I once got a scoop that was so good I didn’t believe it.
I had just started at InfoWorld, an underdog weekly publication that covered the computer industry. I had been working in magazines for years, so scoops then – in those pre-internet days – were pretty useless.
It was 1993 and my main beat was the then-burgeoning PC industry, in particular a focus on Texas companies Dell, in Austin, and Compaq, in Houston. The scoop I got was about an issue one of the companies was having with what is called a BIOS (basic input/output system) on one of their best-selling PCs. The BIOS is basically the program that manages data flow between the computer's operating system and other systems and attached devices. Somebody I had met who worked at one of the companies called me and told me there was a problem with some of the company’s BIOS setups. I wrote the story and the floodgates opened. It caused some issues with some basic computer programs. It was a big deal. Stock prices were impacted. Head Freds made “statements.”
At one point I got a call from a computer analyst I really respected and he complimented me on the scoop. He said it was good I was keeping these companies honest. Money for PC makers was easy then and they could get lazy about quality, he said. I told him I was just really lucky. If I hadn’t met this woman whose brother worked for the company and really wanted to make the best PCs in the world it wouldn’t have happened. I think I bought the woman a margarita at some Mexican food place in Austin. If I hadn’t bought her that margarita, etc. For the want of salt on the glass the scoop would have been lost.
I was trying to be modest to a fault. He stopped me: “You make your own luck, my friend. Don’t forget that.”
I didn’t forget it. Whenever I’ve thought I wasn’t making any headway in whatever project I was pursuing, I’ve thought, “I’ll make my own luck.” It’s kept me going through some tough times.
So I couldn’t but help think about that statement when, about noon on Tuesday, April 23, several of us at the Business Press were in my office discussing important issues, such as why the chicken-fried steak at Massey’s was so good.
First there was the crash and the unmistakable sound of crunching metal. That’s not uncommon. Our office is on Hulen Street between Diaz and Wellesley. That’s just south of Central Market and Arlington Heights High School where Hulen curves at the same time it dips and rises just as drivers are putting the pedal to the metal thinking they’ve got clear sailing all the way to 820.
But this time, following the crash, there was a pop and something fell, hitting the street and then … the lights went off. The power was out. There was a brief flicker as the power line gave it one last shot, then that was it. We were in a post-apocalyptic world. Well, not really, but it was lights out. Moving into an office with a better view, we could see a car giving a utility pole a bear hug.
We headed outside and everything was stopped. Traffic on Hulen hadn’t been that quiet since John Augustus Hulen was alive and the street was nothing but a dirt road. The driver was fortunate. She appeared unhurt, though there were other issues yet to arise. A cop was nearby and sorted out the traffic. An ambulance appeared quickly to examine the driver. Power lines were hanging down with some strewn on the Hulen pavement. Traffic was re-routed. Appointments were missed.
On the streeet corners were all these people who work in the vicinity as well as a few neighbors who live in the area. I had never seen any of them before. Nothing brings people together like tragedy, though this was probably a 2 on a scale of 10. I watched the EMT examine the driver. The front end of her car, a white Lexus SUV, was in a V-shape around the utility pole. She was lucky. Other emergency, fire and police vehicles and Oncor trucks showed up to do their duty. The sorting out had begun.
This was where the young lady’s luck ran out. Alive she was. Unhurt? It looked like it.
Trouble? No, that was just around the corner. While she looked fine, if a little dazed – who wouldn’t be – one of the cops gave her a sobriety test. Generally, I would say it’s a rule that if you’re getting a sobriety test at noon on a Tuesday, it’s not going to be a good day. And it wasn’t. From a purely unprofessional viewpoint, she flunked. And not just barely. She was soon in handcuffs and another officer was fishing something out of her car that – this is just a guess – appeared to be some sort of evidence. I will say this. Despite her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, her body language – even in handcuffs – was strikingly positive, chipper even. I’ve interviewed people I was writing positive, puff-piece stories about with more negative, off-putting body language. I took some photos with my camera while a few people from the neighborhood walked up to ask what was going on and why Judge Judy wasn’t going to be on TV putting some miscreant in their place today.
One of our freelancers happened to be there – Rick Mauch – and he got in touch with the Fort Worth police to get the official report on what went on during the incident. Indeed, it was a DWI arrest for little Miss Sunshine.
The lights were out and Hulen was detour city, so I headed home to work. I posted a small story about the incident and ran one of my photos of the aftermath of the crash. Despite the rather small scale of the incident, the story, as of Thursday, April 25, was the top story on our webpage. I guess I could draw all sorts of conclusions from that. All news is local. Maybe everyone who was inconvenienced by the traffic snarl and the power outage read the story. Who knows?
As for being a reporter? “I’ll make my own luck.” I was lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. And not for the first time.
Maybe, just maybe, the woman who was in the accident, probably totaled her car and got arrested will make her own luck, too. She’s got the right attitude, anyway, even if it might be artificially induced.
It did show me why we cover things big and small. People want to know what is going on. Even in the 3600 block of Hulen Street on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.