It was in the Spring of 2005, and on one of my first few days on the job.
I’ll never forget the call from my boss, who was busy getting that week’s paper off to print.
Editor: “Gohs, there’s a 10-77 on the north side of town.”
Me: “What’s a 10-77?”
Editor: “It means the cops found a dead body.”
Me: “Holy &*!@.”
Editor: “You’re damned right, ‘holy &*!@.’”
It was a shooting, and the suspect was unaccounted for.
Sweating, trembling and hyperventilating, I grabbed a steno pad, pens and the good camera and headed for my truck.
I was in a hurry but, as much as time was the enemy, physics proved to be the real heel.
Hurriedly, I jumped up into the cab, lost my balance and did the splits—one leg on the pavement, one leg in the truck.
Now, if you’ve never seen a fat man with short legs do the splits, let me explain.
You see, gymnasts wear spandex for a reason: it flexes.
Cotton dress slacks, on the other hand, have a tendency to split from, oh, let’s say your belt loop to your inseam.
So as not to disturb the reader, I’m going to pretend I was wearing underwear when this happened.
Needless to say my heart attacks were having heart attacks as I tried to recover from the trauma of having my pants blowout in plain view of city hall.
Did I mention that my office was across the street from city hall?
I glanced all around in horror, certain someone had seen.
My mind conjured worst case scenarios.
“Dispatch, we’ve got an eleventy-seventy: fat guy with his butt hanging out! Over!”
Luckily it was after 5 p.m. in a small town and the street was dead.
My secret was safe.
As luck—or a universe with a wicked sense of humor—would have it, the murder occurred across the street from my house.
I tried to regain my composure as what was left of my dignity flapped in the air-conditioning while I sped toward home and the crime scene.
There were police cars and officers strewn about on either side of the highway.
I took deep gulps of breath as I putted my way through hell’s half-mile, praying to the god of chubby journalists that my nervous and, hence, suspicious behavior would not tempt a deputy—thinking he’d nabbed the ne’er-do-well—to haul me out of my vehicle for questioning.
“Well, if it ain’t the Bare Butt Bandit!”
Somehow, I managed to slip past the guards and dash into the house undetected.
I made a quick wardrobe change at the homestead and hoofed my way across the highway to the crime scene.
Slowly, I worked my way through police tape and roadblocks, officers and detectives, police dogs and gawkers until I reached the head honcho.
The sheriff—picture Wilford Brimley with less mustache and more gun—kindly and patiently fielded my queries as I fumbled my notebook and sputtered my greenhorn questions.
Police lights, brown uniforms, visions of a deranged gunman popping out from behind the bushes—my head swam and I fought back the urge to vomit.
Upon gathering all necessary information, I photographed the scene and headed back to the office to write my first big story.
The boss looked it over.
He told me to call the sheriff to confirm a couple facts.
“We’d rather be right than first,” he said.
And that advice has stuck with me all these years later.