“The everyday kindness of the backroads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.” Charles Kuralt
For someone who likes a deadline, I’m late with this report.
Just over a year and some change ago, I was racing.
Careening down the mountain.
Running in my head, a visceral sluice churning in my gut.
I had to get home. I had to get everything done.
This was my second trip to Western NC in two months.
For the first assignment I had family with me.
This time I was alone.
Since the road home took me by my father’s farm I stopped in for a visit.
I got back to my journey later than intended.
It was dark and the little trust I had in the one car we’d managed not to drive into the ground was waning.
I made it thirty minutes down the road before the pleading began.
Fear made me think I could cuss that damn car back to Raleigh.
I could not.
I was at a crossroads.
Literally, and now that I look back on that night, figuratively as well.
The car locked up.
And of course there was smoke.
I didn’t know a lot about cars, but I knew enough to know smoke was bad.
It was late.
The road was dark and isolated.
I was a sitting duck who couldn’t find the hazard lights.
A car appeared out of nowhere, saw me at the last minute, swerved, yelled obscenities, and left a dust wake as they turned into the night.
That was helpful.
Full-fledged I’m going to die on the side of the road panic rose in my throat.
I called my husband.
He was calmly taking down my location and telling me where the emergency blinkers were, when a woman pulled up, parked her big SUV caddy-corner behind me, turned all of her lights on bright as day, and marched up to my car with a kind smile and a question.
“You need help darlin’?”
Late night side-of-the-road grace.
And that was that.
She helped me.
She said she knew about cars because her brothers worked on them.
We both knew there was a fast food restaurant close by and agreed if we could get the car jumped then it would be safer to tow it from that location.
That broke down kindness kinda knocked me out.
Clearly, since it took me over a year to process.
That woman went so far as to walk me into the restaurant to make sure I’d be okay until my husband got there.
Just your run of the mill rural angel shepherding a trembling charge to safety on a Sunday night.
My husband arrived not too long after, but she was gone and it was like I was explaining some mythical creature to him. The tow truck showed up, and he and the mechanic got busy diagnosing automotive problems.
As they discussed the car’s fate I received a text from my boss. It was an urgent message asking why I was not posting to the website right that minute about a subject he felt was very important. The critical matter was a beauty contest and I was expected to do something immediately.
I watched the car being loaded onto the tow truck.
I thought about the fact that this was the second vehicle I had driven into the ground in the name of work over the past six months.
I looked at my phone and took stock of my reality.
Could I get to my laptop? Was there wifi in the restaurant? Where was my wifi hotspot? I could just use my phone as a hotspot.
And then, No.
Was there really no one else available to post this crucial information after 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday night? Was there a reason he’d decided to contact me?
This could be another of his many delightful manipulations. Like the time I was treated to a 3:00 a.m. pick-up so we could road-trip to a farmer’s breakfast. A pleasant event that I enjoyed — right up until the ride home — when he decided it was the time to share vulgar and baseless gossip about a nice young woman I know. The bonus round for that jaunt was when he began his not-so-veiled threats to replace me with an accomplished local editor from a prominent regional magazine. A little insight: I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that brilliant woman isn’t jumping her buoyant ship to work for that man, and if she ever considers doing so … well, she might want to give me a call first.
Insult to injury — as usual I’d paid my own way that weekend— hotel, meals, gas, all of it, and I suspected I wouldn’t get reimbursed for anything. I was beginning to question whether or not I was going to continue getting a paycheck at all. More insight: I did, until I didn’t, and I’m still owed a significant (at least to me) amount of money. At the time I naively had a conversation with my husband about features freelancers emailing me en masse because they weren’t getting paid, I wondered if I should pay them, since I was the one who’d made the assignments. Last bit of insight: that is not the way it works — the features editor does not pay freelancers, the publication pays freelancers—reputable ones do anyway.
My phone buzzed again with a few more important instructions.
My heart sank further. I answered the text with information about my situation, to which (surprise, surprise) I received no response. He and the staff knew where I’d been and what I’d been doing. The chips could fall.
I placed my phone in my pocket.
I know now that was when I made my decision.
It took me six months from that incident to resign. It took me several more to sort out and write about it, but here I am and I know that was the moment. There are multiple other reasons why I left that paper, but that night the definitive straw broke.
I have been in my fair share of frightening situations where I’ve felt powerless.
That treacherous night on the side of the road easily makes my top five.
I may be a lot of things, but I am not helpless.
My car cutoff twenty-feet shy of a Stop sign for a reason.
I’m passionate about telling North Carolina stories. To be clear I still do that. Only now I do it on my own. I returned to my freelance business. It’s been an uphill battle. I have faith things will break my way as long as I continue to work hard and be nice to people. I don’t know another way to be and I’m not interested in behaving any other way. I will say I’m only willing to take assignments from people with a solid history of paying their writers.
I got rid of my business name, Old North State Freelance. While I have a fondness for old dogs, houses, barns, furniture, silver, china, vintage clothing … (you get the gist) that’s where it ends. The old had to go. Also, more than one person has questioned me about the ‘north state’ portion of the business name. I named my freelance business years ago, that name is a well-known nickname for North Carolina — but even one person asking the question about any affiliation with that paper is one too many.
I’m a writer and I produce work using my name, simple as that.
Additionally, I merged my blog (soulfoodandsunsets) with my website. I have a piece coming that will direct you to some brilliant minds that have done real research and written groundbreaking books surrounding the term soul food. Know better, do better.
These changes should be seamless— she writes hopefully — I’m sharing because there are meaningful reasons for my making them.
I hope if you hear of someone calling for a story to be told, you’ll refer them to me.
I love to write and am happy to do it for an agreed upon fee.
Southernism: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. This –ism means no matter how hard you try you can’t force something to be pretty or pleasant—a thing or a situation.
“I don’t deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.” Flannery O’Connor
I’ll let you in on a little secret. See that girl? She had big dreams. She wanted to be a writer. Always. So I check myself to see if I can look her in the eye. If so, then the rest is gravy.
Author’s note: This is not a woe is me I had to do my job post. This is a cautionary tale. Trust your gut when it comes to your writing career. Take time and consider whether or not you really want to sit at that lunch table you’re invited to out of the blue, take close stock of who is sitting at the head of the table, and process how that will impact your career in the long run. To milk that metaphor to death — just because they ask you to sit with them doesn’t mean they will respect you or any of your hard work. On the bright side, if you are lucky, you may find a few talented and kind people seated next to you — people you are better for having known.
Finally, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “good judgement is the result of experience, it’s just that sometimes experience can only be earned as the result of bad judgement,” and in the words of the inimitable Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Copyright © 2018 by JRCWood. All rights reserved