Down a Dirt Road

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I miss the south. Yes, I said it. I miss the little house next to the cotton field, the crickets in the living room, the crooked stairs in the bureau building in ‘downtown’ Thomasville, the long drives to Apalachicola, and the slower pace of life. I miss needing a wristband to get into the bar at Applebee’s. (I speak the truth ….)  I was only there for eleven months, and while it was hard in so many ways, when I think back, I’m glad I was there to experience it all. (I could have done without the palmetto bugs, but I slept with a big jug of bug killer next to the bed and was ready to attack whenever necessary.)

I have a collection of stories I can share from my time there and I will spread them out over several posts. Working in a small market newsroom is an experience in itself and there is a camaraderie among those of us slaving away, barely making more than minimum wage, that I think is unlike any other bond that co-workers might have. I met some amazing people, most of whom have moved onto bigger and better. When days were tough, and many were, with excruciating heat, impossible deadlines, and pitbulls waiting in the front yard of the house your boss wanted you to go do a door knock at, it wasn’t uncommon for us to call each other up, sometimes in tears, from the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in search of emotional support. For those of you who have heard the stuck in a ditch in a blizzard story, it should be noted that during the ten hours I was in that News 8 SUV, it was a meteorologist friend from my Tallahassee days that kept us updated on what to expect. He told me when the heaviest squalls were coming. He was in Alabama at the time.

One day I was sent to cover a homicide in a very small town in North Florida. We were beat reporters, meaning we covered certain counties all the time, and this wasn’t my normal territory. The homicide had happened the day before and the reporter, Garin, who covered that area hadn’t had any luck getting people to talk to us. For some reason my boss thought we should try again, this time with me going door to door, by myself, in a neighborhood where one of the suspects was still on the loose. When I called Garin, who was off that day, to ask where the exact location was, he was very concerned for my safety and drove out to meet me. He stayed with me as we continued to get nowhere with the story and then we ventured to a little hole in the wall lunch spot where we ate southern food and quickly learned the victim was a regular there. Our joint effort resulted in a great interview and a heartfelt memorial to a man who was a victim of a senseless crime. It was Garin’s day off ….. that would be unheard of up here in Connecticut!

One of my first stories in Georgia was about copper plaques that had been stolen off of the graves of veterans. The Thomas County Public Information Officer told me to grab my gear and he would drive me out to the site because I’d probably have trouble finding it. We hopped into the D.A.R.E. mobile and off we went. He gave me a little history lesson, helped with the shoot, drove me around to the schools to introduce me to officials, and we ended up having lunch at a Kiwanis Club meeting where I Pledged Allegiance to the Flag, prayed, and sang God Bless America. I went home feeling like I had spent the day in Mayberry.

I miss the deputies and detectives that were a constant source of entertainment for me. By far, one of my favorites was a certain vice commander with a twangy accent and a fondness for reporters. He is the one who familiarized me with southern expressions and hunting terminology I had never heard of. If I needed details on a drug arrest at 4 in the afternoon, there was a good chance he was out of the office and in a deer stand. (I didn’t even know what a deer stand was until I moved down there.) Once we were well passed cordial hellos, he would usually abruptly answer the phone with a “whatcha want?” or “I’m in a bush.” In a bush?!?! I didn’t know if that meant he was hunting, on a stake-out, or if his wife needed the name of a good salon!

Small town Fourth of July Parades, Victorian Christmas, sipping bourbon on a front porch in Monticello at 2 a.m. under the willow trees, driving a Gator and watching my boys pole fishing at a picnic on 36 acres at the end of a dirt road ……. the memories are priceless, the experiences unlike any I’ve ever had. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had stayed ….

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