The Odd and Uncomfy Times as a Reporter

I used to be reporter back in the day for about 10 minutes. By ‘back in the day,’ I mean five months ago, and by ’10 minutes,’ I mean for 18 months.

I graduated from a cheap state school in a rural town situated in the ass crack of Illinois where meth heads run rampant. It wasn’t anything special, but it was close to home and cheap. I was 17 when I entered my freshman year, and there aren’t many options when there is no summer in-between high school and college and you have $6. Most people I knew went because it was quite literally the cheapest public university outside of Chicago. I went for journalism, and the program was great. Good choice overall.

The first newspaper I worked for was also in a rural town just west of where I graduated and 30 minutes south from where I grew up. I went in for the interview on my 22nd birthday, and I was offered the job immediately. I gladly accepted, because $12 an hour sounded really good at the time. Then I started paying bills. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around long.  Money isn’t everything. I know. But mama’s gotta eat, and I was lucky to have $10 to spare after paying the bills.

I did have some memorable experiences at that paper, though. I met the then-governor of Illinois, whose beliefs did not necessarily align with mine, on my second day of work. Naturally, I took a selfie with him. I think he wore the flannel to appeal to the masses, attempting to be relatable to the rural Midwestern town.

He visited town and spoke to some locals in an attempt to get their votes. Of course the majority of townspeople planned on voting for him. It was Central Illinois, and he was a Republican candidate. When interviewing a couple of attendees, one woman kept referring to a “FOID card” as a “VOID card.” I didn’t correct her. Anyway, Mr. Flannel lost re-election to a Hyatt Hotel heir who apparently removed toilets from his mansion to avoid taxes. Which by the way, I stayed at a Hyatt recently, and it was wonderful. 10/10 would recommend. Affordable for a king suite!

The Pepperoni Pizza Thief

I think I studied journalism because I am incredibly interested in crime… But not in a weird way? It is a little weird, I guess. I don’t know. Illegal activity intrigues me— true crime, unsolved mysteries and missing persons cases. It’s all very interesting. I went into work one day, and I saw a woman had been booked for a pretty serious theft charge, serious for the pinky-nail-sized town I was reporting in, anyway. I called the police station for details from the report.

“Yeah, you’re going to have to submit a FOIA request for that,” they said.

Let me just say, I really dislike the process of submitting a FOIA request for information that should be readily available. I digress. A ~speedy~ five days later, I got the report. This woman had allegedly stolen her boss’ credit card so she could redo her kitchen.  She ordered over $10,000 worth of items online and had it all delivered to her own address. Maybe she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. (Hello, Smashmouth. Please sponsor me.)

My favorite part of this situation involved an act I’m not necessarily condoning, but one I can’t blame her for: According to the report, she used the card to order pizza— Not once, but multiple times. Don’t come for me. Don’t sue me. It’s all alleged. Based on the police report, I wrote the story.

Let’s call this pizza thieving woman, Pepperoni. Pepperoni’s husband emailed me quickly after the story ran.

Subject line: Article regarding Pepperoni

I will be contacting my attorney regarding your article about my wife, Pepperoni.

Sir, I make slightly above minimum wage. What do you expect to gain from me? I printed out the email, hung it up at my desk as a trophy and didn’t reply.

On my last day, I replied:

Subject: Re: Pepperoni’s Case

Are you suing me still?”

I unfortunately could not log in afterward to see if he responded. I am still waiting for that attorney to give my phone a buzz.

The Time I Almost Got a Detention

This one is a tidbit, but I had to throw it in here.

I covered several school-related stories at this paper. I honestly cannot remember what the hell I was writing about, but I ended up going to the high school to interview a teacher during his free period. I think we agreed to meet around 10:30 a.m. or so.

I showed up to the school, signed in downstairs and went up to the second or third floor where this teacher’s classroom was located. He was teaching for another 10 minutes or so before he was free.

I stood outside of his door and waited for the bell to ring and the students to exit his classroom. In the meantime, I was scrolling through my phone, probably looking at memes and what have you. Walking toward me was a teacher.

She inched closer and closer, and I was paying no attention. I didn’t want to interact with her.

“Hey, are you supposed to have your phone out right now?”

“I …. Yeah, I’m not a student…”

“Oh, I apologize,” she said and kept walking.

She was probably embarrassed. Also, the school was definitely not large. Maybe 300 – 400 kids? How did she not recognize I am not a student? I was dressed in professional clothing as well. Anyway, I should have gone along with it and had her give me a detention.

