Mike's day started routinely enough. He'd stopped in a Carroll County landscaping store to purchase stone for his property just north of Berryville.
The congenial, soft-spoken retiree told me he spent several minutes conducting business before walking out to find a large woman seated in the front seat of his car.
"Excuse me ma'am, but why are you in my car?" he asked in a way most might consider unduly polite under the circumstances.
She looked squarely at him and explained rather matter-of-factly that she had climbed inside to admire his dog (who might have been even more bewildered than his owner).
She then hurriedly excused herself and walked to a nearby car, climbed in and drove away.
At this point Mike was wondering what had just happened. But as he plopped into his driver's seat, things were about to become even stranger.
There, he discovered a law enforcement officer's badge/wallet and other items that clearly hadn't belonged to his mysterious visitor. He decided his best move was to drive to the sheriff's office, report what just happened, and turn in the belongings.
Inside, he spied a Carroll County deputy seated at her desk and began relating the strange story. But before Mike could get more than a few sentences into explaining, she stopped him to say she knew all about the woman he was describing.
Wait just a minute now. How can that be when he'd barely started his story? Mike wondered if this could possibly become even more bizarre.
It seems the woman in question had been released from jail a short time earlier and driven away in an unmarked patrol car parked outside. A gaggle of officers had been searching for her ever since.
Mike realized he'd likely managed to catch the escapee in the act of trying to abandon the patrol car at the landscaping store and steal his vehicle.
"It was surreal," he said. "She told me she just wanted to pet my dog when I asked why she was in the car. I thought that was bizarre enough. But when I saw her take off and found the officer's belongings where she'd left them in my front seat, it hit me that I was in the middle of something beyond strange."
Among those items, besides a deputy's badge/wallet, was a partially completed ticket book and even some ammunition. "She had to have transferred all that into my car," he said.
He said afterwards he didn't see a word in the local paper about what had happened. Not all that surprising since it doesn't strike me as the kind of cringeworthy item that police would list in their public log.
So, valued readers, as we huddle in our homes in fear of contracting the ongoing coronavirus, rest assured there's a bizarre world still swirling around us out there. As Mike (whose last name will understandably remain unshared) can attest.
WRITING FOR WHOM?
It's fairly common for folks I meet to wonder how I come up with topics for my three weekly opinion columns. I have no doubt colleagues who share this page are frequently asked the same question.
Anytime a person shares their personal views and opinions publicly (thereby opening themselves to those apt to disagree and agree) it should prompt that person to ask what they are attempting to achieve with the words they are typing.
For instance, do I write primarily to try to influence readers into believing as I do? Do I share thoughts in some misguided belief I have all the answers? How about writing to entertain or inform others, or perhaps gratify myself and my life's personal agenda? Am I trying to bedazzle those who write for other papers?
In short, I'm asking what are the driving motives behind anyone who regularly produces newspaper columns.
While it's a good thing to ask myself this question in hopes of establishing a healthy perspective, I've come to believe such soul-searching can be an exercise in wisdom for everyone who practices this craft.
As a result, those who regularly read this space after 20 years of visiting with you likely realize I prefer to mix things up for the sake of hopefully holding your interest and attention. The way I see it, the worst thing I could do would be to become predictable and thereby appeal to only a portion of potential readers.
I could be writing about a female prisoner who deserves her freedom one day and the best rural Ozark restaurants or a city's chronic sewage woes the next.
I might even undertake a years-long mission to speak for our threatened national river, write about one man's freakish experience (see above), or take a deep dive into the distant murder of a teenager from a small Ozarks town.
Truth is, very often I'm not immediately certain what I want to share until I ask myself what I believe you should know or would find interesting, entertaining, informative, or relevant in your lives.
So there you have a dab of introspection behind this very column about, what else? My columns.
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at email@example.com.