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Number of posts: 26
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By Bill Montgomery:
It’s great to see that the AJC, my journalism alma mater for a generation until I retired, recently ran a fascinating and lengthy story about the “prestige” license tags that thousands of Georgia drivers put on their cars for only $35 to the DMV.
For the record, I wrote the same story, oh, 30 some years ago, and had a fun time doing it.
In more than three decades as a reporter with the AJC, mostly covering cops, crime and other forms of wrongdoing and public idiocy, (see legislature, Georgia) what I wrote was seldom funny. I guess that’s why the rare exceptions stick with me years. There were two, and both took place in the south metro Atlanta area near College Park.
The first was an attempted robbery of a Taco Bell by a 20-year-old guy with a shotgun and wearing baggy, low slung pants drooping around his butt…
One of my most enduring, indeed, ironically humorous memories from years of reporting for the AJC, especially if you have a twisted fancy for the absurd (and bizarre) like me, occurred on a Labor Day weekend at Stone Mountain a generation ago. I had been in Atlanta for about a year, and was assigned to work a Saturday evening and night, like many newcomers, for the Sunday paper. My assignment: to watch an annual Ku Klux Klan rally at the foot of the iconic mountain. Not to write anything, the night city editor instructed, unless “something happens.” And boy, something sure as hell did.
The Most Despised
There is a social ladder behind prison bars as rigid as any on Palm Beach or Martha’s Vineyard , and on the very bottom rung is the child killer and molester.
The most despised too, as I was reminded by Sunday’s AJC in a fine piece by Bill Rankin about the grisly murder of child molester Steven O’Bara five years ago behind the grim gray walls of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, known as “The Big A.
Das Waren Zeiten
I wish Mel Brooks, maestro of the Broadway hit and the even funnier movie version of “The Producers” — his whacko inspiration that made an insane musical comedy out of Nazi Germany — could have been with us one inebriated night a generation and more ago.
Who knows what more zaniness Brooks’ twisted humor could have added? Especially if he had guzzled as much wine as my fellow airmen and I had. The possibilities are endless. Because I’m sober as I write this, I won’t try to come up with any. I’m not that creative. Or addled, take your pick.
Rush to Judgment
Mike Luckovich crafted a real winner in his Wednesday a.m. AJC cartoon mocking the loud, perpetually pissed off Rush Limbaugh: a poster of the radio talk jock on the bedroom wall of a couple as the perfect contraceptive.
The drawing captures the essence of Limbaugh’s shtick on the radio, and how he comes across to me as a person – fat jowls, a cavernous open mouth, mean, slitted eyes. He sounds so angry, sometimes I halfway expect his head to explode, soiling the studio carpet.
Since that hasn’t happened in over 20 some years, I suspect his radio rants are in part just that, an act. It must work, since it’s made the loudmouth millions.
Decades later, I fondly recall the really fine holiday noon meals every Christmas and Thanksgiving dished out by the chow hall at Hahn Air Base in Germany during three years serving my “friends and neighbors” in the Cold War.
To be fair, and counter the legends about military chow, the food there was rarely poor, and ranged from OK to “pretty good” more days than not. But the cooks turned out a really great spread for the two traditional late year holidays.
Turkey, ham, roast beef, dressing, sweet potatoes, even shrimp cocktail, butternut squash, cold jellied cranberry sauce, pumpkin, apple and mince pie, strawberry the works. And the high point of the day, if you were on duty and had to return in less than an hour to humping a flight line of fighter jets in the snow and/or frigid cold for another four hours (or more} with an M-16 on your back.
Every year when Veterans Day rolls around, I recall my own service and murmur thanks over how good the calendar was to me in an era when every guy had to register for the draft when they turned 18. Were I a year younger, I might have ended up in Vietnam and returned either in a box or a certified coward. Possibly both …
Like all the other guys from my high school senior class in Fort Myers, Fla., who were unmarried and not in college, I boarded a bus to Miami on instructions from the local Selective Service to undergo a draft physical. I figured my rotten eyesight — I am very near-sighted — would classify me as either 4-F (a physical wreck) or 1-Y, to be called only in an emergency such as the Soviet Army rolling ashore at Daytona Beach or an ICBM vaporizing Manhattan Island.
