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I can hardly grasp the fact that I am writing this on January first, 2005. For the life of me, I can’t remember the date of the first column I wrote. I know it was for a long since gone Pittsfield paper. Somewhere in the depths of my filing cabinet I have a copy and one of these days, I’m going to find it.
The filing cabinet is a two-drawer affair I’ve had for years. It is crammed with stuff I’ve written over the years. Three newspapers are represented. One is the aforementioned paper, another is a short-lived Brewer paper, and the third, my best loved Rolling Thunder Express.
I started my journalistic career by submitting a profile of a female fire fighter. This was published. My next attempt was a column I called That’s Life, which you had to imagine was accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders and shake of the head as I recounted my experiences trying to cope with the hazards of every day living – from trying to open a package wrapped in plastic to crossing a busy street.
This effort was also successful and I was invited to become a staff member on the paper. I was delighted and thrilled as I was sent to cover local news items as well as writing my column and feature articles. I was also told to carry a camera and take pictures of whatever was going on.
I’d never been much of a photographer. Most people have multiple snapshots of their children, recording the growing up process from pram to prom. Not I. The first thing I had to do was buy a good automatic camera. I remembered an interview with a professional photographer in which he said he always used a Vivitar 35mm automatic for setting up the picture he wanted to take. This was a good enough recommendation for me, which is why I bought my still beloved Vivitar. I learned a lot about the business of taking good action shots plus portraiture during my Lois Lane years.
When the paper closed its doors I was offered a job with a new newspaper just starting in Brewer. The job description remained the same – the column every week plus news items from three towns. The owner was an ex-truck driver who had always dreamed of publishing a weekly paper. Unfortunately, he discovered that it takes a lot more know-how than he and many others thought to publish anything – especially a newspaper. I always remember a conversation I had with the late, great Ted Wiggins, publisher of the famous weekly paper in Ellsworth, Maine. He quoted another great newsman, White of Kansas, who once said, “Every man thinks he can do three things, as well as, or better than everybody else. One is diapering a baby, the second is making a good pot of coffee, and the third is publishing a newspaper. Most men find they can’t do even one out of the three, especially publish a paper.”
How true, as the would-be Wiggins in Brewer soon learned. For one thing, he too often “forgot” to pay employees, especially me and the other females who worked for him. For another, he decided to save money by hiring students from the University of Maine to do the important work of laying out the paper, and most important of all, being Editor-in-Chief. Ours was an enthusiastic 19 year-old Journalism student, who, being terribly avaunt garde, always wore a baseball cap – backwards. If you don’t know how vital good layout people and editors are, you haven’t had any newspaper experience.
It was not surprising that the venture collapsed. I was a bit at loose ends until I saw a copy of the Rolling Thunder Express, which, at that time, had another name and was more of an advertising broadsheet. The one I saw did have one feature article, which led me to take the best and boldest step of my life. I walked in the shop and asked if they would be interested in hiring me and my column.
The rest is history. The young couple who owned the operation were not only wonderful people, they were whiz-bangs at what they were doing. I don’t know about diapering, but they made great coffee and published an equally great weekly paper. I’m only sad that I can no longer work at my desk doing my Lois thing, but I still enjoy communicating with the column.
So, bring on 2005. Holy cow, can it really be two thousand and five?
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