- Fred Spriggs

Way back in 1972 while learning the journalism trade in Louisiana, my chosen profession had created a desire in me to learn not only writing, but designing a newspaper page ready for printing.

Before the days of desktop publishing, layout in the early 1970s consisted of strips of newspaper copy (stories) waxed and stuck down on a page that was a facsimile of the newspaper‘s page.

It was called “cut and paste,” and stories were often edited to fit — or other stories were added to lengthen the column and fill the page.

While looking at countless newspapers across the country, I started noticing an alarming trend ... forget about airplane crashes, what really was killing the traveling public, according to the short one- or two-paragraph stories pasted onto the end of a column of type just to fill up the page, were killer bus plunges.

Time after time, I’d come to the end of a story and right there, filling up a couple of inches on the page, was the inevitable bus-plunge story.

Bus plunges must have held a fascination for newspaper designers back in those days, because in major metropolitan newspapers across the country editors chose publishing them over a million other short stories that could have filled the same space.

Bus plunges seemed to always happen in exotic locations: Burma, Djibouti, Mexico, the Italian Alps, northern Pakistan or some other stinking cesspool in a place most people had never heard of.

Sometimes, I would kind of feel sorry for the authors of bus-plunge stories. It’s easy to picture an American expat, dressed in a Panama hat and soiled white-linen suit, Lucky Strike dangling from the corner of his mouth, pounding out a couple of paragraphs on the local bus plunge on his old Smith-Corona manual typewriter (for younger readers, typewriters were used to write back in the dark ages before computers).

Oh, how the mighty have fallen when a writer is reduced to making it on the Associated Press wire service by writing an inane bus-plunge story.

Bus plunges seemed to focus on religious pilgrims, busloads of children, the elderly, India where overloaded buses often carry passengers on top and an alarming number of farm animals.

Gone are the days of cut-and-paste newspaper design; all we have to do now to read all the bus-plunge stories we would ever want is to get on the Internet and Google “bus plunges.”

There seems to be a current trend for a high number of buses plunging in China. Hopefully, this is just another payback for giving the world the virus.

Some bus plunges are downright disgusting. I remember reading one a few years ago where a bus had rolled off a rickety bridge in Uganda and plunged into a raging river below, infested by what the story writer described as “herds of crocodiles.”

However, the new “politically correct” Fred suddenly noticed an alarming trend.

Buses only plunge in Third World countries.

Go to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia and most European countries with the exclusion of the Balkan nations, and buses don’t plunge, they “crash.”

Going back to me being socially aware and more politically correctly attuned, I had to wonder if it was First World hubris that led to stories in developed countries where buses only crashed, while buses in less-developed nations plunged.

Sure, safety standards on buses in a lot of Third World and Fourth World countries I’ve travelled in aren’t up to Western standards, but why call a bus accident in one place a crash while in another it becomes a plunge?

And true, the roads in developing countries don’t come anywhere close to our interstate highway system, the Brits’ “M” system for freeways or the infamous German Autobahn.

When I start worrying about injustice involving bus accidents, I have to start asking myself, have I now reached the state called “woke?”

Maybe I should send an e-mail to the Harry formerly known as “Prince” and his American wife, Meghan, asking if they could start a foundation to collect money to fight this injustice.

Or perhaps the world being put on “pause” is starting to get to me?

Fred Spriggs is the former news editor of the Webster County Citizen, a position he held for nearly 15 years. He now lives in rural Stone County in retirement with his wife, Julie, who also is a native of Seymour.

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