On a late summer Sunday morning 48 years ago on Sept. 15, 1963 at the peak of the civil rights movement, a homemade dynamite bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham before worship services, snuffing out the lives of four young Sunday school girls.
In retrospect, the atrocity, which stunned the nation, created a turning point as increasing numbers of Southerners reacted with disgust over violent resistance to racial desegregation.
I probably have plenty of company — hope so, anyway — in figuring the initial moments of 9/11 about as wrong as one could possibly be. For a short while.
I had just come to my daily grind at the AJC with a cup of java when early shift reporter and desk mate Mike Morris told me an airliner had just hit one of the World Trade Center Towers. Mike had his radio tuned to all-news WGST, routine for catching the latest in wrecks, fires, shootings and other mayhem, when I heard the local broadcast reporter asking some expert if the incident could be terrorism … Aw, lighten up, I’m thinking …
Not long after the second strike, the city desk transferred a pay phone call from a former AJC employee, Kirsten Anderson of Marietta, direct from the Manhattan Island war zone.
As Hurricane Irene swept up the Atlantic coast and forecasters predicted that she would swipe the Outer Banks and zap Gotham City before dwindling off into New England, it reminded me of an early morning years ago when I was dispatched to chase Gloria, another windy bitch.
Get to New York before the hurricane does, I was ordered. Probably through no intention of my bosses, I missed the full power of Gloria’s 130 mph punch. I guess I should thank the National Weather Service.
Of course, I couldn’t know that at the time, and I had my orders: to catch the first available flight from Hartsfield, as the Atlanta airport was known then, and telephone the city desk when I landed.
I need to begin, I suppose, by stating my belief that criminal defendants should be legally “innocent until proven guilty” by a jury, even when I strongly suspect they are guilty as hell. With one exception: a well-known Atlanta murder for hire that occurred 24 years ago.
There was a day, a location, and a moment, when I KNEW, without a doubt that James Vincent Sullivan, a once cocky, coldblooded and self absorbed Palm Beach millionaire, was responsible for the killing of his estranged wife, socialite Lita McClinton Sullivan, at her Buckhead townhouse by a hired gunman.
The sudden end to the whack-o called “the Granny Bandit” was yet another confirmation , to me at least, that we’ll always need newspapers.
We first learned as early as Tuesday afternoon on AJC.com, the Web version of my journalism alma mater, that the weird criminal who held up convenience stores and fast food joints in the metro area and died in a shootout with cops who had chased the bandit’s gold jeep, was no grandma.
Nope. Roxanne Nicole Taylor, dead at age 57, was no woman, either.
Happy birthday, singer Joe South, who made it to age 71 Monday (so says the AJC’s celebrity birthday column), and my modest best wishes, even if he did throw me out of his house many years ago.
No hard feelings, Joe. Like sewer and stockyard workers, garbage haulers, and Charles Manson’s trial lawyers, reporters (sometimes) have a job that ain’t fun, and rejection for asking too many questions comes with the territory.
It is safe to say that Joe South was the best known person, nationally and possibly overseas, ever to tell me to take a flying leap at a galloping goose (or, if you have a twisted mind, commit a sexual and physically impossible act.)
A gravel-voiced civil rights icon gone 11 years is drawing new attention nowadays, which got me to remembering my experiences with him during my time as an AJC reporter. When I arrived in Atlanta, the guy with the beard and unique voice was no icon: his confrontational style made him sort of a boogeyman to white civic leaders, including the top management of the outfit I worked for.
That said, as our paths crossed over the years, Hosea Lorenzo Williams, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s close associates in the most dramatic days of the civil rights movement, later an Atlanta city councilman and Georgia legislator, was a reporter’s delight.
One of the good guys for sure, when all is said and added up.
How could “Hosey” not be fun?. He was almost always available on deadline, and you couldn’t beat him for memorable quotes.
I still have the brick, one of them anyway, that landed on my Plymouth Valiant in Tallahassee (now THERE was a bizarre looking car) when I drove well after dark too close to scores of enraged Florida A&M students the night Martin Luther King was slain.
As a new reporter on The Democrat, the local daily paper, I had night blindness even then, and was following a photographer’s directions. Close to panic, Dan thought I was suicidal …
It was a cold early December morning like we’re having now as I scanned the (pre-merger) Atlanta Constitution before heading to work and saw an AP story that John Lennon had been shot to death outside his NYC residence before midnight.
