“Up every morning just to keep a job…”
In our society, to the quiet,
In our society, to the meek,
In our society, it is only the Gucci that is heard.
If you know us only from the media, we are nothing but a bunch of bigmouth fancy pants chasing more…
From the outside looking in, we are the vacuum sucking up the planet.
This past year I have been on the road 167 days, been north and south, east and west. Travelled on 8 lane highways and one lane dirt roads.
Parked in long sweeping curved driveways and rutted front yards. Ate on linen with silver, and wood picnic tables with plastic forks.
Walked with the wealthy, sat with the poor.
21,813 miles worth, some in the air, most on the back roads, lakeside.
Let me tell you this, as someone who has worked in the media for over 30 years…we…the media…are drawn to the flames…not the moths.
We are drawn to the loudness, not the whispers.
I have had two, not one, TWO News Directors tell me exactly this, “Normal, is not news.”
Flash, bling, outrageousness, decadence…that, is news.
And here’s why, it is easy to cover, it is the train wreck that all you need to do is take the lens cap off…and wait for.
And baby, it will come.
Another secret, it doesn’t take much work, you just flip on the spotlights…and wait.
And whisper into the mic,
15 minutes of fame,
step on up.
And wait for the stampede.
“…I gotta fight my way through the hustling mob…”
But here is the truth, at least as I have seen it.
We are a nation of ordinary folks who do extraordinary things.
Normal, IS, the news.
Normal, IS, us.
And none of this nine-to-five stuff,
12-14 hour days are NORMAL buddy when you have to work two jobs, or work all the overtime you can stay awake for,
and not doing it for the Gucci,
but the Jimmy you are raising.
Give me a freakin’ break…housewives of this or that.
If you are saying, “You Bet,” to a wedding dress that costs more than most working stiffs cars…you don’t need to get married, you need therapy.
Greed is not good, greed, sucks.
Benevolence, is good.
Hard work, is good.
Empathy, is good.
Humility, is best of all.
Listen, to the silence.
Listen, to the meek.
Listen, to the working stiff.
“…sounds of the city pounding in my brain…”
The greatest stories of America are the ones you never hear. They are the stories you have to search for, like any treasure. They are hidden.
America, was built on a story.
The story of freedom.
The story of hard work.
Of belief in family.
Of belief in God, and country.
Old school word, this thing called, Values.
The real story of America is its people, and their values, hard working Joe’s, just trying to get by, make things better for the kids, for the neighbors, for the community.
Time, to hear their stories.
Time, to listen, to the quiet.
“…while another day goes down the drain…”
And the best way to listen to the quiet….PICK THREE DAY.
Here’s what I did…nothing.
Didn’t ask around as to who in the tournament has the best story.
I believe everybody has a story.
Didn’t ask around as to whom I should interview.
I believe I should talk to everyone.
So I do this…there are 56 boats in the tournament…I borrow a couple of sheets of paper from the unlocked “Business Center” in the hotel, cut the paper up into 56 little squares, then write the numbers 1-56, one number per square, on the paper…dump them all into a Ziploc bag, shake the bag up, take the elevator downstairs to the lobby and hand it to B.A.S.S. employee, Emily Hand, and say this:
“Pick three…pick three pieces of paper out of the bag and tell me the numbers.”
Emily, who knows me and my weirdness, smiles and starts picking.
First slip of paper….#56
Second slip of paper…#48
Third slip of paper…#32.
I take the slips of paper…get in the rental car and drive to the boat yard…get out and walk up and down the line of boats looking at the numbers on the boats…looking for…
When I find the numbers, I stop, get my camera out, get my notebook out and walk up to the boat…and the dude in it.
And when I walk up to the boat, to all three boats, this is what I say to the dude sitting in it, “Hi…I’m db and I believe everyone, EVERYONE has a story…so…dude…tell me your story.”
I have no idea who the guy in the boat is,
or what, if any, his story is,
random picked numbers, not names,
because I believe everyone has a story,
“…but it's a five o'clock world when the whistle blows…”
Jeremy Pridgen…32 years old…married…from Hahira, Georgia. Wife of 5 years, Jennie, lives in a 3 bedroom 2 bath house with his two young sons, 4 year old Lane, 2 year old Jack.
