday. It was almost sad in a way. I felt
incomplete -- like a mere mortal again, leaving before the copy
editors had gone home.
In fact, now that I remember, I'd promised Lori (our night
editor) that I would stick around 'till late to pay her back for
taking my place downtown early this morning, so I could get some
sleep. Whoops. I completely forgot. I suppose I'll be catching
hell about it tomorrow.
Today was also the first day we didn't have a midnight deadline.
It went back to 10:30 p.m. like it usually is. Normalcy was
returning. In a memo to her reporters, Joy said that we were going
to have to start covering local (Norman) stuff again. It was a
huge letdown after the events of the week before.
Of course, we would have reporters downtown this week and keep
up on the story, but the huge teams and scrambling probably wasn't
going to happen anymore. The story was drying out, even this close
to the scene and this soon after. It was a torn up building. More
bodies being taken out. How much were we going to be able to
say until the stories started sounding the same, the survivor and
fatality stories mixing together in our minds like haunting music,
remembered at some times, forgotten the rest?
I realize, reluctantly, that the news only lasts so long. Sooner
or later, we have to move on, to go somewhere else. The biggest
story of my career, and all of a sudden I'm learning that it will
be over soon. We only have a week or two left of publishing before
we break for intercession. After that, a paper won't come out until
late May/early July. That bothers me to no end.
I'll be going to the Tulsa World and working with people I saw
downtown this week, some good, others... Well, I won't go into it.
Let me just say I heard the competition for stories got ruthless and
they aren't exactly the happiest of staffs like, say, we are.
The sponge is drying. The story is ending. We'll move on. Then
what will I do?
When I crashed last night, it was because I was writing Day 5
as email to myself, which I would then buffer capture, edit using
DOSedit on my computer, then upload as ASCII text, which I would
email, then convert to html to put on my home page. Trust me,
it's the easiest way. I think.
Anyway, I had gone to take a little lie-down break and when I
came back, I was logged off because I'd been inactive for so
long. I must have fallen asleep longer than I thought.
I screen-captured what I had and went to bed. Screw it, I
thought. I'll write it tomorrow. I hesitated for a minute. I
had written them all the night they happened. I was worried I'd
forget details and the accounts would suffer.
I still worry about that.
I decided to go to bed anyway. I was just too tired.
I made sure my alarm was completely off and didn't see
consciousness again until after 11 a.m.
Joy called, waking me up to say I was on afternoon downtown
duty. Lori and Michelle were downtown and I was to come to the
newsroom about 12:30.
I got up and continued on Day 5, getting about halfway through
the day. I was running late, trying to get dressed, get finished
and go to the newsroom.
I printed out what I had of Day 5 and Day 4 so I could edit if
I had time at work.
I drove quickly, but still didn't make it to the newsroom until
Joy gave me a look. "Omar, you're 25 minutes late. That bothers
I felt bad. I'd gotten nine hours of sleep. I had no right to
Anita was waiting for me. "She's been waiting since 11:30,"
Well, that one wasn't my fault. They'd known I wouldn't be there
'till 12:30. Still, I felt bad. I remembered I promised Anita we
would go out to lunch together at 12:30.
She gave me a look from across the room. Joy shot me a look
from halfway across the room that said, "Did you just catch the
look Anita gave you?"
I nodded. It said, "Yes, yes, I know."
I decided to get verbal with these people and approached Anita.
"I knew we wouldn't eat lunch together," she said, before I'd even
I stopped a bit, approaching the situation, and the woman,
carefully. "I know. I'm really sorry. We need to head downtown.
Do you want to grab something on the way?"
She stopped looking at the newspaper and looked at me. She
We were arguing back and forth about whether we should take
two cars. Finally, she agreed to ride with me, but we'd have to
pick up an auto part she needed on the way.
I kept getting delayed. Mas'ood and I hooked up to chat about
the web site a bit more. They were talking with Vincent about
doing the video feed, but with alternating channels. Kind of a
"best of TV," sort of thing.
Mueed was working today to get the Monday paper online.
Jack gave us copies of today's paper, which had already run out
in all the journalism paper racks.
I spoke to Jack about class. He said they'd just discussed
bombing coverage, and that I shouldn't worry too much. Jack rules.
