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Just one question … for Lane DeGregory, on the presidential hugger

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My Pulitzer-winning pod-mate Lane DeGregory in the Tampa Bay Timeson the Florida pizza man who famously gave Barack Obama that bear hug:

FORT PIERCE — After talking to MSNBC and Inside Edition, while waiting to be miked for Wolf Blitzer, Scott Van Duzer, 46, tried to fit in two slices of pepperoni pizza and a Gatorade on Monday during what had become the busiest day of his life….

To me, the best line of the story was the following:

But you can’t confiscate a bear hug.

That’s more than a line. It’s a lesson. So I asked DeGregory how it happened. And she said:

DeGregory

The story was the product of our morning meeting. Everyone wanted to know more about the man who hugged the president so hard he lifted him off the ground. So I called the pizza place, and the manager said he had no idea whether the owner would be in. “Everyone wants him today,” the manager said. The guy’s cell phone voicemail was full so we couldn’t even leave a message. But our editors wanted us (Lane and Times photographer John Pendygraft) to take a chance and see if we could catch up with him. So we left at 11 a.m. and started on the 3-hour drive across the state.

There was a big time problem, though. Besides not knowing if the guy would even be available, John had to get back at 6:30 p.m. to pick up his daughter at daycare. And I had to be back for a 6:30 “meet the teachers” night at my sons’ high school. We knew even if we made good time we wouldn’t be in Fort Pierce until 2 p.m. and if we had any prayer of making it back in time we would have to leave by 3 p.m. That left an hour to find and interview the guy – and no time to write the story. We fretted all the way across Florida.

When we pulled into the parking lot, the owner was just pulling up. Inside, six camera crews were waiting. We followed the owner inside and I ambushed him while a worker brought him two slices of pepperoni, and some guys from Wolf Blitzer’s crew snaked microphone cords around his collar, and I got about 20 minutes before he had to cut me off and talk to the TV folks. Of course, I asked about security: What had the Secret Service done to secure the pizza place? Had he asked permission to hug the POTUS? He told me about packing away the knives and scissors and swore the embrace was spontaneous. At 2:55 p.m., he had to leave to catch a plane to New York, so we followed him out the door and got our ending. “If we hurry,” I told John, “we just might make it.”

I was driving, so John sent his photos from his laptop in the passenger seat on the way back. He promised to switch when he was done so I could start typing, but by then it was raining so hard we couldn’t see and there was nowhere to pull over. So while I was driving about 40 mph with my flashers on, I flipped through my notes (not safe, I know) and dictated the story to John, who typed and helped and edited as he went. When I got to the part about securing the pizza place, I dictated: “They had put away all the restaurant’s knives and scissors.” Then I turned to John and, jokingly, added, “But I guess you can’t do that with a hug.”

He laughed. “Nope,” he said. “You can’t confiscate a bear hug.” And I knew that was the best line in the story, the one I hadn’t written. I told him, “Type that!”

We filed the story as we were crossing the bridge back to St. Petersburg and pulled into the parking lot at 6:29 p.m.

Kruse

Kruse

Michael Kruse is an award-winning staff writer on the enterprise team at the Tampa Bay Times. He recently gave a TEDx talk and had a story make the anthology Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists. His last installment of “Just One Question” was with freelancer Justin Heckert. 




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  1. [...] story make the anthology Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists. His last installment of “Just One Question” was with Tampa Bay Times colleague Lane DeGregory, winner of the [...]

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