Friday, April 9, 2010

Swapping Stories, Sipping Whiskey

OUTSIDE OF WACO — We sat swapping stories and sipping whiskey on the back porch — five newspapermen with plenty of mileage on us — as March blew out through a haze of pollen. I calculate together we have logged somewhere around 180 years in this business. All those years working at newspapers guaranteed some fine tales to tell. But first we feasted on ribs, grilled shrimp, Uncle Dan’s famous white potato salad, and beans — all washed down with ice-cold beer. The whiskey came later. As Texas songwriter Radney Foster put it, “Good whiskey never done me wrong.”

Our host retired as a publisher a few years back, unretired last year for a temporary stint, and unvoluntarily re-retired the day after my association ended with the Longview paper. It’s a bit complicated. He did all the cooking — though he confessed heading down to Uncle Dan’s Barbecue to buy the potato salad. I eat beef and pork only rarely, since I battle high cholesterol and would rather not risk a second heart attack. The first one, albeit minor, gained my attention a few years back.

But that night I chomped on those ribs as if I were 19 years old with arteries as free-flowing as a sewer pipe once Roto-Rooter has made a pass. It was time to celebrate the five of us being together again — an event that may never recur, so my arteries were on their own.

We used to work for the same newspaper company and loved it. Two of the five grizzled guys are retired. The youngest of the bunch is still gainfully employed with a regular paycheck. Another is doing quite well with Web-site contracting work, after having been cut loose in one of those waves of layoffs that sweep through metro newspapers far too often these days. Then there’s me — recently unemployed but itching for work. It lurks just around the corner.

Two of the guys told a rather convoluted tale about a fellow at the paper where they worked who killed his lover and stuck her body in a barrel in the closet at the paper. The stench finally found him out. At the paper also worked a grumpy maintenance fellow, who one of the guys used to regularly visit when he was in a bad mood, because it always cheered him up. “No matter how bad my day was, I could always count on his day having been worse,” my buddy said. “He was just that kind of guy.”
“Dave did it,” the maintenance man said “He killed that woman.” Turns out he was dead-on. The killer spent 16 years in prison.

I had a hard time topping that story, as one might imagine. I think I told them about the sports editor at the Round Rock paper who tossed his manual typewriter out of our second-story newsroom, then walked in and handed the publisher 50 bucks in reparation. If I didn’t tell it, I meant to.

Three big dogs lay at our feet, as the wind shook the magnificent live oaks out back. Earlier, I had admired the longhorn cattle hanging back at a distance, and the burros waiting for someone to feed them. Someday I want a place with critters to feed.
The stories continued into the night — crotchety bosses, the time one of the buddies, for whom I was working at the time, was picketed in Nacogdoches by a wacko cult as he attended church. He’s a Methodist. Who pickets Methodists?

One of the reasons I’m loath to leave this business are the stories, the people you meet, knowing every day likely will be an adventure. If you find the right folks to work for, even in these uncertain times, running a newspaper is the most fun I know how to have with my clothes on. The trick is finding the right folks to work for, I’m learning.

So if things go well, that is what I will be doing again soon — newspapering. All five of us got in this business because we wake up every morning and can’t wait to pick up that daily miracle, praying to God there isn’t a misspelled headline or other egregious error. Even the guys who are out of the day-to-day still read their hometown paper as if it were their own.

Hanging out with longtime newspaper friends on a breezy spring night, swapping stories and petting dogs — heck, it doesn’t have to get any better than that. I told them I would stay in touch, urged them to do the same. By then any more whiskey would have laid lie to Radney’s sentiments about the stuff never doing one wrong, so we all wisely shuffled off to our separate beds at a reasonable hour.

I wish I had left them with my favorite farewell: See y’all in the funny papers.


  1. Here you are. I had trouble finding you after you left THAT NEWSPAPER. Wishing you good luck and happy trails. And warmest regards.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. Plan to be around for a while, Lord willing. Appreciate you taking the time to write.