OK, I'm Moping. Just Go Away.
When interviewed for a job heading up radio news operations in Wyoming, an interviewer actually said, "I guess this will pretty much be your last broadcasting job, eh?" I like to think you don't have to send up smoke signals to get my attention, but in fact, it might require a mineshaft cave-in.
Things are happening so fast in the world of politics, it's tempting to write about it every week. Liz Cheney is run over by the Trump Train, but emerges as a truly national figure, with no party to claim her. After all, the Democrats already have a Manchin. Two, in fact. Our corpulent ex-Commander in Chief continues to flounder in a sea of pending charges while a rescue party of maladroit minions can't seem to find a life preserver. Rand Paul, who gives new meaning to the term ineffectual, upon hearing Trump may be charged under the Espionage Act, and in a fit of political tourettes, actually proposed repealing it. Every Russian and Chinese agent is quietly cheering, Go, Rand, Go!
But let's save that for next week. This has been a week of reflection for me, and I hope you'll forgive my sharing it. And as I approach 73 in November, I'm not fond of the reflection I see as I shave. I have lost friends of late, people who were my contemporaries, colleagues I worked with in news, my college girlfriend (with whom my wife got along famously), old classmates, my childhood next door neighbor and first crush just this week, sports heroes, film and stage legends. It's that time in everyone's life where the mile markers are no longer career achievements or salary increases, but friends lost along the way.
My high school class will be holding our 55th reunion in September, and I haven't been to one since the 10th. Our graduating class, all early boomers, consisted of 550 kids in a high school in Pasadena, Texas. There were a lot of us, but the gathering will be no more than a large handful of folks. Many are gone, and many are ill. As I said, it's that time of life where you dread a phone call from a family member, or an email from an old work buddy.
And that brings me to a conundrum we all will face, some better than others. When is it time to hang it up? I was reminded of that when the redoubtable Serena Williams announced her retirement, to the relief of every other woman playing the game of tennis. Completely dominant for so many years, she has seemed almost human and therefore, beatable in the last couple. With children now, and facing the long downward glide path of all top notch athletes, she decided to avoid the pitying glances and whispers, "Oh, remember how good she was?" I have a lot of respect for that.
Contrast that with a pitcher like Roger Clemens who tried to grab just a couple of extra high-earning years by juicing up and thus forfeited not just his reputation but a certain spot in Cooperstown. Frankly, when you're still good at what you do, it's difficult to say goodbye. Case in point, Tom Brady. He retired long enough to drink a cup of coffee. Of course, in his case, he is still so good the only way to keep him out of another Super Bowl would be a trade to the Cowboys.
The other motivator is when it just stops being fun. I have labored in the broadcasting trade for 52 years now, and when I parted ways with a very large, very conservative ownership group last year, there was some mutual relief. We had made real progress in our news product under my dubious leadership, but I am also very bad at the corporate maze of sometimes mindless rules. Also, herding a newsroom full of millennials and fresh grads isn't as much fun as it sounds. And it sounds awful.
Actually, most of the kids were hard workers who in some cases, will go on to bigger and better things. But there were just enough walking, talking bundles of unexplainable privilege and temperament, too young to realize you have to earn the right to temperament. Just enough to make even my weekends tense and my phone always within reach. When I was initially offered the job by an old colleague from our days at KHOU in Houston, he actually began the conversation about the company with these words, "OK, I know what you've heard." Turns out, what I'd heard was pretty much spot on. It was time to go.
And thus came a decision. What to do now? Do I freshen up my old anchoring and reporting reel? Even I can't kid myself that much. I recall going out to do an investigative story with a veteran photographer about 12 years ago and on the ride in the news car, he asked, "So, Rog. When the hell are you going to retire?" That photographer had a tradition of buying a small, superhero doll that fit the personalities of each of our reporters...Wonderwoman, Batman, etc. Here is the one he gave me.
When approached and interviewed for a job heading up radio news operations in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming, which I did for 4 years, one of the interviewers actually said, "So, I guess this will pretty much be your last broadcasting job, eh?" Now, I like to think you don't have to send up smoke signals to get my attention, but apparently, that is the case. In fact, it might require a mineshaft cave-in.
So, as I sit at my desk right now in an old Texas house built in 1875 , I have to say that this is really what I always wanted more time to do. I wrote for magazines and monthlies along the way and even had a regular column in a Houston city magazine. But it was always a side gig, something you pounded out on a weekend; car reviews, profiles of prominent Houstonians, even a travel piece or two.
As someone whose idols are Hemingway and Raymond Chandler, I wanted time to see what I had to offer in that regard. Oh, I'm not completely done with microphones. I do a little news on the local radio station here behind the pine curtain in East Texas, but basically, the chance to work with some writers I truly admire, thanks to the hard work and creativity of our editor, Chris Newlin, is exactly what I hoped retirement might be. I am even doing a rewrite on a detective novel I cranked out when I was 30; sort of a Chandler homage. OK, a Chandler rip-off, but that's the point of the rewrite.
So, what I always thought was going to be a tough decision sort of happened when I wasn't looking. Actually, it finally hit me after all the hubbub of selling a house, moving across the state and settling in here. I came up for air and finally realized that, damn! It happened! I'm semi-retired! I think the confirmation that it was the right path came when it dawned on me that I didn't really miss it.
Oh, the nineties, especially, were a great time to be in a major market doing news. Covering the Wall coming down in Berlin, and later, German reunification. The first Gulf War and then other trips to the middle east after various peace negotiations or intifadas were underway, the Irish troubles, the Pope in Mexico, the deck of the QE2 or the cockpit of a B-17; all were what made it an alluring way to make a living.
At the end of that eventful decade, I interviewed the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent Peter Arnett. After so many years in the field, CNN gave him the normally coveted White House beat. He told me he was bored stiff, and I said that I finally understood what he meant. No doubt you have had experiences as satisfying in whatever your profession, and it makes it that much harder to say goodbye to all that, doesn't it? But, in all fairness, my daughter's boyfriend is a very talented young reporter and anchorman. It's time to turn the business over to his cohort. Well, OK, like I got to make that decision.
But we Americans are so wrapped up in what we do, whether it's media, law enforcement, business or accounting, it is literally our identity. That's not a particularly new observation, but it is new to me.
Like a lot of you, I have a desk full of old business cards that mark my years in the trade, and now I only have me. I'm an early boomer and I know a lot of my contemporaries have already faced this, but I'm a slow learner. My wife made the observation the other night that there were a lot of drug ads on TV now. Well, we boomers were always the target demographic, the bulge in the curve, the pig in the snake's belly. From the Pepsi Generation to stretch Levis to Prinovil or Norvasic, we had money to spend. We're getting up there, but can still shuffle our way to the drug counter at Walgreens.
The last time we visited our best friends in all the world up in Dallas, visits that were always champagne-fueled nights on the town, I felt different. Now, I'd really prefer to sit and talk about the world with my favorite people, still champagne-fueled, though. And yes, he and I talked about our ailments and our kids. Oh lord, I've become a New Yorker cartoon.
So without getting too maudlin, or any more than I already have, it took maybe the last big shuffle in our lives to realize it was time to throttle back. Oh, I still have a Wrangler I'm restoring...
I still yell and write about political idiocracy, we plan trips to places we haven't seen yet and lately, given climate change, Karen and I have even been looking at Ecuador. Cheap, scenic, temperate and just the kind of place to shake off the cobwebs on a pretty beach. And for her, the sun sets on the correct side, over the ocean. So, in the words of another idol, Groucho Marx, you go Uruguay and I'll go mine. If it happens, I promise I'll send everyone a postcard.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.