Friday, September 6, 2013

The Hard Way

My dad, who passed away in July, used to say, "you're just like me, you have to do everything the hard way."  Bill Jones was right, again, about himself, and about his third son.  During his life, the old man, cycled from wild success to miserable failure during his 89 year adventure ride, in which he quit his secure job at age 27, and went into business for himself, never working for another person as long as he lived.

It was a boom or bust existence, I recall one Christmas with a towering, 9 foot tall Spruce, a flood of presents, bicycles, and hockey sticks, surrounded by gaudy decorations, and soaked in catered food. That year a Mariachi band atop a flatbed truck was waiting to haul our family around our streets to sing carols to our weary and confused neighbors standing in there bathrobes, pink slippers, with coffee in hand.  They would wipe the sand from their eyes wondering, "why the hell is their a Mariachi band playing at this hour?  Strike that, "why is there a Mariachi band playing at ANY hour?"

I also recall a Christmas with a tree no taller than a fern, and 2 small, wrapped presents, one for me, and one for my sister, placed gently on a white towel, hastily snatched from the bathroom on Christmas Eve.

My dad ultimately sweat and bled his way to financial stability, founding a chain of discount dry cleaners, that eventually added up to about 200 stores, but he, as he had mentioned to me ad nausium, " "had done it the hard way."

While thumbing through his meticulous files in the days after he died, I came across a letter he had written to a friend and investor 30 years ago.  It read:  "Fred, as you know I have recently filed for bankruptcy, and I promise you will soon be paid the $5000 I owe you, but in the meantime, I want to tell you about a great opportunity in which I think you might want to invest."  He was always working, and always raising money, sometimes in the hardest ways possible.

He did pay back Fred with interest, and Fred, my uncle, did invest with my dad again.  Even though he was as he would say "busted." my dad never stopped working or hustling, he had to, because he did everything the hard way.

As I sat in our news van, perched outside the home of Cheri Walker, the mother of a man believed to have gunned down a Draper, Utah police officer last week.  I was thinking about my dad.

Just two days earlier, Sgt. Derek Johnson coasted up next to a grey, late model Volvo parked awkwardly on Fort Street in Draper.  The tires on the squad car of the decorated officer likely didn't even stop turning, when police think Walker open fire, hitting and killing Johnson.  Walker is then thought to have turned the gun on his long time girlfriend, Traci Vaillancourt, shooting her in the back before rotating the pistol into his mouth, and squeezing the trigger.  Miraculously both survived, and, as is so often the case, that's where I come in.

Outside the home of Cheri Walker, I was pondering some of my dad's old sayings and watching as a woman pulled up next to three reporters from competing stations.  "Do you want to go see what she is saying?"  photographer Patrick Fitzgibbon asked as I propped my feet on the dash, and adjusted my sunglasses, "Nah," I said, with a nervous pit in my stomach, "I hate globbing onto other reporters work."
After 15 minutes, the woman sauntered off, and, my pride wouldn't allow me to chase her down to see what she had told my competitors .

After more than an hour of waiting for the return of Troy Walker's mother, I decided we needed to do SOMETHING, so I Googled and searched and eventually stumbled upon an address that Vaillancourt had lived at years ago in Murray, Utah.  "No, I don't know her," chimed the sing-song voiced mom, who had just purchased the home a week ago, "The name sounds familiar, but I don't know her," she said eagerly, bouncing a small toddler in her arms, as he munched down a soggy fist full of Cheerios.

It was 7 PM, and for television news, that is the bewitching hour.  If you haven't nailed down your story by then, you are in jeopardy of not making the 10 PM news cast.

"Ok, ok, ok," I sighed heavily as I vigorously ran my hand across the top of my head  as if, the friction would make my brain conjure a brilliant idea, "I have one more address," I bleated with discouragement, "but she hasn't lived in this place for years."

"Who is it?!"  a woman shrieked from inside the non-descript suburban rambler.  "I'm Chris Jones, from Channel 2."  The metal, brown door swept open, "I know why you are here."  

The middle aged woman with smiling eyes, had purchased the home from Vaillancourt's parents several years ago, but knew everything about the family.  She knew Vaillancourt and her boyfriend had a child, that Vaillancourt had a rare blood disorder, and that Walker had guns, but she was unwilling to share any of it on camera, which, of course in the TV business, is what it is all about.  "I'm so sorry," she would shake her head with real sympathy, like a mom, forced by an overbearing husband to carry out a overly-strict punishment on a teenager.

As I peer at my watch, 7:30, I begin to accept the defeat that is looming in the air, "You guys have a nice day," she says pluckily as I turn the door knob, "I wonder if Traci's sister could help you, I know where she lives," she says nonchalantly, burying the lead.

"Yes Traci is my sister," says Vicki King, teeth clinched, brow furrowed,  "In fact she was here the day before the shooting," she announced, eager to tell the story of how her sister went from beauty queen to a woman living in a car and addicted to pain pills.

As I flip on the mic, I am satisfied that we will be the only station to tell this part of the story, until I see two reporters, with their photographers in tow, approaching the front stoop and prepping their camera's for the interview.

As the reporters step back to their vehicles, "how did you find her?" I ask with amazement, "oh," says one of them, "remember that woman we were talking to outside the Walker home?  She told us where Vicku lived."

As I searched my briefcase for my glasses, I could only think of my father, and his words, that rang more true on this day, than they had in sometime, "you always have to do things the hard way."

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