Bob Driver sig (new)

I'll never forget the day I interviewed Jimmy Hoffa. It was in Syracuse, New York, in 1959. I was a reporter for the afternoon newspaper, the Herald-Journal. I was 28 years old, finishing studies for a master's degree at the local university's journalism school. And I was scared witless, at least at that moment.

Why so? Old-timers will recall that, until he mysteriously vanished from the earth, Hoffa was a big-time labor leader, president of the Teamsters, the largest labor union in the USA. He was tough, ambitious, ruthless and mean.

"Driver, grab a photographer and get over to the XYZ Steel Works and talk to Jimmy Hoffa — right now." That's how the news business was often run, and still sometimes operates. No time to look at Hoffa's news clips; no time to ask the editor "Any special angle on Hoffa you're interested in?" Silly questions. The only thing the editor would ask me later was "Did you talk to Hoffa, and did you get a picture?"

Hoffa and several of his troops spotted me and the photographer as we got off the elevator. The henchmen didn't say a word or try to avoid us. They knew the drill. Just say what you need, and be quick about it.

My questions for Hoffa reflected the depth of my zero research on him. "What brings you to Syracuse? How long will you be here?" Real Pulitzer prize quality stuff.

My photographer got two or three shots of Hoffa and his boys. Not a smile or a frown among them. They left in silence. So did we. I don't recall what I wrote about the meeting. Probably background stuff I dug out of Hoffa's clips when I got back to my desk.

Hoffa later spent time in the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. I later met someone who claimed to have the inside dope on Hoffa's prison stay. "He didn't have a friend in the whole place," is the remark I recall. Could be true, or maybe not. Hoffa vanished in 1975.

My elbow-rub with Andy Rooney was much more pleasant. The year was 1975 or so, and I was writing editorials and The Driver's Seat for the Clearwater Sun.

I picked up my phone one day and there was Andy, whose newspaper and TV work I had long admired. Our conversation went something like this:

Andy: "I hear that Clearwater has a poor woman and child in dire need of financial assistance, and your newspaper has come to her rescue. Is that so?"

Me: "You got it straight, Andy."

Andy: "Well, maybe you should check out the lady's story a little closer. It's not quite as tear-jerking as it seems."

He was right. I don't know how Rooney did his detective work (his New York office was 1,200 miles or so north of the Sun's circulation area). We did some more digging, and we revised our heart-tugging coverage of the mother and child downward. End of story.

Rooney later had a speaking engagement in Clearwater, and came by the Sun's offices for a chat. I sat in on it, and enjoyed every minute of it. Except when I asked Rooney a not-very-sharp question (I've conveniently forgotten exactly what it was).

He sneered and said, "My god, Driver, spare me. That's a Barbara Walters-type question." I plan to have his remark engraved on my tombstone as one of my few claims to fame.

That's enough nostalgia for today. Maybe next time I'll write about the night some fellow sailors and I went searching for female company in the native quarters of Bizerte, Tunisia. It didn't turn out well.

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