The column I'm posting here originally ran in The Post-Crescent on July 2, 2004. The column itself isn't bad. In fact, a lot of people liked it. But what the column describes can safely be called the worst day at work I have ever had, and that includes the time I had to cover a drowning. The rest should be self-explantory.
In a radical but necessary move, I have kept my opinion out of this week's "Under 30" column.
I know what you are thinking. "Steve, this is Independence Day. George Washington and Abe Lincoln fought the Nazis in Korea so you would have the right to make fun of Clay Aiken. What gives?"
I just don't feel like spouting off this week. Instead, let me tell you about the time I ran over a dog on the way to the Manawa rodeo. (A story also known as "The Worst Freaking Day of Work Ever.")
It happened almost exactly two years ago today. I was going to the rodeo, technically known as the Mid-Western Rodeo (it starts today and runs through Sunday, if you're interested), on a story assignment. I was perfect for the job given my college minor in rodeo science. (Sorry, that was "political" science.)
As I inched down the traffic-choked main drag, I saw a woman standing on the side of the road with this dinky little dog at her feet. The dog (let's call him Bud) was darting to and fro, narrowly missing cars passing by. At that moment I remember thinking to myself, "I am going to hit this dog, and there's nothing I can do about it." (That was my first mistake. I jinxed myself.) I moved toward the center of the road as the dog crawled closer. I might as well have been pushing my car, I was moving so slowly. Finally I passed Bud, saw he was OK and breathed a sigh of relief.
I knew what I had done before the furry lump popped up in my rearview mirror. Bud had a death wish. He actually ran underneath me as I was passing him. The woman (let's call her Claire) somberly picked the dog up and just stood there. I was a wreck. I killed man's best friend! And I still had a rodeo to cover! "I don't know what to say," I stammered after pulling over. "I'm so sorry."
Claire looked up angrily. She was going to let me, the dog killer, have it. "He's not my dog," she scowled. "In fact, he just bit me." She pointed to teeth marks on her hand. Apparently, my tires equaled instant karma for Bud.
We walked to the house across the street. A woman who looked about 70 (let's call her Martha) opened the door. Instantly I invented a back story where Bud was Martha's only companion, filling a void in her life created by the death of her loyal husband Herb a year earlier. Now that Bud was gone, Martha obviously had no reason to go on living. My God, I was about to kill a person, too! Somebody stop me!
"Oh, he's not my dog," Martha said, waving her hand at the motionless fur ball deposited in her front yard. "I think he belongs to the people next door." (Quick story recap: After killing a dog, I have gone through two traumatic encounters in two minutes with pet owners who really aren't pet owners. And I still have a rodeo to cover.)
This is when things get weird. Two men in identical NASCAR driver outfits who just happened to be passing by came up to console me. (I swear I am not making this up.) They saw it all, and they promised to be witnesses on my behalf. You know, for the trial or something.
So me, Claire and the NASCAR twins walked next door. We knocked on the front door. No answer. We knocked on the back door. No answer. Finally, a large man on a three-wheeler pulled up. He looked only slightly terrifying. Sure, this guy was going to murder me and bury me next to Bud in the back yard, but whatever. I gulped and told him my story. Bingo! We have a winner.
Actually, the man (I call him Duke) was pretty cool about everything. Bud belonged to his son, Timmy. Duke called Timmy over, and they had a touching father/son moment.
"Son," Duke said, "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LEAVE THE DOG OUT!" He pointed to the body just in case Timmy missed the point. I don't think he did. I know I didn't.
Seizing on my cue to beat it, I got in my car and inched away. I had a rodeo to cover.