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Chapter Nineteen: From Monroe Back to Alexandria

 

Friday morning, February 13th, it was time to cover the places in northeastern Louisiana south of the parishes visited on the preceding day. As always, I planned the day’s itinerary by plotting a route on Louisiana’s official highway map. I had circled the names of cities and towns which had a newspaper. Therefore, it was easy to determine a route that would allow me to visit the maximum number of newspaper offices in the nine-hour period (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) when I thought they might be open for business. This day’s travels, I hoped, would take me to Rayville, Winnsboro, St. Joseph, Ferriday, Jonesville, and Jena. Normally, three or four visits a day constituted a full day’s work. To start each day, I wrote down the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the newspaper offices, along with the name of a contact person, in my spiral notebook.

First, however, I had a radio interview in Monroe. This would be an in-studio interview at station KEDM-FM at Louisiana State University - Monroe. I should be there at 8:15 a.m. for an interview taking place between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. Sunny Meriwether, news director for this public-radio station, would be interviewing me. She had given me directions to the station located on campus in Stubbs hall. Meriwether was on the air when I arrived. While sitting on a sofa in the waiting room, another woman approached me and gave me her business card. Her name was Bernadette Cahill. She had a program on the same radio station about people’s memories of songs. Could I think of a particular song or piece of music which reminded me of an unusual experience? If I could, she invited me to tell of this experience or association on her radio show. Never one to turn down an opportunity to be on the radio, I immediately accepted. I put her card in my wallet.

My interview with Sunny Meriwether lasted about seven minutes. We first talked for a few minutes off the air. When the live portion began, Meriwether asked me about myself and my campaign issues. I launched into a monologue about employment and trade, not giving Meriwether enough time to ask follow-up questions.

Afterwards, I chided myself for misusing the opportunity. The goal of a radio interview was not to try to pack as many arguments as possible into the available time but to connect with the listeners. I should have been somewhat more laid back, interacting more with the interviewer. A little humor goes a long way. I needed to prepare a list of key points that would be good to include in interviews. In future interviews, I should try to cover a few of these points while carrying on an easier, more light-hearted conversation with the host. I later wrote a script for an ideal radio interviews, summarizing some of the key points.

After leaving the studio, I drove east to Rayville along I-20, covering the same stretch of highway that I had driven yesterday evening in the other direction. Amanda Smith, editor of the Delhi Dispatch and the Richland Beacon News, interviewed me for about ten minutes. I stressed the point that the purpose of my campaign was not to win the nomination but do well enough that the political establishment would take my trade proposals seriously. Smith said that idea made perfect sense. (We were, after all, in a part of the state heavily hit by job loss.) She took a picture of me. I was happy about this visit.

Then, after gassing up in Rayville, I headed south on Louisiana highways 137 and 15 to the town of Winnsboro (not to be confused with Winnfield) in Franklin Parish. I was interviewed by Rod Elrod, a reporter for the Franklin Sun. Like Mark Rainwater in West Monroe, Elrod said he knew about me from the email messages that were sent out during the past several months. I made a short presentation of my campaign issues and passed out literature. Having already a good idea of me as a candidate, Elrod said he would write something up for the newspaper. His article would also appear in the Ferriday paper since the two newspapers were owned by the same person. Afterwards, someone took a photograph.

Then Rod Elrod remembered a labor activist named Roger Beale, who lived in Winnsboro. I should try to get in touch with him. Elrod looked up the man’s name and number in the telephone directory and wrote this information for me on a slip of paper. I did try to contact Beale later but the number had been disconnected.

Still thinking about radio interviews, I called several stations in the area. Radio station KMAR-FM was located two miles outside of Winnsboro. The man who took my cell-phone call had a program in the morning. It was too late to be on that show. He suggested that I might stop by the station to record a short interview or, if I had time, wait for the live program starting at noon which was hosted by Regnal Wallace.

Wallace talked with me in his office after I arrived at the station. We were both killing time until the live broadcast but having a good discussion. Wallace had once been a sportscaster with a large radio station. He had interviewed some big-name baseball players in his day. Sportscasters, he said, are either grossly overpaid or underpaid. A “star” system governs this occupation. The little guys put up with their low wages waiting for an opportunity to become a star.

Sports broadcasting was his first love, but he had not been able to make a living from it. Wallace later became public-affairs director for the Louisiana Farm Bureau, an organization which provides insurance and marketing services for farmers. He told me about the state’s farm economy. Commodity imports were threatening price levels. People in Louisiana were interested in tariffs to help fight competition from Mexico and other low-cost areas. Wallace also favored a strong system of subsidies to help farmers stay in business. They want to compete.

I spent a good hour and a half with Regnal Wallace waiting for the live broadcast to begin at 12:20 p.m.. He would give me, perhaps, five minutes to make my pitch on the show. First the chairman of the Franklin Parish “police jury” talked for five or ten minutes about issues affecting the community. Then it was my turn to talk. My presentation, mostly on trade and employment, went more smoothly than it had earlier in the day. What worried me, however, was that the mid-day wait had put me behind schedule for my newspaper visits in the area. The conversation had been interesting but I really needed to make my afternoon calls because I might not be by here again during the campaign.

Relatively long distances were involved. I had planned to stop next in St. Joseph near the Mississippi river. This was about fifty minutes east and south of Winnsboro on country roads. About ten miles this side of St. Joseph, I received a cell phone call from Robin Meyers, editor of the Tensas Gazette in that city. She said she had left a message for me that it was not necessary to visit in person. The Tensas Gazette had a sister relationship with the paper in Oak Grove. They would use what Johney Turner had written. If I had known about her message, I might have saved myself thirty miles of driving to Ferriday. I had not checked the messages, though. I was still a novice with respect to cell-phone features.

