The Big Story – My Big Story – that Got Away.
May 7, 2014
EONS AGO – back in the day of mostly stick-shift cars – I was taking a short cut through a park on my way to classes at a college campus when I was stopped and asked to be patient and wait a few minutes because a camera crew was blocking the street filming a segment of the television show The Big Story.
Glad to oblige.
I was a fan of the show and I knew the name of the reporter at the hometown daily whose story was to be featured on The Big Story.
Couldn’t believe that I had happened across the filming of the story – and especially since I was on my way to journalism classes at the college. Boy, would I have a story to tell fellow reporter-to-be students.
The Big Story started on radio. Then, as television began to offer more meaningful content and capture the attention of viewers – and get beyond viewers’ fascination with the TV test pattern which sometimes seemed to be the best thing on — the program made its way to the tube.
Ah, such halcyon days.
Especially considering that television was increasing its entertainment offerings, offerings that held the promise of eventually supplanting Saturday matinees at the picture show.
In time, I would get to work for that same newspaper alongside that same reporter whose work was featured on The Big Story.
Unfortunately, The Big Story had run its course on television by the time I got to the newspaper so those of my generation were out of luck in having any chance at that TV spotlight.
So those of my generation and beyond had to settle for sitting around having a brew or two or three or more and telling each other about our alleged big stories.
In some cases, the big stories have become much the same as the telling of big fish stories, including the ones that got away.
They have grown in size – and importance – in direct proportion to the passing of time and the number of times the stories have been told since they took place.
And in relation to the amount of brew imbibed.
One among us has been especially truthful in these big story retellings.
“Big pack of lies,” as he puts it, though others among us would prefer to pass off the retellings as nothing more than brew-inspired embellishments.
Just innocent hyping of and bragging about our own big stories that never had a shot at The Big Story on TV.
But the big story I like to tell is the one that got away, the one I never got to cover.
Never got to write, until it had lost its immediacy.
Not until well after my big story was all over.
And was in the newspaper.
And on TV.
It was – literally and figuratively – a big story that I was sitting right on top of and yet could not cover.
It was a journalist’s nightmare.
Happened to me and happened like this:
I was on jury duty, something that doesn’t happen often to a journalist. Attorneys, judges, court clerks – and maybe even bad dogs, for all I know, that are the subject of dog bite lawsuits and, thus, dog bite stories – don’t seem to want journalists on juries.
Must be something about journalists’ body language.
Or written language.
Maybe something about journalists that just doesn’t look right.
Or smell right?
Whatever the reason, journalists don’t often show up on juries.
But there I was.
On a jury.
There in the jury room adjoining a courtroom on the third floor of the county courthouse.
We had heard the case for several, tiring days.
We had just started deliberations.
A bailiff had knocked on the jury room door, told us we could take an afternoon break.
Jury members rushed to the restrooms down the corridor.
Almost immediately, sheriff’s deputies – sheriff’s deputies displaying arms – dramatically entered the men’s restroom, told us to get back to the jury room.
Get back now!
We got back now.
The courthouse was in lockdown.
Deputies told us there was a hostage situation on the first floor.
Down below us.
I looked out the jury room window, the one facing Main Street. I saw police department and sheriff’s cars – oscillating emergency lights ablaze — speeding toward the courthouse.
I spotted the police chief, in uniform.
I spotted the sheriff, in uniform.
I spotted the obvious SWAT team members, parking their cars, retrieving and donning their protective gear, grabbing their special weapons.
I spotted the radio and television mobile news units, circling the courthouse, like ravenous crows that had discovered a fresh carcass.
I spotted ever-growing crowds, gathering across the street, animatingly gawking at the courthouse.
Stop the presses!
I had spotted a big story.
My big story.
Yet, a big story I could not report.
I could not call my editor.
Besides, I was confined to jury duty.
Confined to a jury room.
Under command of a judge.
I was a reporter who could not report.
And here I was, right on top of the big story.
A story not more than 50 to 75 feet below me.
After an eternity, the judge instructed us to move – as a group, escorted by bailiffs – to a room in another county building across the street.
We were reminded we still were on jury duty.
As we moved to the other building, I saw other reporters from my newspaper and reporters from a competing newspaper.
Other reporters covering my big story.
Two county officials passed me, said they were taking blueprints of the courthouse to law officers – drawings that would be beneficial to those dealing with the hostage situation because they showed details of every nook and cranny in the building.
Offered to take me with them.
Into the bowels of the courthouse.
Into the heart and soul and nerve center of my big story.
Right where the action was.
“C’mon,” they urged
“C’mon and go with us.”
Temptation engulfed me.
I had to fight the lure, the urge.
Damn jury duty!
I could not go. What if the judge decided the jury should resume deliberations in the other building?
What if I were missing?
The judge might frown on that. Maybe frown me all the way into the county jail on some contempt of court ruling.
Later, the judge would turn us loose until the next morning.
Later, the hostage situation would end – end with the shooting deaths of the hostage and the hostage-taker.
Leave a woman dead.
Leave a man dead.
Leave children orphaned.
Others would report my big story.
My big, big, big, big story.
My big, big, big, big story that might have been my eventual journalistic “fish story,” told and re-told to brew-sippin’ colleagues in cherished moments of no-holds-barred embellishments.
My story of stories.
The one that got away.
Roger Summers, a writer, columnist, editor and editorial board member at a major daily newspaper for more than four decades — but who has not retired and never will and who just keeps on writing — is a journalist, essayist and fiction writer who has authored dozens of short stories, essays and articles. Among his works: The Day Camelot Came to Town and Heart Songs from a Washboard Road. He spends time in England, New Mexico and Texas and in a world of curiosity and creativity. He can be reached at email@example.com