If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” I’d be rich.
Nonetheless, like most of the reasonable things my elders taught me when I was young, after I got the call from Don Estep telling me that the News Journal had officially chosen me to join their staff for a 10-week summer KPA internship, I immediately forgot everything I’d learn.
I had a notion of what life would be like in Corbin, and sorry folks it wasn’t as sweet as apple pie. I became familiar with the News Journal back in August of 2010, through a project I worked on at EKU where my journalism class critiqued 30 weekly newspapers from around the state.
We drew names out of a hat, and my roommate at the time got the News Journal. Each week we’d read the paper front to back, and quite frankly came away horrified.
There was so much bad stuff happening in this city. Drugs here. Thefts there. Violent crimes everywhere. There was even a story about a police officer that beat a child. The kid’s blood stained head was on the front page. Sheesh. What’s in the water down there?
Soon it became a running joke between our classmates: “Lets see what happy memories were made this week in Corbin?” (Looks at front page) “Ahh, just a rape, some meth and what? They CANCELLED the Christmas Parade? Wow, this place is so miserable you can’t even enjoy the world’s single most cheery holiday…”
The second I received the first offer from Don in an email asking me if I would potentially be interested in coming aboard for the KPA internship, I called up my roommate and told him he’d never guess who just offered me a possible job.
Me: “The News Journal…”
Roomy: “Better buy yourself a bullet-proof vest and an assault rifle. You’ll need it.”
Me: “I don’t like guns.”
Roomy: “Well, it was nice knowing you. You’ll be dead within a week.”
Me: “I’m not so sure I want this gig.”
Like I said, I was a judger.
Skip ahead to June 1, and I had to make myself walk through the back doors. I just knew my first assignment would be a triple homicide.
(This is the part where I start to eat my own words.)
I sat in Trent Knuckles’s office and he gave me my first story: a fourth grade class was donating money to the local animal shelter.
I thought to myself, “Why did they mutilate a puppy?”
I raced down to Williamsburg School to get the scoop.
I knocked on the teacher’s door, and when she opened it I winced, half expecting a shotgun barrel to be poking me in the nose.
But instead was greeted by a friendly smile.
People in this area knew how to smile? No way.
Still not buying it, I hesitantly stepped into the room to hear what the kids had to say.
One kid merely raised his hand to speak, and I involuntarily ducked down to dodge what was surely an ensuing milk carton aimed for my head.
But to my surprise, the story of how these kids emptied out their piggy banks and spent their own money on animal food and chew toys made me see the light of day.
Maybe Corbin wasn’t so bad after all.
Which is the real meaning of this column.
In actuality, Corbin is a great place. Once I finally got the episodes of Justified out of my head, I could see this place for what it truly was: a tradition-rich and beautiful sliver of Kentucky.
In my 10 weeks here you all have taught me a lot. Mostly things I can use in my professional career but some stuff that will help me become a better person.
First off you have Don Estep, who I could listen to reminisce about the old days more than Methuselah himself. It didn’t surprise me when I learned he had a previous career in radio and broadcasting; his voice is smoother than a stick of butter. His quiet demeanor oozes calmness and knowledge. And he’s feisty as a back-alley cat. No wonder this man has manned the newspaper ship into the depths it’s in. He’s a fearless leader. And in a world where daily newspapers are sinking, Don has taught me what it takes to keep the community newspaper afloat. Don, I’d step into battle any day, with any foe if you were my captain.
To Linda, Jennifer B. and Jennifer M., Melissa, Mark, Jim, Fatemia, Judy and Joyce: Thank you all for the kindness, generosity and friendship each of you showed me. You taught me to be patience by being more than patient with me.
To Dean, the first person I had a real conversation with. You taught me the ropes. If we cross paths again, just know I won’t respond to anything other than the name “New Guy.” You taught me how to work a crime scene, a wreck, the police and that it’s always easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Dean always remember, “Even Ray Charles can see that that’s Magnum T.A and Dusty Rhodes!”
In my time here I learned that a weekly recipe could truly unite a community like no other. Thank you Bena Mae, the fresh peach ice cream recipe is to die for.
I learned that it’s okay to accept free donuts when highlighting a local business, especially if they are the best things that have ever entered into my mouth.
But it’s not okay to spell someone’s name wrong in an obituary, or forget to post engagement announcements to the online edition. Sorry Fatemia!
For every story I worked, from archery camp, to Brenda Hammons, to drunken guy on his wheelchair getting hit by a train, thank you. Without all of your wacky, crazy, kind, fun and most of the time absurd stories I would have been stuck typing dreaded wedding announcements all summer. You taught me that it’s not okay to set your grandma on fire, nor shoot at your fleeing sister. You also taught me that crock-pots and jars of peanut butter are better used as weapons. Duly noted.
Lastly but certainly not least, we have Trent: The Master Teacher. What can I say? You took me under your wing and had faith in me to tackle bigger assignments than I knew I could. You taught me to always ask the tough questions like, “M’am, are those fighting chickens?” You taught me how to handle the women in our lives, introduced me to an amazing series of books I probably wouldn’t have read on my own and more or less assured me I was better than Dean at everything. (kidding.) I’d like to believe after these 10 weeks we’ve developed a friendship even. Professionally you’ve helped me a lot, mainly with your passion for journalism. It’s a contagious pandemic, making you itch for the cure, which is more community news. Before I started here, my reporting flame was all but smoldering. Thank you for re-igniting the spark inside me.
Here’s my lesson for you now: M-U-O-N-I-C – “An elementary particle in the lepton family having a mass 209 times that of the electron.”
And it’s Ryan Alves. ALVES. With an “S”, not a “Z.” Boom!
Wrapping up, I’d like to formally say I’m sorry to any of you reading this. Like I said earlier, before I stepped foot in Corbin I thought I already had this place pegged. I was wrong. As a man, I can admit when I’m wrong.
Corbin, though she has her faults on the outside, is more than what meets the eye. Once you dig past the mud and the muk, you’ll find a sparkling gem. And like my grandparents did when I was a young kid, I urge all of you to cast away your pre-conceived notions and get to know something before you label it with a stigma. You might be surprised at what you find. I know I was.
The only thing I didn’t learn was who was responsible for canceling the Christmas parade?
I’ll save that for next time.