The Easter Egg Hunt

Six months into my first job, I needed to go. I saw an opening as a public safety reporter in a small city notorious for smelling like the feet of a man who just ran a marathon on the hottest day of the year. But worse. There was a soybean processing facility in town. Some people liked the scent. I was not one of those people.

Stanton thought it smelled like macaroni and cheese. But for me and a good portion of the population, driving over the 22nd Street Bridge in the middle of July would make anyone of us chunder. Although the city itself didn’t have a great reputation, the newspaper was the best in the area. I dreamt of working there. Things about the town: A rich man gives the city, county, organizations, etc. money all of the time. Murders were the highest in 23 years when I lived there. In between hoping the rich man would pay off my college loans and dodging bullets at my horrible apartment complex (this could be a post on its own), I was a reporter at the paper.

I was assigned to cover an Easter egg hunt on a Saturday in April. I know reporters cover events, but it was my least favorite part of the job. I didn’t think I was very good at it. Longer enterprise stories and crime pieces were my forte. Luckily though, the weather was nice and it was sunny on this particular weekend—a nice introduction to spring. The photographer and I carpooled to the park. He passed several vehicles and drove straight up to the entrance, despite some security guy yelling at us to turn around. The photographer told Mr. Security I had a broken foot and couldn’t walk very far. He let us in. My foot was not broken.

I was making my way around, trying to avoid people. An antisocial reporter…. Hmm good job choice, Kennedy. I’m actually good with people, I just get anxiety. I am sure 84% of the population can relate. I spoke to some moms and dads before the mass of kids took off to find the colorful, hidden plastic eggs scattered about the tiny roped off section of the park. You could clearly see the neon eggs right in the grass. Calling this event a “hunt” was a stretch, but it had been going on for decades, so it must be a fan favorite. The countdown began. Three… Two… One… GO! It was an instant clusterf*ck. The hundreds of kids sped around, each one taking a form of Usain Bolt as they tried to pick up as many plastic eggs as possible. The build-up for this event was insane, considering the “hunt” itself ended in less than a minute.

Approximately 42 seconds after the “Easter egg hunt,” I gathered my notes and sat down on a bench. Nearby, a dad and his young daughter were seated. A dreadfully long line of kids and their parents waited to take a photo with the Easter Bunny. The little girl sitting on the bench with her dad was clearly scared of the bunny and didn’t want her picture taken with him. After about 10 minutes of going back and forth with her, her dad just said, “LOOK. It’s just a dude in a suit.”

It was funny, so I asked if I could use that in my story. He said sure, so I asked a few more questions then headed back to the office. I wrote the story and went home.

Monday morning rolled around, and I was getting ready for work.  I checked my phone, and Facebook informed me I had a message request.

I looked at the message, read it about three times and then I understood who the dude was.

It was Easter Egg Man. I cordially responded:

Then from zero to 100, he had to make it weird.

Uh…. No, I wouldn’t. I went to his profile. His picture was from 2013 and grainy. In said photo, he is pictured holding two guns in front of the bed of a pickup truck. No thanks. I left the message on read and went to work. I shared the tale with my coworkers and joked that he’s probably married.

After work, I sat inside of CVS to pick up some drugs. Facebook informed me almost 12 hours after the first message request that I had another.

I recognized the last name. Nope. I don’t have time for this. My heart sunk 60 miles per hour straight to my butt.

It was Easter Egg Man’s wife.

I was pooping myself in that pharmacy. I had no words. I replied kindly and basically told her I had no intention of responding to his message. I went home and cleaned my shorts.

Bad Santa

Around the same time Easter Egg Man slid into the DMs, all of the reporters were working on stories about veterans. People were able to submit a friend or a family member for us to interview. I interviewed a couple of veterans and the stories turned out nicely.

After writing two of the stories, I was set to interview another guy. He was a jolly round man, maybe 80 years old or so. His daughter nominated him, and he was a pastor for years and years and years in a nearby town. I talked to this man on the phone a couple of times to set up the interview before heading over to his house. The photographer (same one who got me VIP car service at the Egg Hunt) went with me to get some shots of the guy.

We arrived at his house. He had glasses and rosy cheeks and wore suspenders with a flannel—a very Santa-like character. He was giddy and happy to have company. I sat across from him in a chair as he sat on the couch. We had small talk, he said his wife had died and told me this and that. He shared his experience in the service, and then we were on our way. I transcribed the interview, pieced bits together and wrote the story.

