OH in the Newsroom: There’s a lady in the lobby with an ugly sweet potato.

This blog was originally posted on Tea & Strumpets, Oct. 2014.

My most memorable moments in the newsroom often happen when I get a call from the receptionist that someone is in the lobby asking to speak to a reporter. Often it’s about “the story of the century,” and if we don’t want it, that person will just go to CNN! (So there!!) On a side note, it’s amazing how many people assume we have packs of reporters hanging out just waiting for a tip.

Anyway…I can always tell by the tone and volume of the receptionist’s voice how odd the request is going to be. For the really strange ones, her voice drops to a mere whisper, and I picture her turning her back to the visitor to hide her face from his or her view.

Such was the case earlier this month when a woman stopped in the lobby with a prize from her garden which she thought was newsworthy.

Receptionist: “Leah, uh…there’s a woman in the lobby with a, uh…an ugly sweet potato.” Her voice cracked on the last few words as she struggled to keep her composure. “She wants to speak to a reporter.”

Me (standing at my desk which is piled with about 30 books to be logged): “Did you just say UGLY SWEET POTATO?” I think my voice lifted a couple octaves.

Receptionist, chuckling under her breath: “Yes. Yes, I did.”

(We both knew it could be worse. A whole lot worse. It’s not like she was brandishing an Uzi. I mean, unless you’ve packed a potato with explosives, once you’ve hurled it at someone, its usefulness as a weapon is gone.)

Me (already scanning the room to see which reporter I could sucker…I mean, which reporter might have an interest in an ugly piece of vegetation): “Okay, um… Really??? Uh, let me see what I can do. I’ll call you back.”

And off I went in search of a candidate to speak with Ms. Ugly Sweet Potato. Like many reporters, ours are assigned specific beats. Sometimes beats overlap, but most are fairly specific. We have a freelancer who covers home and garden issues, but she doesn’t work in the building, so I couldn’t ask her. We have pop culture reporter who told me he’d gladly “fall on that sword” if he wasn’t already embroiled in a dozen other deadline issues.

I was stuck, which meant I’d have to speak to the woman myself and tell her she was SOL and had made the trek to the newspaper office for nothing.

Then, as if directed by merciful God Himself, my eyes landed on one of our photographers, the one who does the fun shots. She covers the local social scene, is the acknowledged building photog, and shoots staff and feature photos, among her many responsibilities. Plus she is an idea person with an adventurous soul.

She sat at her desk, blissfully unaware of what was heading her way as I made a beeline in her direction.

Me: “How would you like to get a shot of an ugly sweet potato?”

Photog (smiling): “Why, I’d love nothing better. Where is it?”

Did I get lucky, or what?

She met the woman in the lobby, took a couple snaps and got the story. Seems the woman had planted her sweet potatoes around the trunk of a tree this year which produced some twisted spuds. And of course we wanted to share her gardening adventures with our corner of the world.

The photo of this woman holding the potatoes published the next day. I wish I could show you the actual photo, but it’s copyrighted.

5107329867_8003afd895_zInstead, I found this photo by Sally Butcher (thanks to Flickr Creative Commons) that’s a close approximation of how the roots grew into an odd shape. (This really is odd–I promise, I didn’t touch this up at all!)

You can’t make this stuff up. 🙂



When not answering the “tip” line and supporting the newsroom staff, Leah writes a blog and weekly column about her local writing community. And when she’s not in the newsroom, she writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the redeeming power of love.Learn more about her writing at LeahStJames.com.

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