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Bad guys apparently don’t wear nice shoes

As editor of The Middlesboro News for just over three months, I’m still learning about the community. One of the best ways for an old newspaper guy to do that is to grab his camera and head out for some photos of life in the community.

I did just that Wednesday afternoon, hitting the streets of Middlesboro, as well as some rural areas of Bell County. My lens captured photos you’ll see in today’s issue, and they include people of various ages enjoying a bike ride, a young boy on a swing, and some outdoor scenery from Cumberland Gap.

During my adventure, I found a boy having a good time in a park near his home, and as I usually try to do, I snapped some photos from a distance without being noticed. I then approached him, told him who I was, and asked if it would be OK if I took his photo, and I asked for his name.

Immediately, this youngster stopped what he was doing, said, “Just a minute,” and quickly headed to a nearby house.

In the back door he went, and I expected that any moment an adult would come outside. I would tell them who I was, present my business card, get the information I needed and be on my way.

A short wait turned into a longer one, and eventually, I got back in my car and headed on my way, not really giving it a second thought. I just assumed this was a photo I wouldn’t be able to use. It happens.

Near the end of the day, a lady entered The Middlesboro News office, asking for me. I gladly went to the front to speak to her, and she was relieved to meet me, because it turned out the grandparent who was watching the young boy, who was this lady’s son, was alarmed by my presence and thought I might be a pedophile approaching the boy.

There’s not a lot of humor in this story, but the one funny moment did come when he told his grandmother, “No, he had on nice shoes.” Apparently, bad guys don’t wear nice shoes, at least in the eyes of this young fellow.

The mother, continually more relieved to see her son wasn’t in danger, shared a few laughs with us in the office, and she apologized to me. But it was me who owed her the apology. I had no intention of scaring her son or his grandmother, but that’s exactly what I had done.

As we continued to talk, I told her it was good that she had taught him to be cautious, and there was nothing wrong with him going to an adult. Heck, that’s what he should have done if he was nervous when approached by a stranger. It was a good move by the boy, and a good lesson had obviously been instilled in him by his mom, grandmother and others in his life.

As for me, I did learn a lesson. Despite having spent 25 years in the newspaper business, I learned that as times change, I, too, may need to make changes to how I approach parts of my job. I’m not sure how I’ll do it next time, but I will certainly be more aware when photographing people of any age, especially young people who may not have an adult around.

And I will be sure to wear nice shoes.