A guy from the Oklahoman showed up. He was from the Norman
bureau (actually, he WAS the Norman bureau) and wanted a copy of
our Friday with the article about Trudy, the OU student killed in
I copied for him and as he walked, he said he read my stuff all
the time. That pleased me. What pleased me more was the news tip
he gave me.
Larry Medina, who is Director of Hispanic American Student
Association (of which I am an on-again, off-again member) is a
member of the Air National Guard and has, as such, been downtown
through most of this. He gave the Oklahoman guy a guided golf-
cart tour near the blast area. The Oklahoman guy got to take a
picture of an American flag with the words "We will be back,"
spray painted next to it. It was awesome.
He told me that Medina has seen everything and that it will
be a hell of a feature when he comes home. He told me he got
Larry's pager number from his wife.
I thanked him and tried calling. Their message tape on the
answering machine. The people in his office said there was no
way in hell they were going to give me his pager number. Sigh.
I decided to try his house later or call his wife at another
Anita and I finally left the newsroom and headed downtown.
We stopped at Auto Zone and got her part. We went to
Hardee's in Moore to get food. We ate, with surprisingly
little mess on the road.
Anita was in a bad mood. She hadn't brought her rain gear
and there were dark clouds. She had worked about 21 hours
straight the day before along with Rudolf and she was getting
Rudolf, blessedly, had gotten the day off. He'd worked so
hard, he needed it and more. He came in later this evening, though.
You just can't keep them at home.
Anita, who'd busted her ass too, wouldn't have taken
a day off if someone tried to force her to.
We made it downtown with little fuss, getting pretty close to
As soon as we got there, we paged Lori to meet up with her and
Michelle. We called Joy to check in. There'd been tons of traffic
on the way, so we'd gotten there late, almost 3 p.m.
We were going to have to be back around 5-5:30 because I had
a 6 p.m. deadline.
Anita was a little upset because of how little time we had. She'd
warmed up a bit on the way, though, when we talked about how much
work we'd done and how awesome the staff had been. When I began
to bitch about how hard it's been to do all my normal stuff and try
to write about it all at the end of the day, she tried to cheer me
The first thing I saw in Press Town was a firefighter holding
up a crayon drawing sent to him by a child. It read, "Thank you -
I'll be watching you on TV!"
Anita and I roamed around and we ran into a K-9 unit. A guy
and his gorgeous German shepherd were talking to some other
reporters. Anita took pictures, then started stroking the dog's
fur while I asked questions.
He said the rescue dogs were fatigued because they were working
12-hour shifts and dogs normally spend about 70 percent of their
lives asleep. To top it off, the dog had an upset stomach. He said
he was going to go give Gunny (the dog) some Pepto Bismol.
One of the people interviewing him was a reporter from the OSU
Normally, we hate the O'Collegian. We don't think their paper
is terribly good and since we hate OSU anyway, it's a good target.
Their reporters (two we met) were very nice. Also, they didn't
like their editors, who had underplayed the bombing to the point of
We let our guard down when they told us how well we were covering
The reporter asked if we knew about the Muslim funeral. She said
a Muslim woman had had people knocking on her door harassing her and
the stress caused her to have a miscarriage. The reporter gave us
an address where the funeral for the stillborn baby would be. She
said a press conference with Muslim officials was going to happen
I rushed to a phone to tell Joy, who was not at all impressed.
"We already knew about the Muslim woman. It was in the Oklahoman."
I asked if we were sending someone to the funeral. "No," Joy
said, but told me I could cover the press conference. Okay.
I ended up explaining to Anita that it wasn't that big a deal
even though my gut told me it was. It may have been that I had
been in such close contact with Mas'ood and had been there when
there was a lot of worry about Muslim students being harassed earlier
in the week.
I remembered how there had been a move to keep Muslim student
files under lock and key if the FBI decided to try to seize the
records from OU.
A few minutes later, the press conference began. A huge crowd
of reporters gathered and I was lucky enough to get right near
the front, crouching on the ground with people all around me,
microphones shoved forward and cameras bumping.
