Working Christmas Eve, when it falls during the week, is pretty standard for any journalist, if only for a few hours.
Holiday shifts are usually anybody’s guess as to if it’s going to be a particularly eventful day, or a quiet one.
Monday it was a busy day, which took us to Marion where a standoff/hostage situation was taking place. Thankfully, it all turned out OK. More on that here.
I arrived in Marion about 3:30 p.m. and relieved reporter John Hult, so he could head back to Sioux Falls. My marching orders were to stay in Marion until the incident was over or it was 10 p.m., whichever comes first.
I got as much information as I could from law enforcement, ran into the only gas station in town before it closed at 6 p.m. and grabbed a mini pizza and some beef jerky, preparing myself for a long night.
In these types of situations, you never know how long it’s going to take to end. It could be a few hours, it could be more than a day, it depends on the situation.
Every town is different, but I’ll tell you a tip I’ve had good luck with: In small towns, if you need to write, and it’s after 5 p.m., a bar is a great place to go. Not to drink, but just a warm place to sit, spread out your notes, get a little information, and maybe grab a burger that small town establishments are famous for. Unfortunately, the only bar in town closed at 5.
So, it was 7 p.m., and I was sitting bundled up in my vehicle facing City Hall, so I could spot the Turner County Sheriff if he came back to give updates. We weren’t allowed anywhere near the scene, so that was the best spot to be to get information.
I’d turn the vehicle on for 15 minutes or so to warm it up, then turn it off to conserve gas. It was bone-chilling, face-burning cold outside, and I couldn’t imagine how cold the law enforcement having to stand outside in that weather were.
I’ll admit, as I gnawed on a chunk of cold beef jerky in my car, I began to feel a little sorry for myself, and everyone who, instead of being with their families around the table about to eat a warm meal, was outside in the cold, waiting for this incident to end.
This was my first Christmas Eve not spent with my family in Iowa, and I was bummed.
Eventually, I noticed my phone was dying, and I had no car charger. I decided to go into City Hall, which had remained open as sort of a command post for law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs. I went inside and asked some firefighters if I could please charge my phone for a bit, they welcomed me warmly, and said I’m welcome to stay as long as I like.
The Marion Volunteer Fire Department and Marion EMTs were on standby in case needed, the EMTs for medical care and the firefighters for any other needs, like helping to land a helicopter, they told me.
We sat on metal chairs, and as more and more firefighters EMTs came in, we started talking about what our Christmas Eve plans were and how much longer we thought the incident would go on.
Someone had brought in a box full of food, along with burgers to grill. The owner or manager of the grocery store in town opened up the store and brought three pies, as part of a makeshift Christmas Eve dinner.
They offered me food several times, but I politely declined, though it smelled delicious. I did take them up on their offer of a Diet Coke, and I tried to pay them for it, but they refused to take my money.
We all listened to a scanner someone had to keep tabs on the situation as the firefighters and EMTs ate food, talked and told stories. When it was all over, at about 10:30 p.m., they all wished me a Merry Christmas and safe travels, and I thanked them several times for the hospitality.
It was nice.
A lot nicer Christmas Eve than I expected, and definitely one I’ll remember for years to come.
Hope you all had a great Christmas.