A woman working at a Chinese restaurant refuses a man’s pennies when he tries to pay his bill. The man is indignant; a circus act of politicians and community leaders follows. All express outrage and call for change (so to speak). Clearly there is more than just pennies at stake. Fernandez handles this weird story with deftness and voiciness; he winks at his readers, even as he tells the tale straight.

One day, Fernandez says, he got a puzzling media advisory from State Senator Ruben Diaz, announcing a press conference the following day. The event would address this issue of pennies. (It was as if, Fernandez says, Diaz expected everyone to know about it.) Not sure of a story but intrigued, Fernandez did a pre-interview with Wayne Jones, the indignant customer, and Fernandez and his editors decided to go ahead.

At the press conference he found a strange scene: a hullabaloo, a sense of Big Controversy, and a little Chinese takeout place, its usual customers coming and going. Fernandez wanted to capture this weird justaposition.

He wrote the story the same day, going for a chronological account, including detail he thought would best convey the scene and sense of things (the exact coins Jones used, the meal he ordered, the plastic cup of pennies, the legislator’s reference to "American currency," the Chinese woman in tears, and so on).

Fernandez says he’s a fan of kicker endings. When he left the event he didn’t know if he had the material for one. But he heard from the story’s photographer, who’d stayed on longer, that Jones had later apologized. He called Jones to get the details. And so the story ends in its rounded and snappy way.

Fernandez says he got more reaction to this story than to another recent piece, a follow-up to a much bigger news event, a Bronx fire that killed ten people.

Read “When Pennies Fail To Pay the Bill, a Bronx Man Pushes for Change,” by Manny Fernandez

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