“Where do you go to get all those stories?”
Throughout my years of employment with the Greenville Piedmont and Greenville News, it never failed. Just about five seconds after someone identified me, here would come the question.
“I like to read your stories, but where do you go to come up with them?”
My simple answer, “I don’t have any idea” never did suit anyone. Some laughed, thinking I was just trying to keep a secret. Others would almost get huffy about such an answer.
Especially if they had just read something they did not like or understand.
To live under the pressure of knowing that three times a week, every week, you are going to have to come up with enough interesting words to fill a space 15.5 inches deep, and 2 columns wide. It couldn’t be twelve inches, or sixteen. It had to be 15.5.
There was never any down time. No 40-hour work week there. It was a constant fight to stay ahead of the dreaded deadlines.
Really, though, I could get by with a couple of tenths short, but if the column was too long, they would be on the floor when the page went to bed.
Everything had to fit. And at the same time, be interesting, or informative, or funny.
The first few years, when I had been moved from the almost perfect job of writing sports to becoming The Yarnspinner and trying to be funny three times a week, was something I usually referred to as “nine kinds of hell.”
I’m not sure about that number, even now, but from day one I was always looking always talking, always on the move, trying to find stuff “suitable for framing”, 2 by 15.5.
I can give you a hint I found out early. If you want to know what is really going on, surround yourself with the blue collar worker.
Every day, almost always before lunch, I could be found at a little dive behind the newspaper called “The Cat Dive”. Rick Lowe’s father opened the cafe in 1932. It had been a shoe shop, and when it became a cafe, they just used the same sign, painted out the part about the shoe shop, and lettered, “Falls Street Café” around the edges. The middle of the sign, which was left intact, was an advertisement for Cat’s Paw Heels, with a cat diving into a shoe heel.
In the early days, according to Rick Lowe, who took over for his dad when he retired, the place was pretty rough on over towards evenings. They sold beer, and had pool tables in the back room, and from time to time things would get physical. As one older patron suggested, a person could get two hot dogs, a cup of coffee, and a World Championship fight for a buck.
But in later years, it was calm, especially in the mornings, when work crews were stuffing breakfast in headed for a full day’s work. Duke Power workers were within a rock throw, and Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Bell workers knew where to get good, inexpensive food.
They told stories on each other too, and I was always there to write them down.
One of my personal Cat Dive stories came to life just before the annual Textile Tournament was held in Greenville Memorial Auditorium and practically every mill gym in Greenville County. One of the Duke Power employees worked just down Broad Street, in the old trolley warehouse, and he showed for breakfast the day before the tourney opened.
He saw me, his face lit up, and he hurried over. “Reese,” he said. “The Textile Tournament opens tomorrow morning, and this year I get to be the official to get to throw up the ball at center court to start play. Is there any way you could get a photographer over there to get a shot of the toss?”
Not only was it possible, it was immediately ‘carved in stone’. The day came, the time arrived, the teams were ready, and our friendly official put ball in play.
But the photographer was not satisfied. The game was started four times before everyone was happy, and we immediately rushed back to the newspaper for the front-page photo and story in that day’s afternoon paper.
A coworker had seen a copy of the paper and rushed over to the press room to get a bunch of extra copies.
The next morning, when our friend the Duke Power employee, the top Textile Tourney official and front-page hero arrived at work, he was stunned to see the insides of the building literally plastered with copies of the photo where he was throwing up the opening jump ball.
Only one thing marred total success of the experience.
He was able to be at Memorial Auditorium to start play and get his picture on the front page just one way.
He had called in sick to work.