I got a lot of positive feedback from a recent blog post about the years I spent running small town newspapers so I thought I’d share another one. This story is also related to when I was publishing a weekly newspaper in northern Arizona’s White Mountains and an area east of the small town of Snowflake that attracted a lot of colorful characters, from doomsday preppers and anti-government militia types, to burned out hippies and hermits who lived in shacks they had thrown together, or old mobile homes, travel trailers, and school buses they pulled out there. As I said before, people “east of Snowflake” are suspicious of outsiders. And they can even make people they know uncomfortable from time to time.
One such character was what I would call a camouflage freak. He ran around in military fatigues all the time, quite often with his face painted in subdued colors, and even his pickup was painted camouflage. He always packed a 9mm semi-automatic Beretta pistol in a belt holster (Arizona is an Open Carry state), and had a semi-automatic rifle that many incorrectly call an assault rifle, in his truck’s gun rack.
He had two sons in their late teens or early twenties that were just about as whacked out as he was, and they decided they were going into the business of supplying equipment to people who wanted to be ready for Armageddon.
He called my office and asked if I would come out to his place and take a full-page ad, which was several hundred dollars even back then. A few days later I happened to be in Snowflake, so I drove out to his place, where he showed me several surplus CONEX shipping containers that resembled railroad boxcars and were full of all kinds of provisions – military MRE rations, bottled water, first aid kits, portable camp stoves, uniforms, helmets, and yes, weapons and lots of ammunition. He told me I needed to have one of these, which only cost $10,000, fully stocked. I replied that I wasn’t really that interested, and didn’t have a place to put a container like that anyway, wanting to get down to the business of figuring out what he had in mind for an ad.
He came up with something he had crudely sketched and asked how much a full-page ad was. When I told him the cost he about had a heart attack and decided he needed to rethink the whole advertising thing.
All the while we were sitting talking, his sons were playing with some type of semi-automatic handheld wannabe machine pistols, similar to a Mac-10 but cheaply built. I don’t remember the brand now, but they were basically junk. They were complaining that the damn things jammed all the time and they couldn’t hit anything with them when they did shoot. Knowing my background as a shooter and a firearms instructor, the father asked if I wanted to shoot one. I declined, but he insisted I at least watch them shoot, hoping I could see what the problem was. I already knew what the problem was. They were junk!
At any rate, we went out behind their place, past a pack of huge snarling dogs held back by heavy chains, to where they had set up an impromptu shooting range. They had silhouette targets set up, labeled Police, Swat, FBI, and CIA. The three lined up and began popping off with their crappy guns as fast as they could. By the second or third shot the recoil had them shooting in the air and missing everything, and then all three weapons jammed. They were cussing and frustrated, and I said something like, “Here guys, let me show you how it’s done.” I reached inside my jacket and drew my trusty Colt Government Model .45 semi-automatic pistol from my shoulder holster (I had a permit and always carried a gun in those days, and still do), took a two-hand hold, and casually put a round into the head of each target.
They seemed to be pretty impressed by that. But then I goofed big time and said something like, “See, I don’t have to buy a $10,000 container of supplies from you guys. I’ve seen the way you shoot, and if everything goes to hell, I’ll just come and take yours.”
Apparently fools like that don’t understand humor or sarcasm. The three of them looked at each other and back at me, and it was like masks had gone down over their faces. They didn’t blink, didn’t say a word, just stared at me. I felt chills go up and down my spine. Whoops, that was obviously the wrong thing to say!
I told them I needed to be getting on my way, and walked back to my truck, all the while feeling cross hairs in the middle of my back. I really thought at least one of them might try to shoot me and listened carefully to hear any of them trying to clear the jams in their weapons, figuring I still had four rounds of ammunition left in my Colt if it came down to that.
The father never did get around to placing his add, and though I saw him around town many times after that, I made it a point to avoid him whenever possible. Just another day in the life of a small-town newspaper publisher, I guess.
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Thought For The Day – My decision-making skills closely resemble those of a squirrel when crossing the road.