Fifteen years ago, an off-duty police officer hung out in the newsroom of the Whidbey News-Times to ensure nobody killed me.
The reporters were delighted to have him, though he did his best to remain professional as we pelted him with rubber bands and buffoonery.
But Marcia Van Dyke, the publisher at the time, was genuinely worried and hired the mustachioed cop to keep the newsroom safe. She would later spin an enhanced yarn about the experience at the occasional cocktail party.
James Praefke, a Navy man convicted of charges related to explosives, had broken out of the brig in Bangor by casually strolling away. There was reason to believe he may not have liked a story I had written that quoted his soon-to-be ex-wife, who had been moved to a safe location by the Navy after the escape.
Yet the fact that an armed man was there to guard us from an angry survivalist with a penchant for grenades didn’t faze the newsroom. At a community newspaper, every day brings something new and, after a few years on the job, nothing seems out of the ordinary. Until this year, that is.
On a given day, a reporter might interview a U.S congressman, write a story about a duck in diapers and field a call from someone who was angry about a story but hadn’t actually read it — which happens a surprising amount.
At the time, 2005 probably seemed like a year that could never be topped. Hurricane Katrina was followed by Hurricane Rita. There was the war in Iraq, bombings, earthquakes and the Michael Jackson trial.
The pages of the News-Times were filled with a cornucopia of happy, serious and weird community news stories.
Voters finally passed a bond issue to build a stadium at Oak Harbor High School and the district started a hot lunch program for the first time.
A nationally known UFO expert investigated an epidemic of “half cats” being found in Oak Harbor and concluded extraterrestrials were up to no good. Horses were being attacked at night.
There were stories that were bigger than we realized at the time. Island County held an election entirely by mail-in ballot for the first time. The Navy announced that Growlers would be coming to the island.
Of course, 2005 has nothing on 2020. It seems fitting if Praefke, a human chameleon who has the record for being on the NCIS most-wanted list the longest, may finally be unmasked at a time when just about every face in the country is hidden behind masks.
It’s the year that keeps on giving.