By Tim Hayes

As a young general assignment reporter at a small-town newspaper, one meets a lot of interesting characters.  Some of whom may threaten to kill you.  Seriously.

The paper served as the major source of news for a mostly rural county in the coal-rich foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  It covered a lot of territory, and for a first job fresh from earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, you couldn’t beat it.

I did meet, interview, and write about some truly colorful people along the way.

Like the senior citizen inventor who spent an afternoon describing her brainchild – a little motor that sat on a toilet tank and, she swore on a stack of Bibles, made every trip to the commode “the sweetest-smelling experience you’ll have all day.”  Yup, that’s what she said.

Or the school board member who called me at home at 5:30 a.m. to retract and restate a diatribe he unleashed the night before in front of a meeting room full of parents, taxpayers, and the lone member of the media, yours truly.  Both sets of quotes ended up in the story.  He never said much again at subsequent school board meetings.

Or the angry coal miner who threatened to murder me one cold, wet, soggy autumn day at a tiny local union hall, far from any other semblance of civilization.

There had been an accident in the mine, and a union brother had been airlifted to a hospital in Pittsburgh, clinging to life by the thinnest of threads.  Even before I could sit down at my desk in the newsroom the following morning, I got the assignment to go out to the hinterlands, find some of the other miners who worked with the accident victim, and write a story about their thoughts and perspectives on what had happened.

Somehow, in the sad days before GPS, I was able to locate a group of miners at their small, squat, cinder-block union hall.  My first clue of approaching resistance?  Two of them were blocking the dirt road leading up to the building.  With rifles in their hands.

Yet on I plowed in my little compact company car, the intrepid reporter, just like my journalistic heroes Woodward and Bernstein, right up to the two armed miners.  Rolling down my window as one of them approached the car, I identified myself and said I was here to interview some of the fellows who worked with the guy who had been hurt.

“Nobody here wants to talk to you,” I heard in reply.

“But don’t you think people would want to know what you guys think?  It’s your chance to tell the story from your perspective.”

“No.  Get out.”

“Well, I really think it would be good to do this, don’t you?”

“No.  We don’t want to talk to you or anybody else.  We got a friend who’s dyin’ and a family that doesn’t know how it’s gonna keep goin’.  We got more important things to do than talk to people like you.  Now turn around and go back where you came from.”

At this point, the second guy with a gun started ambling over to the car.  And, I mean to tell you, while they never raised their rifles, the look in their eyes was unmistakable.  They could have plugged me and buried me in those woods, and I still might not be found.  But, like Woodward and Bernstein, I had to give it one last try.

“Can’t we talk about this?  I mean, I –“

“Listen to me, mister reporter man.  You are really starting to piss me off.  Trust me,” he said, spitting out each word, “you – do – not – want – to – be – here.  Now, get out – before we have to convince you some other way.”

Friends, I might be quirky.  But I am not stupid.  Screw Woodward and Bernstein!  I wound my way off that hill, out of those dark and dank woods, and back to the safety of the newsroom.  I explained to my editor what went down out there in coal country, and got working on some other story.

There’s fun-crazy and there’s dangerous-crazy.  All else being equal, I’d much rather talk with the batty old lady and her funny smelling toilet.

Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting