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Commentary - The Bee Line Chronicles



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Commentary —

The Bee Line Chronicles

By Jeff White

“Excuse me, would you mind if I ask you a quick question for The Newtown Bee?”

For the past 52 weeks – in heat, cold, snow and rain – I’ve asked that question. You’ve probably seen me: pacing in the produce department at Big Y; lurking among the library’s book shelves; island hopping at area gas stations, always with a notebook in hand and a camera slung over my shoulder.

I know I’ve seen you, looking at me suspiciously, no doubt concluding that I have something to do with the newspaper but at the same time hoping I don’t approach with a question and a prodding camera.

So we know each other.

And it was with the satisfaction that one gets when building relationships that I talked to six more of you just this past week and filed my 52nd “Bee Lines” column, one year after taking up its reigns.

That is right, for the past year I have been responsible for that innocuous column of photos and quotes that takes its place right next to the “Letter Hive” on page B15.

It has not always been back there, mind you. The first “Bee Lines” column appeared in the April 6, 1979, edition of The Newtown Bee, on the front page, right below the “Editorial Ink Drops.” The question was, Are the growing shortages in heating oil and gasoline forcing you to change your lifestyle, or do you expect it to?

Since that day, after a short stint below the paper’s front fold, it has bounced around: at the top of page two, along the bottom of The Bee’s old Commentary page, at the very end of the first section, toward the beginning of the second section.

But despite the column’s peripatetic existence, it has always asked Newtowners what was on their minds.

In the column’s early years, the questions reflected the times:

July 6, 1979: What do you do to pass the time in the gas lines?

June 29, 1982: How would you rate President Reagan’s job performance during his first year in office?

July 6, 1984: Would you like to see a national drinking age of 21?

But in general, “Bee Lines” has been, and very much still is, concerned with favorite foods, Mother’s Day plans, and best vacation spots.

Over the past year, I’ve asked about favorite sports, summer vacations, good books, and bad movies. I know how you like to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know why you like certain seasons, and why you do not.

Unfortunately, I’ve never asked you the one question that I’ve most wanted to: If you could be a gardening tool, what would you be?

Being the new kid on The Bee’s block, I was given this column, which I have since learned has passed through the hands of every other reporter on the paper – kind of like a rite of passage.

I was nervous that first Tuesday a year ago. I was ready with a weighty question – How do you plan to stay cool this summer? – yet I was terrified to stop you. Think about it. Think about tapping the shoulder of the person in front of you in the check-out line and asking him a totally random question.

But after that first week (it took close to two hours to get six quotes) I slowly began to perfect my approach.

If you looked angry, I didn’t bother you. If you were in a rush, I let you walk by. But if you were browsing, or sitting, I introduced myself. I found that gas stations, produce departments, and the library were good places for such introductions.

For such a seemingly benign column, I’ve actually learned a great deal. I know now most children would like nothing better than to become a professional baseball player who can eat macaroni and cheese at every meal.

I’ve learned that most adults consider their spouses and families to be their most cherished possessions.

I’ve learned that the very suggestion that I might be a member of the Fourth Estate can, at times, bring responses of sheer horror. At about the time the media was blitzing Americans on the JFK, Jr, tragedy, I stopped a man for a “Bee Lines” question. No sooner did I get my “Excuse me…” introduction out then he roiled, “Can’t you people leave that Kennedy thing alone!”

I think he was surprised when I asked about his favorite color.

But I’ve also had people say “no comment” to questions on Italian food, and “I don’t talk to the press” when asked what their favorite flower was.

And I’ve learned that no one likes to be photographed.

For every rebuke, however, there have been 10 great conversations, and that’s why I say it has been great getting to know you this last year. I’ve enjoyed hearing about your parents and grandparents, your daydreams and fears, your likes and dislikes.

Let’s face it. I might make you nervous with my notebook and camera, but the simple fact is that “Bee Lines,” in this reporter’s opinion, really is about talking to the people who inhabit our town. It’s about making unfamiliar faces familiar to others. It’s about letting people know what they think does actually matter.

I know there used to be a time when we stopped people on sidewalks to talk.

So, I’ll see you out there on Tuesdays, on a street corner or among bookshelves. We’ll talk for a bit.

Until then, how about tapping the person in front of you in the check-out line and asking her a question. It could be about anything. Maybe you can get the gardening tools one in for me.

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