Man, I love this job.
Years ago, while still a little kid (years and years, and years and years, ago) I became fascinated by machines, especially cars. It was just all this stuff, metal and stuff, and it would carry people down the road. I began this study, in my little kid way, of finding out how cars worked. I had to know, it was fascinating.
I can, at the risk of this turning into a trip down somebody else’s memory lane, recall the moment I figured out how a camshaft and crankshaft worked together by studying a cutaway diagram in a magazine. (Journalism was important even then - I didn’t realize that ‘til the last sentence.) I kept going and by the time I was a teenager I was helping friends work on and hop up their cars (not always doing a good job, lots to learn yet).
This led to joining the Navy out of high school and learning how to work on jet engines, and the fuel systems, of, it turned out, fighter-interceptors. That was really interesting. Cars were cool with the whole move-you-over-the-ground stuff, but an airplane, the more-or-less same inert pile of parts could fly. Fly! Through the air! Really really fast! What a world we live in. Fascinating machines.
Did my hitch, got out and got an airplane mechanic’s license. Learned how to work on civilian airplanes (unlike a high school kid hopping up Chevys, mistakes here were unacceptable). Went on and got an inspector’s license, where, it turns out, the machine of regulations rubs up against the machine of flight and you have to make sure these two machines are able to act as one. Fascinating, so much to learn, so much of what’s learned to be refined.
That led to college, where the abstract mechanisms of thought and concepts were disclosed, where breaking a big idea into smaller ideas and understanding each of them as you shoveled it back into a whole, well, again, fascinating. And it was here, when I found out you could make a couple bucks writing, that I started working with the college paper, learning along the way the mechanisms of newspaper writing (more of a science than an art, by the way). Started picking up a few bucks writing for various publications, taking pictures (because pictures can be part of the story) and making a few bucks.
Talking to people.
That was the thing, the thing I learned early on that I hadn’t learned in other experiences, yet was apparent as soon as I undertook reporting: Everybody’s got a story, everybody wants to make sure you get their story right, everybody’s story is different. Wait, wait, it gets better: And all these stories fit together and make up a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
And that’s the life experience I’m carrying in my bag and I get dropped into the middle of Van Buren County, office across from the courthouse. As if God said “Okay, you’re up” and to take all this stuff, this fascination with machines and systems, with potential, with people, with stories, and make sense of it all.
I’m typing this having just driven home after a city council meeting. It’s my second city council meeting for this issue. In the past seven days since our last visit I’ve visited with - gotten the story from - gosh, all sorts of people: Law enforcement, including a couple police chiefs, people in charge of utilities, city council and quorum court members, and (it’s a little tricky, I’m worried I’ll leave someone out) people with businesses, people with clubs, people with dreams, people with families, people with friends, people who are happy, people who are sad, optimists, pessimists, (An optimist invented the airplane, a pessimist invented the parachute. That’s a free joke, you can have it) with muddy boot prints or expensive cologne in their wake. You just, you just never know. The conversation starts and they want you to hear their story, to get it right.
Oh sure, it’s not all a ride on the lollipop train. Lots of nights and weekends, the occasional “you got it wrong” or its long-time spicier friend “you stupid hippie” but, you know, every time you run the engine doesn’t mean you have the timing set right. Heck, at least they’re reading the thing, plus you’re always one week away from doing the next one better (this is journalism, other people write novels).
I get the stories, I share the stories, and, if it’s working like it should, the stories plug into making sense of a greater whole, a greater sum of parts. You, more to the point, share the stories, make sure they come in right. Lend them to me with the hope I’ll get them right.
Thank you, thank you endlessly; you’re the reason I love this job.