The people there were a spokesman from a national Muslim
association, a lawyer for the Oklahoma Muslim Association, the
Middle Eastern man who'd been arrested at Heathrow airport and
the husband of the woman who'd had the miscarriage.
It was hard to hear them, but I was lucky to be close enough.
I was having a hard time crouching. My feet were falling asleep
and cramping badly. I kept fidgeting while I scribbled notes,
worried that I was pissing off the reporters around me with my
movement. When I could take the pain no more, I stood up, then
a few minutes later, crouched again. I wondered if I would end
up on some news broadcast, popping up and down like a journalistic
The second time I stood up, I was crowded by a short Asian
woman who'd miraculously managed to get herself completely into
the circle. She wore mostly black and a bright red OU hat.
I had seen her around before. I thought she was from the
Oklahoman. At this point, I didn't care if she was from the
New York Times. I was pissed off that she was crowding me
and shoving her elbow into me where I could barely write. She
had her arm sticking out with a tape recorder.
She seemed like a pro. I didn't feel like one.
I'd forgotten my tape recorder and was taking notes quickly,
probably missing a few details, but getting most of it pretty
There were some good quotes and I figured this would be a
story. The husband told the whole story with his wife. The
Heathrow guy said he'd been humiliated and treated like dirt.
The lawyer said Muslim leaders had been excluded from the prayer
After the press conference, I spoke individually to the lawyer,
the Heathrow guy and, through a translator, the husband.
I noticed the husband sitting off by himself later, waiting on
a nearby curb. I had been one of the few to actually shake his
hand and express sympathy. I wondered if the stereotypes they'd
just spoken about extended into every realm, even this one.
I caught up with the reporter who'd elbowed me. I had to know
where she was from.
I asked her. "I'm from New York." Okay.
"What paper do you write for?"
"The NEW YORK Times?"
I started asking questions and I may have been gushing. She
said she'd worked there three years and was a city reporter in
Queens. Somehow, the conversation got to Columbia, where I was
thinking about attending grad school. She told me she'd gone there
and I should go.
I asked her about the OU hat. She joked that looking like the
local press made people more apt the talk to her. The real reason,
though, was that she needed a hat and had bought one at Target. It
seemed so strange to me -- someone from the Times shopping at an
She gave me her home phone number and told me to call her if I
was ever in New York, we'd go have coffee. Wow.
She got on her cellular, met up with her photographer and walked
off. I was still basking in her glow. I think Anita told me we
needed to start leaving, but my memory gets cloudy there.
We said goodbye to the O'Collegian people and I was writing
down my email, world wide web page and other info on the back of
a Daily business card. We tracked down the Times reporter and I
gave it to her. She said they didn't have email, but kept the
card. We chatted with her a little longer. I told her
it would be at least two years before I got to Columbia. She
invited me again to call her. "I'll still be there," she said.
We ran into her one more time on our way out of Press Town
and her photographer was nice enough to let Anita use his wide-
angle lens to get a view of the whole press/building scene.
We left Press Town and on the way, Anita spotted a good shot.
An American flag as the background to a sign that read, "Keep
Out," on a condemned building. As she was taking the picture,
I remembered that this was where I'd interviewed Mario, who'd been
blown out of bed and had gone out to help people the morning of
Mario's mom, Yolanda, invited us upstairs. They were moving
their beds out. The building had been declared unlivable, so they
were going to live temporarily on a farm they owned.
I found out Mario is a sculptor, and a good one from what I could
see. None of his sculptures were broken.
They were very nice to us and invited us to come to the
roof and see the view from up there. It was incredible. What was
more incredible was the top floor where plaster lay, walls looked
crumbled and destruction just seemed so... out of place. This
is not Beirut. It's Oklahoma City. This is not a construction
site. This is a home.
We were running really late, so we left. Anita still had to
take pictures of FEMA (Federal Emergency Medical Agency, I think)
for a feature Michelle was working on. I circled around the
Myriad Arena while Anita went inside to call Joy and get pictures.
When she came back, she said she wasn't able to get in at FEMA,
or a photo of the chiropractic team across from the Myriad.
