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The Herald, Friday, November 10, 1989
Papers full of tidbits
One of my basic rules of travel is to pick up a copy of the local newspaper wherever I am.
I gives me a feel for the area and keeps me up on current events. Every town has its own character, and the newspaper is the pulse. The smaller papers are also a haven for offbeat stuff that never makes the national news.
While I was on my ride to Utah, I read of a bizarre scene at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. It seems that workers under the street mistakenly connected an air compressor to the courthouse water system. Pressure built up and the toilets in the courthouse began exploding when they were flushed. Despite flying porcelain, there were no serious injuries.
While in the North Carolina mountains, I saw a story about a 40-foot-tall gorilla statue in front of a Virginia water park that, presumably because of a prank, burst into flames. A fireman said the call that came into the station was nearly dismissed as a joke. It took them a minute to believe they were actually being called out to douse a "fully involved gorilla." When they arrived the burning statue looked like a scene from an old Japanese horror movie, "a 40-foot guy totally engulfed in flame." Once extinguished, the thing smoked for hours.
Then there was the cow that went on a tour of the hardware store in Stockton, Mo. The big black Angus wandered in off the street and cruised the cramped cookware aisle in forward and reverse without touching a single item on the shelves. It was the classic bull in a china closet escapade in real life. Only a small newspaper would bother to cover it.
In a Kansas cafe, I read an item on the wall that was written by a local lady columnist. She perfectly described the atmosphere in every Midwestern cafe. The eatery is an all day meeting place, staffed constantly by a revolving cast of characters. The lawyer chats with the grocer who walks out and is replaced by the policeman, whose seat is taken by the farmer who leaves just before the insurance man arrives.
The columnist was endeared to this vital Midwestern tradition, but she eloquently expressed her regret that as a woman she somehow felt unable to join in. "If I were a man," she wrote, "I would certainly be one of the gold old boys down at the cafe."
I am here to suggest that the lady columnist's gender is not what prevented her from being a good old boy. I think it was her job. The men and women who run the small local newspapers will never have time to be good old boys, no matter how hard they try.
One might think that life at a weekly newspaper would be every bit as casual as the town the paper covers. In truth, there are usually only two or three people who do all the reporting, take all the photos, sell all the advertisements, edit the stories, set the type, run the press and get the papers mailed out. All this happens between bouts with the telephone.
In a close-knit society there are numerous clubs, civic groups and ball teams, and everybody expects (and gets) personal coverage every time. As the thousand or so locals sit back to ponder this week's 25 pages of news, the mad dash down at the newspaper's office begins anew.
When my bicycle broke down in Hill City, Kan., Jim Logback of the Hill CIty Times caught wind of my plight and was headed to the motel to investigate. When I heard Jim was coming, I envisioned a good long visit. What happened was this: SCREECH (Jim slid his car up to the curb). FLASH (He took a picture of me with the local bike mechanic). ZOOM (He's gone, mumbling something about being terribly late for a meeting across town.
The next morning I met with Jim at the Times office, and he frantically scratched notes on a stray paper bag.
My Rock Hill to Utah ride was over when I received a copy of the Times in the mail. There I was on page 6, grinning at my stricken bike. The story described the first half of my trip, and detailed the miraculous repair some Hill City locals performed on my bike to get me up and going again. The tale was written as though the author had all the time in the world to tell it. I had seen firsthand that Jim Logback had very little time at all.
A great deal of deadline-beating chaos is to be expected at a daily newspaper, but putting together a weekly is no day at the beach for the select few who do it. Running a weekly newspaper in a sleepy Midwestern town would provide much more stress than I would personally care to handle. It's yet another example of, "Things are seldom as they seem".
Every bike trip I have taken has somehow supplied me with an unexpected lesson, usually about something totally unrelated to bicycling. Maybe it's the bike travel itself that causes it, or it could be my own strange luck. Just to be sure, I'd better take a few dozen more bike trips.
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