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Only in Central Falls

July 5, 2011

So I was working on a piece for NPR about Central Falls and its teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. The editor sent me out at to grab some “man on the street” but she wanted business owners. I asked around for a colorful place and Megan Hall suggested Stanley’s Famous Burgers on Dexter Street.

But between my parked car and Stanley’s was Quality Auto Repair.

Now there are some shortcuts in radio when it comes to creating scenes. People know generally what diners, barbershops and auto shops look like and what people do there, so I gravitate toward those businesses because there’s no extra explaining needed.

Well, I see a nice man lingering behind the front desk of the auto shop and he’s willing to talk.  I first thank the radio gods, then fire up the recorder. We then have a color and frank conversation about what Central Falls used to be, the trouble it’s in now, and what he thinks put the city in the condition it’s now in. I rush back to the station, brag about my luck, and with a few edits wrap up the story for NPR.

Then I opened the paper the next day.

Turns out that nice man at the auto shop was the father of Richard Aubin Jr, who was arrested that  same afternoon on embezzlement charges. When I told this to the Central Falls police chief he says it sounds like we crossed paths.

Meanwhile, the conversation with my NPR editor went something like this:

“Hey, it’s Catherine in Rhode Island. So Central Falls, uh, there’s a problem.”

“What is it?”

“Um, the guy I interviewed, there are embezzlement charges. He’s not just your regular business owner.”

This was a new one for the editor who has worked for NPR for some time. It was certainly a new one for me. And now I needed a new person for my story. Out went Richard Aubin, and out I went back to Central Falls and Dexter Street where I found City Councilman Pat Szlashta. We talked about the woes facing his fellow council member and the fate of the city. He choked up, tears swelling in his eyes as he thought about the city’s future.

The story airs this week, but you probably know the details: Central Falls is broke, state didn’t give it any money, and funds will run out in the John Hancock pension in October. Only in Central Falls.

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