Monday, August 19, 2013

If I Said You Had a Nice Column, Would You Hold it Against Me?

This past Saturday, my husband and I and his 1928 Ford Model A hot rod went to a local diner to attend its monthly cruise night. I had a salad and a milkshake. My husband had a chicken sandwich and fries. The Model A had its usual bounty of compliments.

Actual meal from the diner. Don't you hate people who post pictures of their food?

I was talking to a married couple about the car. They were longtime residents of my community. Since I know a lot of people around town because of my job, I asked if they get the newspaper. The husband said he did. I asked him if he ever read Wendy Dager’s column, because she’s brilliant. Wink wink.

Ahahahahahaha! Everything is fun and games and salads and milkshakes... until...

A look of recognition crossed his face, and he said, in a none too happy fashion, “Is that the one that had that thing about the school bus, because I was going to write a letter…”

He was referring to a column I wrote eight or nine years ago

I’d been pulled over in my car by a motorcycle police officer near my daughter’s high school. He said I hadn’t stopped to wait for a parked school bus that had its sign out. Neither my daughter—who was my passenger—nor I had seen the bus. It is possible it had parked alongside its drop-off point a few feet from the school when I made my turn out of the school parking lot onto the very same street, and the automated stop sign was just raising. Or perhaps the bus was already there and the sign was on its way back down. Like I said, I don't know. I didn't see it or the sign, but I'm assuming the officer was correct, and I admitted in the column that I was in the wrong and deserved the ticket. I also reported that the motorcycle officer was very pleasant. He was good-looking, too, but I didn't put that in the column.

After that column appeared, I got a lot of hate mail, including one from someone who was so mightily pissed off that I saved her email in case something strange happened to me. Like, oh, I don’t know—if I suffered what appeared to be an accidental fatal mauling by a machete-wielding great white shark that tied me to some rusty railroad spikes over an anthill and then covered me with leprous rattlesnakes.

Oh, yeah, I forgot the fire. Maybe it's a fire-anthill.

Seriously. She basically—and just a tad angrily (with "tad" meaning it's Opposite Day)—told me I was purposely attempting to run over the handicapped kids on the bus. I should mention here that the bus was not full of disabled children. I learned later it had some regular ol’ middle school students in it, who, for some unknown reason, were dropped off in front of the high school at 3:15 in the afternoon.

So, even though I'm not exactly sure what happened or how it happened, I admitted that I made a big mistake. The point of the article was that if someone who is generally a careful driver could make such a mistake, then it was obviously dangerous to unload kids on that busy, main street, at the hour the high school was letting out, considering the extra traffic. I suggested the bus go to a more convenient and safer side street just around the corner from the high school to drop off students. Very sensible, right?

But nobody seemed to read that part. Hence, I got me one scheisse-ton of haters who gonna hate.

Apparently, it made a considerable impact on at least one newspaper subscriber who, nearly a decade later, still remembered that column, but none of the approximately 208 other opinion columns I have written since then.

So what have we learned here? Two things, actually.

  1. What will never change about readers is that they will focus on the ten-word sentence that bothers them the most among the 640 words comprising an essay.

  1. I’m not asking anyone ever again if they read my column.

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