Works in sales at Waller Heating & Air down the road in Valdosta, Georgia, “Yep, took vacation days to be able to fish this tournament.”
Tell me your story Jeremy Pridgen…tell me your story…
“I been fishing all my life. Funny story, when I was 5 years old I wanted my father to take me fishing so he went out and bought me a rod and reel and one of those plastic baby wading pools.”
Since I don’t know this guy, or his story, I just sort of shut-up and listen, always a good choice.
“So my Daddy takes the baby pool, fills it with water, puts a worm on my hook and draws a line in the sand in the backyard and tells me this, ‘when you can constantly cast from behind this line into the pool…then I will know you are serious and I will take you fishing.”
Then dad leaves for work.
Several hours later he comes back home for dinner and Jeremy’s mother brings him to the kitchen window that looks out onto the backyard…and there, in the last light of the day stands 5 year old Jeremy STILL casting into the pool…and he hits the water every time.
“We went fishing soon after that.”
I get this…my father when I bought my first car, my father went out in the driveway, opened the hood and with some tools started taking part off the engine and throwing them on the grass in the backyard.
“When you can fix the car you can drive it,” was all he said to me.
I was a mechanical moron, still am, and Dad ended up putting the stuff back on the engine…but I got the point.
Jeremy: “I don’t get to fish as often as I would like, maybe twice a month you know, wife, kids, family…and work come first…but man…man it is awesome to be here…”
And all he could do was look out silently at the boats. I know, know the feeling about talking about dreams and having those dreams fade away.
And what it comes back to, what it always came back to with Jeremy…family.
“I took my 4yr old Lane out fishing…just bank fishing…and wouldn’t you know it…he caught one…caught a bass…he was so happy when he caught it and held it up to show me…got to tell you I almost started crying…”
Almost did once again until I asked him my final question, “Why was that emotional for you.”
“Because you only catch your first fish, once. Lane will remember that fish all his life, and he will remember me standing there with him, will tell his children that story, and I will always be there.”
The story of #48…family.
“…no one owns a piece of my time…”
While I was interviewing Jeremy I gave the next number…#32 to a local cop watching the boatyard…just making sure there wasn’t any tomfoolery going on…so I go get the slip of paper from Sgt. Hunter…and start looking for #32.
And as I’m looking he is pulled up right in front of me, and his boat is backed into a parking spot.
“So #32 dude, welcome back to the boatyard…and oh yeah, I’m here to interview you…tell me your story.”
Brent Boyette, from Kenly, North Carolina. Age 41, married to Terrie, two boys, 15 year old Hunter, 12 year old Jaden.
An American Farmer.
“Got me 1600 acres, farm cotton, soy beans, wheat, corn and tobacco. Been a farmer since I could walk.”
Brent and his brother work the family farm, the farm that has been in the family for generations, “My granddaddy farmed it, my father farmed it, now me and my brother farm it.”
Tell me your story #32, come on…tell me your story…
“My daddy made me go work a 9-5 type job before he retired, he did it to make sure I wanted to be a farmer, make sure that farming was in my heart.”
I looked up at him, didn’t say a word but it was the , “Did You” look on my face that made him answer.
“I lasted nine months doing the 9-5 thing. I was a maintenance man at a nursery, but couldn’t take it. I love the outdoors but I’m just used to being my own boss, ain’t got to ask no one for time off…if I get all my work done I can just leave, ain’t beholding.”
Now hold onto something sturdy, a city dude, me, is going to explain farming as told to me by Brent. I may leave some points out due to the fact I had no idea what he was talking about but I think what Brent is facing, the American farmer in general is also facing, and we as brother working stiffs need to know this stuff.
“Profits not as good as they used to be. If the economy doesn’t get better it is probably doubtful.”
Translation…he could lose the farm.
“Last year cotton was a little over $1 a pound…this year it’s down to 73-cents, so I’m losing right now about $300 an acre with my cotton.
Brent has planted 600 acres of cotton…that could be $180,000 loss.