Wearing thermal underwear, I cranked up my under heated Pinto and drove to 72 Marietta Street to begin my day as a reporter for the separate and competing afternoon Journal, unaware that I would end up that night in Honolulu, in 80 degree temperatures, still wearing the damn long johns.
To this day, some former colleagues call the experience “your Hawaii junket.”
If historic events can fix a day you witnessed forever in the mind, November 22 will always be “The Day” for this burned out, retired hack. A lot more so, even, than 9/11.
I recall exactly what I was doing, and what I said. It was unprintable in a family newspaper.
It was right in the middle of noon chow, in my third week of Air Force basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that the marijuana referendum in California failed. Orange County and places like it still have the votes. But the reminder of the “evil weed” got me to remembering a delightful evening many, many years ago when I was really stoned. President Nixon made it possible.
Yep, that Nixon, really. Remember Tricky Dick? The congenital anti-Commie? Or maybe it wasn’t Nixon that made it so memorable, just the weed.
If it’s August, I guess it’s time, or an excuse, to mourn The King again. The King of Rock ‘n Roll, The Hill Billy Cat, the Pelvis, however you want to call him …
I certainly didn’t know that summer evening in 1977 when Walter Cronkite interrupted his newscast with the news from Memphis that the following afternoon I would see Elvis Presley’s corpse. Twice.
It appears that UGA football is still a reporter’s delight (and pain in the butt). Sometimes off the field.
The recent disastrous turn of events that disgraced a promising athletic director and probably altered the Dawgs sports fortunes, at least temporarily, got me to remembering, to use a current expression, I’ve seen this movie before. About three decades ago.
The star was Herschel Walker, the Bulldogs fleet tailback and Heisman Trophy winner, then in his junior year. I even had a tiny part, which brings another expression to mind: “Location, location, location.”
The AJC’s online version this week reporting new laws taking effect around the country noted that Florida has outlawed personal ownership of Burmese pythons, boa constrictors, and a half dozen other large U.S. reptiles. It didn’t mention alligators, however, so being a Gator, I’m glad to know I’m still legal in my home state.
It reminded me of an incident I covered in East Point a dozen or more years ago for the AJC when a pet 9-foot python slithered away from its owners, a trucker and his nephew. The two were hauled into municipal court, charged with violating the town’s animal cruelty ordinance — not cruelty to the snake, but to the live rodents it scarfed once a week.
It’s been a journalism platitude for I don’t know how long that there are no new stories.
I disagree. The Apollo Moon Landing 41 years ago was certainly new. So was Sputnik in 1957. And let’s not forget Hiroshima.
Still, the AJC broke a local news first about a week ago on its Community Page in the Metro section, at least in my memory. A seven-paragraph item — a cop brief really — with the two-line, one-column headline: “Covington man accused of having sex with horses.”
It’s hard to recapture what that tragic and sometimes crazy urban psychodrama of the Missing & Murdered Children crisis, recalled recently by a CNN special, was like for a working reporter at the late afternoon Atlanta Journal. To borrow an overused expression, you had to be there.
I guess some background is in order for newcomers to Atlanta: The Missing & Murdered Children crisis was a 22-month killing spree that left 29 African-Americans dead, all but two of them boys and young men, between July 1979 and May 1981. The victims vanished from Atlanta’s streets, and were usually found asphyxiated or strangled; the age range of the victims increased as the killings continued, from as young as 9 to well into their 20s.
While I can’t say I was ever a “Hellhound On His Trail,” the title of a newly published book about James Earl Ray, I did watch the exhausted killer of Martin Luther King Jr. shortly after he was flushed from under a pile of leaves in woods near a Tennessee prison and herded past me and a few score other skeptical hacks lined up to witness the warden prove a point. To be sure, the delightfully named Stonney (pronounced stony) Lane was a warden who knew his territory.
Without a doubt, I recall white supremacist Richard Barrett as one of the wackiest critters I ever covered in close to four decades of reporting for the AJC. But I never thought he would end his days on the planet as a victim in a gruesome homicide. Since murders and weird people seem to have made up more than half of the stories I did, Barrett seems worth a farewell (or good riddance, take your pick) piece for Like The Dew.
The guy was truly bizarre, even when compared with others of his ilk, like the late J.B. Stoner and his associate “Doctor” Ed Fields …
Worthy of Comment
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