Tuesday, September 23, 2014

'A real reporter': memoir 21

Two of my favorite co-workers at the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune were City Editor Jeff Fairbanks and his wife Ann Fairbanks. I noticed that when she typed her stories, she read them aloud to herself. I asked why and she explained it helped her hear the cadence of language and to catch repeated words. She was a wonderful writer and I was like a little monkey imitating her. I adopted her habit and have practiced it ever since. When Jeff assigned me the Friday night beat, I was excited. From my journal of October 25, 1980:
It's Saturday morning 1:30 a.m. Can you believe I just drove over 100 miles, wrote a front-page story for today's morning edition and I'm wide awake? The last hour just as I was cleaning the debris from my desk, a call came over the police radio. A woman was lying face down in the middle of Cuesta Grade, northbound lane. So off I went. Got there before the cops. A truck driver, clean-cut, slight build Latino was holding the woman in his arms, speaking Spanish in her hair. She'd evidently just stopped her car on the shoulder, gotten out & passed out. In a few minutes about six CHP and Sheriff's cars screeched up, lights flashing. No one knew what to do & they wondered among themselves whose jurisdiction this was. The truck driver had draped his coat over the now sobbing woman and shielded her face from the many flashlights. He was so tender with her, even as she vomited all over his trousers. A nurse arrived & squinted at the bottles of pills found in the woman's purse. Sleeping pills & tranquilizers. But not enough missing to be serious. They called an ambulance & I shivered back to my car. I didn't get the truck driver's name and the Sheriff just shrugged, "No story."
     Well it looked like a story to me. I drove down Cuesta Grade like a mad woman, composing the lead sentence in my mind. At the paper I hurried from the parking lot, tossed the keys on my desk and started typing: "Stars like chips of ice blinked in the chill air ... "
     The next morning, I discovered a new addiction: the exhilaration of having written an article then hours later seeing it in print and being told by your co-workers that it wasn't half bad. The big guns editor, George Brand, said, "Great. Lead was excellent. Loved your details about the stars." When I told him about the rushing Friday night & writing with a 30-minute deadline he said, "Now that's a real reporter."

From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

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