Sitting her in the Blue Banana, a café petite in a small eastern Oregon village, I eavesdrop on the conversations around me to, per chance, pick up a good ag story lead.
After all, this is farm country, and even growers like a latte now and then.
In the next booth is a rather elderly looking gent who is listening to a young chap talk about his aerial application close calls.
"I had to fly under the power lines," he said. "Sometimes, when the edge of a field is so close to the lines, you just can't pull up in time. Hope nobody saw that because I'd probably have my license suspended again."
The old guy murmured something that must have been a question.
"Oh, they suspended me when I sprayed the road back in 2010. Hit a girl driving a convertible. Boy, she was pretty mad, my flagger told me. Went straight to the cops. They were waiting on the runway when I came in."
Now, there's a story, but probably one that won't get told. Hearing juicy tips like that are kind of like speeding down the interstate and seeing one of the world's greatest photos, but with no place to pull over. Just doesn't get done.
But the story did remind me of the time I was in California doing a story about an aerial chem application on rice. The pilot told me to get lost ("I ain't talking to no reporters.")
Well, I went to the field where I knew he was working and found his young flagger to ask her a couple of questions. About mid-sentence the plane appears and is coming straight at us across the paddy. We both ducked, and I departed in my trusty MGA.
Didn't end there. Heading down the dusty farm road, he came after me and buzzed so close to my cartop I felt the prop wash.
Scared me off the story, OK.
I get into other uncomfortable situations. One time a farmer told me: "Yeah, I'm using --------------, even though it isn't registered. It works and they don't know I'm putting it on."
Evidently the subject didn't remember he was talking with a city paper reporter. Could have gotten my Pulitzer on that one. But, let it go and moved on in the interview.
Speaking of that 1957 MGA I drove back then, it also got me into a spot while covering an almond bloom story in Northern California's Capay Valley. After finishing the assignment, I headed down a windy back road for a little fresh scenery on the way back to the office.
As cars like that do, it quit on me at the bottom of a canyon. It was getting dark, and it was beginning to rain. I walked up the hill and found a trailer with the lights on, and saw a woman moving about inside. I was concerned I would frighten her with my soaked demeanor (it was raining very hard now) so I just yelled outside the door for her.
She came out and I asked her to telephone my wife to come and get me.
She did, but my wife was at a meeting, so no ride.
I began to walk down the back road as cars passed me up (who would pick up a hitchhiker in a dark storm?) Finally, I saw another trailer, but it was raining so hard I couldn't find the door. That's when I decided to pound on the side hoping to raise a response.
A door finally opened and a face looked spooked. I stood back and told him of my situation, and asked if he would give me a ride (for $20) into nearby Woodland.
He did, and I survived, a lot wetter and wiser about taking my MGA on farm stories ever again.
Such are the adventures of the writer of little farm stories as he travels the rural routes to journeys of epic tales.