The carload of people drove up to our live truck. Two of them stepped out, then swept past our truck to the WAGA truck a few feet away. Within minutes, I saw Russ Spencer interviewing one of the occupants, a woman about my age.
We had spent the evening staking out Athens Regional, the trauma center treating an Athens-Clarke County police officer shot following a traffic stop.
During the stakeout, reporters from Atlanta’s four TV stations encountered numerous members of the officer’s family. Though most were helpful and polite, none wanted their conversations with us recorded by TV cameras. By 8:30pm, our only on-camera interview was with Athens’ mayor. We retreated to our live truck, which was parked across the street, to begin production for the 10pm newscast on WATL.
A few minutes later, the carload of people appeared.
As Spencer interviewed the woman, I approached the people in the car. They identified themselves as relatives of the hospitalized officer, who was expected to recover from two gunshot wounds.
The woman returned from the WAGA truck. “I know who you are,” she said to me. “I spoke to you earlier. You looked like you didn’t want to be here.” As I tried to coax her into agreeing to another interview, she was getting in the car. “You looked like you were having a bad day at your job or something.”
Apparently, I had failed to impress her during our innocuous encounter in the hospital parking lot. At the time, I didn’t know she was a member of the officer’s family. She didn’t identify herself as such.
Her conclusion had a whiff of truth to it. It had been a frustrating stakeout on an unhappy story, 70 miles from home. It wasn’t the greatest assignment in the world.
I’m also cursed with one of those faces, to which strangers often feel compelled to say: Hey! Are you having a bad day? Why so down-in-the-mouth? It happens periodically, usually when my mood is bright and cheery. I just don’t look bright and cheery.
Gloria Jones was a cousin of officer Tony Howard. I asked her about her job. She told me she was a postal worker.
Do you ever have less-than-great day at work? I asked, with as much cheer as I could muster. She became agreeable and granted the interview I’d requested.
She volunteered that she had scurried away from us earlier because some of the TV folk had been overly aggressive approaching family members. She singled out WAGA and WXIA for their civility, but faulted WXIA for its frowny-faced reporter.
Funny thing was, despite the assignment, my spirits had been pretty high. My photog, John Duffy, was keeping the mood light, as usual. Justin Gray and Chris Francis were there, both friends from WAGA. Spencer arrived later.
It had been a beautiful spring evening in a lovely city, albeit on a lousy story.