Seeing one's words in print is a thrill, and having mine appear in the Buffalo News was extra-special. I saw it as vindication of sorts for a "career" in the newspaper business that has been as checkered as that tablecloth in your favorite Italian restaurant.
My first foray into the field, delivering the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch at age twelve, was hard work. It was an afternoon paper and mine was a fairly small route (60 customers), but one day a week I had to rise at 4:00 AM to get the Sunday edition on their doorsteps by dawn. Even worse, when the holiday season came 'round the paper's weight quadrupled with sales inserts. I did okay in that first job, or at least no harm because, unlike my next employer, the Dispatch is still in business today.
My next job was with the now defunct Buffalo Courier-Express, one I can't claim to have gotten on my own merits—it was due to my high school buddy, Peter Thompson, whose father was head of distribution. As you may have guessed, I wasn't writing for the paper, I was simply delivering it again, though not door-to-door this time.
My assignment was as a "hopper", so named because I rode shotgun on the trucks that delivered to stores and individual carriers, and hopped on and off with large bundles of papers. Loading trucks and tossing around those heavy bundles was hard work, but what really drove me crazy were the hours. Although the Courier-Express was a morning paper, its first edition actually came out the night before. Thus, we had to show up at 9:00 PM, load and deliver that first edition, then leave, only to return again at 1:00 AM to deliver the final editions. That weird split shift, combined with the overnight hours, played havoc with my body clock, and I resigned after only a few weeks on the job. (Sorry, Pete. Thanks anyway!)
After that last job I avoided the news business until I was a freshman at Niagara University. Feeling oppressed by dorm rules that included mandatory study hours and lights out at 11:00 PM, I put out my own paper—a mimeographed broadsheet titled, "The Underdog"—as a way to voice my discontent.
Either I was very persuasive or my timing was inordinately lucky, because after only two issues the administration began working to change those rules. Then, in true oppressor fashion, they co-opted me by giving me a column in the official campus newspaper where, left with nothing much to complain about, I quickly lost my journalistic fervor and walked away.
The lowest point of my newspaper "career" occurred, not because of something I did, but because of something I didn't do. Right out of college I was working at the now defunct (is there a pattern here?) Circle Art movie house and became acquainted with Anthony Bannon, The Buffalo Evening News' film critic. Hey, I says to myself, movie reviewing looks easy enough, so I asked him how one went about getting a job with the paper. He advised me to write to the Managing Editor, which I did, and was soon told that I had an interview scheduled. Bannon warned me, however, that my letter of introduction included numerous misspellings, a mortal sin in the newspaper business, and that I'd best be prepared for the worst.
On the appointed day I went to the News building and paused outside the area where the interview was to occur. With my hand on the doorknob I looked through glass at a large, open room. People were dashing back and forth amidst a haze of cigarette smoke, and I could hear muffled sounds of clacking typewriters and shouted conversations. It was a Capra-esque scene of barely controlled chaos, typical I suppose of any 1960s, pre-computerized city room, but to me it seemed overwhelming. Intimidated, I nervously withdrew my hand from the doorknob, silently slipped down the stairs and went out the front door, never to return.
Both the News and I survived my failure of nerve that day. The News, needless to say, is still publishing (though barely), and I went on to a satisfying career in another field.
Still, after experiencing the gratification of finally seeing my words printed in Buffalo's newspaper of record, I'll always wonder what might have happened had I walked through that door.