One rule of journalism: Don't become part of the story. That was the reminder that nearly every clever co-worker gave me when I returned to work Wednesday morning.
I've already broken that rule, so I'll just dive right into the story.
I got a call from my editor at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. He told me there had been several problems reported on the roads due to high water. He needed a photograph to go along with a story in that morning's paper. He told me to head to Deputy where a truck was half underwater in a ditch off State Road 3.
I drove from my home to the scene. With the important rule of journalism in mind, I kept my speed low to avoid hydroplaning.
When I saw the blinking hazard lights on the Ford in the ditch, I began looking for a place to pull off the road so I could get to work and get back in time for deadline.
As luck would have it, there appeared to be a large flat area just across the road where there was enough room to turn around and park.
I should say at this point that while going to an accident scene, my mind is on what lenses I might want to use, what camera settings I should start with and what angles I should be looking for. Where to park is not usually top on the list. I should also say that, since it was still early, the light was not great.
Yes, these are excuses.
It turns out that the field I saw was not actually a field at all, it was a creek that had overflowed - forming a small pond. What I saw was actually a dense covering of hay or straw camouflaging the surface of the pond.
Talk about a sinking feeling. As I sat in my car - now at a 30- to 45-degree angle in the ditch with the front end submerged and water seeping in up to the edge of the front car seats - I figured out that I wasn't going anywhere. Deadline was not going to be met.
I called my editor and let him know the situation, and I waited for the tow truck that had been called for me.
Later, Keith Hartman and James Lee of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office drove up on the scene and asked if I was OK. Once I told them I was, they laughed and began some of the joking that would continue later from my colleagues at the newspaper. They stuck around to wait for the wrecker truck with me.
While waiting, I thought about all of the accidents that we cover - some serious, some not so serious - and how it only takes that split-second, a moment of unfocused thinking to change your day for the worse.
I was lucky: The only thing hurt was my car, and subsequently my wallet.
Many people are not as lucky. Whether they have totaled a car because they were trying to answer their cell phone, or been hit by another car where a driver was trying to steer and eat at the same time, such innocuous situations can become destructive and sometimes life changing.
A lesson to be learned, as pointed out by clever reporter: If you see a ditch on one side of a road, there's probably another ditch on the other side.
Be careful and drive safely. (Story/©Ken Ritchie/The Madison Courier)
A Man Named Lil’ Chad, from M&M Towing, pulls my car out of the ditch. (©Ken Ritchie/The Madison Courier)