The Ferriday paper, the Concordia Sentinel, did not have to be visited because Rod Elrod in Winnsboro had said that his article about my campaign would suffice for both newspapers. Though I could easily have paid a courtesy call on in Ferriday while passing through town, I decided against that in the interests of time. I then made another wrong decision. Looking at the map, I noticed that Vidalia seemed to be a good-sized city yet I had not circled its map as having a newspaper. That was probably an oversight on my part, I supposed.

Therefore, instead of turning right for Jonesboro, I turned left for Vidalia which was ten miles to the east on U.S. highway 84. It was across the river from the larger city of Natchez, Mississippi. I stopped at a Tourist Information office in town to ask directions to the Vidalia newspaper. Another customer kept the staff person tied up for a long time. Instead of waiting for her questioning to end, I thought I would drive across the Mississippi river to Natchez to be able to say that I had been there and take a few photographs. This consumed another twenty minutes. When I returned, the Tourist Office employee told me that Vidalia does not have its own newspaper. That community’s news is handled out of Ferriday.

As the clock ticked away, I raced back to Ferriday and then to Jonesville, fifteen miles west of Ferriday on U.S. highway 84. An iron bridge built during the Long administration marked the entrance to town. I had a hard time finding the office of the Jonesville Catahoula News Booster . Once located, I discovered that this newspaper office was closed for the day. It was several minutes before 4 p.m. Maybe the paper closed early on Fridays.I then placed a cell phone call to the Jena Times Olla-Tullos Signal in Jena, another twenty-three miles up the road. A woman in that office reported that the Jena newspaper closed at 4 p.m. and the editor had already left for home.

So, all my delays and detours earlier in the day had made a difference. They had cost me two newspaper appointments. There was nothing left to do but drive to the place where I would spend the night. Comparing weekend prices and locations for the Motel 6 facilities in Alexandria and Port Allen, I chose Alexandria which was forty miles southwest of Jonesville on Louisiana highway 28.

Another weekend in Louisiana meant another day for laundry and chores. It rained on Saturday, St. Valentine’s day. I placed a telephone call to my wife with the calling card. No longer ill, she was traveling in Fujian province across from Taiwan. The people in Minnesota were also doing all right. It was time to make sure that my monthly bills were paid. I wrote personal checks to certain vendors utilizing information on a prepared sheet. I found that I was running out of certain pieces of literature in my packet of campaign materials. These I replenished at the Kinko’s a mile down U.S. highway 71 from the motel.

I was also worried about the car. Had I checked the oil and transmission fluid lately? The brakes were starting to screech. The drums could be wearing out. I bought a tire gauge and checked the pressure. A Phillips 66 station near the motel did not do brake work but referred me to the Sears Auto Center about two miles down Texas Avenue. Yes, this service center could check the brakes before Saturday closing time. The brake drums were indeed worn out, but I would have to come back on the following day, Sunday, to have the work done.The brake job, a tune-up, two new tires, and an alignment cost me $650, charged to my credit card. For a car with 135,000 miles on the odometer, such expenses were perhaps inevitable.

While sitting in the Sears waiting room, I read literature from Verizon Wireless, my cell-phone provider, seeking to learn how some of the features worked. I also checked the time used in the current month. I was on a plan which allowed my step-daughter and I to use 400 minutes per month between our two phones before extra charges applied at $.46 per minute. I found that we had already used 426 minutes. I had been planning to switch to a plan that would allow more time, expecting that my cell-phone minutes during the campaign would be abnormally high. Before incurring further charges, I placed an order with a Verizon Wireless customer service representative to switch to a plan allowing 1,200 minutes per month, assured that I could switch back to the previous plan after the campaign was over. Had we incurred $11.96 in extra charges? No, the figure actually came to $52.00. That’s because Verizon Wireless prorates the time if a customer switches plans in the middle of a billing cycle. We did not have 400 minutes for the time already spent, but only 310 minutes.

I discovered that the same trick applied when I switched back in March after the campaign. Verizon Wireless wound up charging me $243.95 for the first month, despite my switching to a plan with significantly more minutes, and then $136.13 for the following month. (The normal charge had been around $75.00 per month.) The monthly statement did not explain how these charges were calculated although the customer service representative could explain them over the phone. It was totally baffling. What was a stupid person like me doing in running for President? Additionally, because I had switched from one “type of plan” to another, Verizon Wireless was making me start a new two-year contract, with heavy early-termination penalties.

That weekend I went to the Alexandria public library to see if I could find newspaper articles written about my campaign. I did find William Taylor’s story in the Daily Town Talk. The library had back issues each day for both the Alexandria and Baton Rouge papers but only Sunday papers for the Times-Picayune. I thought that the New Orleans paper must have run Ed Anderson’s story but could not find it.

Even so, this limited search of Louisiana newspapers inspired me to think about advertising. A notice in The Advocate said that for $250 one could place a 25-word classified ad in ninety newspapers around the state through the Louisiana Press Association. That would be an ideal opportunity for me. I also thought about placing retail ads in several large-circulation newspapers. The back issues at the library allowed me to look for positions in the paper that I might request, both for weekdays and Sundays. The first section, devoted to national news, seemed best. Preferably, the ad should appear in the upper right hand corner. The most I could afford would be an ad running one column inch. Since newspaper offices were closed on Sunday, I would have to wait until a week day to confirm rates.

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