“I, like you, have to pay bills 12 months a year, but we only get paid 4 months a year, only get paid in the months we bring the crop to market.”
He is leaning up against the front deck of his boat, fingers tapping on the carpet, looking outward, not at me, but at his future.
“In the last couple of years a hurricane blew away my profits and then a hail storm knocked away my profits…but…but you know it’s Mother Nature and what can you do. I’ve got farming, got farming in my blood.”
I’m quiet, stories happen better that way.
“It’s in your blood you know, if you can make it work, you make it work, but if we keep losing farms where are you going to get the stuff you need, America needs to feed its own, we sort of protect America, if we keep importing all this food because it is cheaper and we keep losing more and more farms, where are we going to be if other countries decide to shut off our food supplies…”
He trailed off, and I just waited, waited for what I felt was coming.
And come it did.
“My son, my younger son, he wants to farm, and I would like to pass the farm down to him like my granddaddy did to my daddy and he did to me…”
“…but it might not be there for him to get.”
“…and there's a five o'clock me inside my clothes…”
Up front, you may think I set this one up, but I didn’t, the number 56 was picked legit like by Emily.
A paralyzed veteran fishing the PVA circuit…the Paralyzed Veterans of America circuit.
If you know me you know how much I care about these guys, so I understand you thinking I rigged this, but it weren’t.
But this is what I believe, I think it was directed, the pick, by the universe. You will too believe when you hear the story of #56.
Tell me your story #56…tell me your story…
Tony Choe. Age 45, not married, lives in Fairfax Station, Virginia, works as a computer specialist in the State Department.
Paralyzed from the waist down since 1993.
If you were in my Holiday Inn room right now you would notice something…something loud…and that would be me starting to pound harder on my laptop keys…and this is why.
And I’m getting madder…if you are in this hotel room you better start ducking ‘cause I’m about to start having a fit and throwing stuff as I have to type Tony’s story.
And trust me you are going to start to get PO’ed too…here’s the story, told by Tony.
“I was in the Marines for a couple of years, when I got out I was working to get back to civilian life, got a job as a manager of a convenience store in Washington, DC…” Tony is now talking softly, I have no idea where this is going, but I have a bad feeling.
“…that’s where I got shot…it was during the day…a guy came into the store and robbed it…got very little money, but because I saw his face he shot me…shot me in the back.”
Shot…in the back…for very little money, trust me I am banging these keys right now.
And then the punk left Tony for dead. Laying there, laying there where he lost 50% of the blood in his body….laying there where to save his life they had to open his chest and with their hands, pump his heart. Tony spent the next 5 months of his life in a hospital, spent it in rehab trying to learn how to deal with the paralyzation that stole from him his love of playing soccer, playing tennis.
The punk who shot him has never been caught.
Tony never called the dirtbag that…I did.
“In April of ’94 I fished my first Bass tournament, and it really helped change my life, I met other disabled anglers and we talked about fishing and living with disability and it really helped me a lot. Bass fishing encouraged me to get back into life again, it is great therapy.”
Meet an American hero, in my book.
Shot in the back for chump change, left for dead, and in fact, almost did die, but if there is a metaphor for America…it is Tony.
Battered, beaten, but still gets up.
“I work at the Department of State and I doing so well that they are sending me to Johns Hopkins University and right now I’m working on getting my Masters of Engineering in Computer Information.”
Every day when Tony comes off the water, after rigging his fishing stuff for the next day, he comes back to the hotel and goes up into his room and studies and writes papers for his Master’s work. After practicing all day, he comes back and does homework.
I was about to leave when he said something very softly to me, “Do you want to know what I believe…”
Help me be like you.
“Every morning when I wake up I say this, tell myself this is a bonus day, a bonus day because I am alive…I thought while I was laying there that I was going to die…but I didn’t…so every day after that day, to me, is a bonus day, of life.”
All with stories, all working stiffs.
But it is their story, that makes our story.
The story, of us.
#311,591,917 stories to tell.
Take the time to ask.
Take the time to listen.
We are more the same,
than we are not.
“…thinking that the world looks fine, yeah.”
5 O’clock World
See more photos of these three anglers taken by db here.