Upon review, my editor looked up the man. She usually did this to see if the subject was sketchy, because doing a praise piece on some weirdo is just a no-no. It turns out Pastor Santa wasn’t so holy.

He is a registered sex offender.

I have no idea the circumstances, the story behind the charge, etc. But I sat on the dude’s couch.

When Bad Santa caught wind we wouldn’t be running his story, he threatened to sue. He also said he was going to somehow get the story I had written and publish it himself (?????) Good luck with that one, bucko.

A week later he calmed down. He sent a letter explaining how God forgives everybody, so he was going to forgive us. He brought the note in along with a bag of green beans he grew in his garden. Both went straight to the trash.

Sex Offender Take 2

But wait. There’s more.

I was working on another story with the photographer I’ve mentioned previously. We were in a community of maybe 100 to 200 people. There was a quintuple murder in this tiny place a little over a decade ago. I was working on a story completely unrelated, however. It dealt with post offices, so Photo Man and I set up camp outside of the tiny brick shack in the center of the village. I waited and waited and waited for someone to pass by. Finally after 30 minutes or more, a truck pulled up. I waited for the man to go inside. I was going to strike as soon as he walked out of the door. Two minutes later, here he was. I pounced.

I approached him, and he was happy to answer questions. He gave us his name without a problem, too. But the fella was hesitant when it came to having his photo taken. That’s fine, because not everyone is thrilled to have their photo taken. He said he had lived in town for 14 years, so I moved on from the post office story and mentioned the murders. Remember: I’m a weirdo obsessed with true crime. Especially a semi-local case. I had heard people in the village would congregate at the post office to catch up and discuss the slayings, so I asked the man if it was true.

“Yeah, everyone came up here.”

“Did you also?”

“No, I didn’t… I’ll be honest. I’m a registered sex offender, so I just keep to myself.”

There goes using any of his quotes, I thought. We walked away, waited for another resident then left.

Insult at a Grease Pit

For a little Q&A-type article I reached out to an older restaurant in the city, one that had been around for decades. Quite frankly, I had never heard of it, nor had I seen it. It was a hole in the wall type of place.

I reached out and did a quick phone interview. It went fine, and I was happy with it.

“Okay, do you mind if I come snap a photo of you to go along with this?”

“Sure, come on over.”

I get in my car and head over. The place doesn’t stand out, despite being located on a well-traveled road. There are no defining features to the building, and it’s not incredibly appealing. I go in, and instantly get drowned by the scent of fried food. GOOD GOD. But it was a classic old-time diner, with nostalgia and charm. The décor told a story. Despite smelling like grease (I mean, what did I expect a diner to smell like? Duh.) the place was actually neat. I spotted someone working.

“Hi, I’m Kennedy, here to see the owner.”

“Oh, okay. She’s over there.”

“Wow, this place is cool! I wonder why I’ve never been here before?”

The same lady goes, “It’s because you’re 10 years old and can’t go anywhere on your own. You look like a little girl.”

Thank you for making me incredibly uncomfortable, lady. I snapped the picture and dipped. I never went back, but I did smell like I went swimming in bacon grease the entire day.

‘How the F can I be your friend?!’

When the court reporter had the day off, I would cover some court cases here and there. I spoke with some lawyers when needed. I met one lawyer, introduced myself and asked him a question or two about a case. He answered politely and I left.

Two to three months later, I saw him at the courthouse again. He greeted me by name. I couldn’t remember his, so I was hoping he wasn’t trying to have a full-on conversation with me. He didn’t. I was happy with this.

A couple weeks after encounter two at the courthouse, it was a Saturday evening around 8:30 p.m. and I was enjoying some cocktails with pals, as one does. I saw a direct message request. I have my Facebook profile set up to where the only people who can add me must have a mutual friend. I don’t like weirdos or creeps.

I opened the message request, looked at the name a couple of times before realizing who it was. It was the lawyer. I clicked the message.

I clicked his profile. No mutual friends. Married with kids. I’ve encountered you twice for work. Get out of here. I opened the message and never replied. I’m hoping he won’t figure out how the “F” to become my “friend in FB.

*** If you’re a reporter and have had run-ins with sex offenders, married men have slid into the DMs, have been mistaken for a high school student or have tales to tell, please send them my way 🙂

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