We headed back with my Mambo Kings soundtrack. (Yes, I bought it
just for "Beautiful Maria of My Soul," but can you blame me? Plus,
the other tracks have grown on me.) Our collective butts mamboed
as well as they could on my car seats most of the way home until
Anita fell asleep and my own eyes grew heavy behind the wheel.
We got back close to six, so I knew I would miss deadline. I
wrote as fast I could, but I kept getting sidetracked by web stuff.
Joy and I decided I would write a Muslim press conference story,
work on an update on rescue work and maybe do two accounts if
I did the Muslim thing first and let Mas'ood read it when I was
done just to get see if he could spot any mistakes since he was
following the story much closer than I had been.
While I was writing, Nick Jungman, our former editor who is
at the St. Petersburg paper, called to talk about my accounts that
I'd been emailing semi-regularly.
He said he was impressed (I think that's what he said, I was
half-distracted working on my stories) and that I should submit
them as exerpts for Esquire or Harper's. I was flattered and
told him I was thinking maybe a book (there I go again). He
sounded more excited and said that I could have Esquire or
someone exerpt it FROM the book. It still seemed surreal.
I told Nick I'd call him back. It's 2 a.m. now, and I
think I should let him sleep. I'm sorry Nick. I'll call tomorrow
The Muslim story was a little difficult to write because it
was a press conference and I needed to make it sound not-so-staged.
I went into detail about the wife and about the Heathrow incident
using quite a few quotes.
The rescue story turned out to be nowhere near as good as what
AP had, so we decided to include some facts I'd gotten into the AP
and pretty much leave the rest alone. We wanted to add enough to
put "From staff and wire reports," but it didn't happen. AP won
I didn't do any accounts because we didn't really need them.
I plan to write them up tomorrow if we decide to do it again.
All told, I finished up about 9 p.m. with some side trips to
update my home page with the first two of these records.
I also spotted The Edmond Evening Sun's home page on the Web.
I was shocked. It read, "Oklahoma's First WWW News Service!"
I immediately got Mas'ood. We were both mad.
I decided to call and speak to someone posing as a random OU
student (Mas'ood said, "random computer geek"). I never got a
live person, so I left a message in a lisping drawl. "I do a lot
of net stuff and I see a lot of world wide web. I also write
articles for Boardwatch magazine. You guys say you were the first
news service and I don't think that's true. There were other
papers that had bomb coverage just a few hours after it happened
like the OU paper. They were on that night. If you guys were on
there earlier, you need to put a date. If not, you need to take
that off 'cause those guys at that paper could sue your ass."
Mas'ood held back laughter. He pointed out that they'd only
had a measly 6,000 hits compared to our several hundred thousand.
I actually got out just after 9 p.m. I was going to go home,
but I was hungry. I stopped at Godfather's pizza to see if my
old high school friend, Italia, was working. She was and she
made me a mini-pizza and let me pay for it on her employee discount.
We talked love lives. She was upset because every guy she
meets walks all over her. I dunno. It's like teams. The Nice
Guys of the world vs. the Jerks. And we Nice Guys (at least I
HOPE I'm on that team) end up comforting the Nice Girls of the
world, telling them what Jerks the Jerks are and praying that
the Nice Girls will notice us Nice Guys. Never happens.
That wasn't the case this time. Italia and I have known each
other far too long. We're great friends, though, when we actually
get around to seeing each other.
She was going to come over because she was interested in maybe
seeing my apartment and living there in the summer.
I finished pizza and watched The Maxx while she finished working.
At about 10, we left and she saw the apartment. She really
liked it and she asked about my bills. I gave her some rough
She said she could only live here in the summer which is perfect
because when I get back from my Tulsa World internship I'll still
have a place to live. Life, again, seemed pretty good.
I drove her to her home in the dorms and went home with a guilty
pleasure. I was singing "Beautiful Maria" all the way.
I got home and started typing immediately. I finished Day 5
by about midnight, cleaned up Day 4 and got it ready to send and
am now finishing Day 6 at just after 2 a.m.
I missed Modern American Women, so I'll have to make up those
quizzes with a paper. I'll put it off. It's always worked before.
Tomorrow, though I have a 9 a.m. class and I can't miss it. So,
for now, I'll go to bed.
The very tired,
Copyright ©1995-2001 by Omar L. Gallaga