I walked out of the back door of the courthouse, focused on my thoughts. I was working as a small-town newspaper reporter in Virginia and needed to get back to the office to write up my story for the next day’s paper. When I returned to my desk, I would be pressed for time, so I was plotting out my story in my head.
I was so into my thoughts that I didn’t notice that one of the candidates for county supervisor was blocking my path to my car. He was hard to miss. He was a former offshore oil rigger, stood about 6’5’’, and had bulging forearms. He had a friendly enough smile, but he was deadlocked in a tight race that at this point was anyone’s guess.
The run-in looked less than an off-chance encounter, but I said hello. He greeted me back and asked what I was going to write for the newspaper. I told him that I had a follow-up to some comments that he and the other candidate had made about the county’s budget projections and claims of wrongdoing by each side. When I told him, he described exactly how I should write my story and what I should say about the other candidate, a retired farmer.
When I let out a little laugh, he demanded that I show him the story before it ran. He seemed to think that I should do whatever he asked, no questions asked. Of course, I thanked him for his time, but said that “it didn’t work that way.” I went onto say that I planned to write a fair story and he would have to read what I wrote like everyone else in the next day’s newspaper.
He was really mad now. He leaned back, rose up tall to intimidate me, as if his sizable frame wasn’t intimidating enough, and looked like he was going to take a punch at me. I tried to keep my composure and reminded him that if he wanted to talk on the record about the race or anything that I had written, my editor and I were available for a sit-down meeting at the newspaper anytime he wanted. The offer seemed to surprise him. I told him too that taking a swing at me would probably not look too good to the court of public opinion, at least to the mother and small child two cars over, and that unless he had anything else to say to me for my story, I had to get back to my office.
Checking the rear-view mirror
When I said that, the pin instantly went out of his balloon, he lost his false bravado, put his head down, and stepped aside to let me pass. He looked like a little kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I stepped past him and got into my car, immediately locking the car, and started the drive back to the newspaper. The newspaper was only a short drive away, but I couldn’t help but check the rearview mirror every two minutes to make sure he wasn’t following me. I half expected a scene out of a spy movie or something, where the henchmen follow the good guy to some lone corner of the world and try to shut the good guy up for good.
Fortunately for me, I saw the guy maybe a handful of other times. He lost in the election the following week and was soon fighting criminal charges for stealing from a former employer, money laundering, and assault. I lost track of him, but I’ll never remember the look on his face when I stood up to him and didn’t let him bully me.
Take that bully.