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Across The Lake

There's a scene in a James Bond movie where Sean Connery appears to drive a car down an alley on the two driver-side wheels. The stuntman who actually drove the car learned how it was done from Al Gross, who had a garage and body-shop business in Indianola, IA when he wasn't part of the old auto thrill show, the Jimmy Lynch Death Dodgers. I got to know him through an interview during one of his appearances in Fargo and kept up the acquaintance over a period of several years there and in Bismarck.

On a very different occasion, a phone call one evening led to a meeting with a troubled young man who wanted me to go with him the next day when he turned himself in to the sheriff. The small town bank where he worked didn't know it yet, but the fellow had been helping himself to money from the bank's deposits. He wanted to admit to what he'd done, but needed someone to go along when he confessed. I was a TV news anchor at the time and he asked me to be that someone.

Do you remember BeBe Shopp? I met her for an interview when the young lady from Hopkins was Miss America 1948. In the years that followed, I met most of her successors including Lee Meriwether and others up to Marilyn Van Derbur in 1957. None were actually any more charming than Victoria May French. She was Miss Rodeo South Dakota in 1995 and the occasion was another broadcast interview.

Interviewing people -- visiting with them, has always been a rewarding part of being a reporter. It balances the tough stories that have to be covered, hard ones like a four-year old farm boy who followed his dad out to bring in the cows and disappeared. His body was found the next spring in the slough where he'd drowned. You take notes, take pictures and supply them to Life magazine and other news organizations and magazines around the world, but you don't use the one of the mother crying in the kitchen.

On other occasions, you laugh. Traveling with a governor, you chuckle when he changes pants and falls onto the couch in his motel room as he tries to put both legs into the same pant leg. Or when a fellow reporter realizes the notes he took were on the napkin the waitress just threw out.

You grieve with the rest when you learn a fellow newsman had the fatal "one too many" and died in a highway accident. Then like others, you join a toast, raising your glass to a good reporter. And, with those others, you remember the good times, the times he beat you on a story, or the time your broadcast scooped his story in the newspaper.

You remember other reporters, one a sort of competitor, with whom you worked and who backed you up in your broadcast that brought down a corrupt state attorney general and the Twin Cities mobsters who bought him off. They all went to prison on federal charges and when one did get out, he was gunned down in his Edina home.

Mostly, though, you think of the people being a newspaperman lets you meet. A man in Custer who, now retired, was an armorer for movies and television. The arsenal in his home included sub-machine guns, rifles, pistols and ammunition--all of it licensed, including guns used by Bruce Willis and others in a Black Hills bank robbery movie filmed in Sturgis. I learned a "tommy gun" is a heavy, hefty weapon.

Now the files are filled with Blackduck stories -- articles about people with the family names of Nord and Gross and Ness, Michalek and Nendik and Beck as well as the Andersons and the Olsons and Langords. A few tears, a lot of laughs and scrapbooks filled with clippings and memories.

Thoughts while drying the dishes... Monday marks another year, my 85th and as you probably gathered, I've used this space and taken your time long enough. As readers, you've been more than patient and for that I thank you. For those who've had a kind word or expressed appreciation for the words written here during the past 10 years, my thanks again. To Paula Bauman, my admiration for your newspapering skills. Most of all, to My Favorite Reader... it goes without saying.