It wasn’t supposed to last too long, this job. I’m not saying I had some grand plan at 23 years of age, but when you’ve messed everything up monumentally and you just want a job that gives you some money, you don’t think you’re taking a job that will turn into a career and take up most of your adult life.
But that is what happened.
Twenty-nine years ago, in August 1990, I walked into what was then the Monroe County Advocate and applied for a job in the mailroom. I’d been told by the Sweetwater library director there were openings in the back of the newspaper building. I was working part time as a one-man cleaning crew at the library and thought if I could combine two part-time jobs, I could make full-time money.
It’s amazing what you have the energy for when you’re 23.
It took a couple of months, but on Nov. 2, 1990, I started working in the mailroom. Then, it was into the darkroom and from there the newsroom. And, I had no idea it would last this long.
Now, just a month short of 29 years exactly, it’s coming to an end. Sorta. If you pick up an issue next week, or the week after, you’re going to see my name and think, “Hey! What’s this guy trying to pull? He said he was done!”
Well, in terms of a full-time job, I am done. But because I love writing, and because I have a lifetime invested in the small-town newspaper business, and because The Advocate & Democrat has been my second home for so many years, I’m going to be what is called a stringer.
I’m still going to write this column and keep an eye on police and court stuff, you just won’t see me wandering around the county. Not as a reporter anyway. I’ll have to get some kind of job and maybe it’ll involve me driving around the county. Never know.
The newspaper business, which once walked the land like a truth-seeking giant, is not what it used to be and changes have to be made for any chance of survival. I’m one of those changes.
But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here so I can look back at 30 years of memories before I get back to writing goofy stuff next week that will somehow fire at least one person up.
When Glenn Frye, a singer with the Eagles rock band, died a few years ago, I heard somebody say the Eagles’ music was so popular because it was always playing in the background while you did stuff. For me, The Advocate & Democrat has been my Eagles’ background music.
I don’t consider my life to have actually begun until I started at the paper, but that’s an easy thing to say when a 30-year period starts when you’re 23. I don’t remember much before November of 1990, though I suppose a lot of people have tried to block the 1980s from their memory.
The biggest thing was the paper being the background as it’s where I met my wife, where we dated for four years, and have spent the last 23 years married. Subsequently, it’s been the background for everything we’ve ever done. All the vacations we took, we always knew we’d be getting back to work at the paper when the dreaded next Monday came around. She was one of the changes also, by the way.
When I say the newspaper was the background for my life, I’m not saying it came after everything else.
It has pretty much been my entire adult life and one of the most important things I’ve had. Everything I have, every single thing, has been paid for with money I made writing for the newspaper. I never got rich, but I got to write for a living and got to buy a few things. But it was the writing that mattered, not the things. It was always the writing.
I’ve known a lot of people over the years who have worked with me at the paper, but for the last nine years, it’s been me, Tommy Millsaps and Jessica (Cross) Kent in the newsroom. We sarcastically call ourselves the Three Musketeers because when you’re in the newspaper business you become sarcastic. They were part of the changes also.
I’ve also known a lot of people I met through the job, and to all of them, I will miss you greatly, though with the advent of the internet and phones with more computing power than the rocket that landed on the moon, you might still hear from me now and again.
But most of all I will just miss the business itself. I still consider the job of reporter to be something not everybody can do and I probably sound egotistical to say that, but it is a unique job that requires a certain level of talent, skill and, yes, hubris.
In the end, I want to thank the newspaper world, and The Advocate & Democrat, for letting me have the past 29 years. It’s been good, it’s been bad, it’s been exciting, it’s been dull, it’s been everything I can think of and nothing I expected.
Twenty-nine years is a long time. It still seems like it was the blink of an eye.
I wouldn’t trade all those years for anything. I hope the years feel the same about me.