Thursday, November 29, 2012

No. 553 – Journey from Mariabronn

Performer: Kansas
Songwriters: Kerry Livgren, Steve Walsh
Original Release: Kansas
Year: 1974
Definitive Version: Two for the Show, 1978

At the same time that I was helping to make Exit Chicago as much of a reality as possible, a different reality was closing in on me: I was about to leave school for the last time, and I had no job. I had interviewed at a couple of trade magazines in Chicago, but nothing came of it.

As November turned into December in 1987, I expanded my horizons. I didn’t want to work at a newspaper, because I didn’t think a daily deadline suited me, but you do what you have to do. I also began to consider writing-related work in nonpublishing businesses.

It was with that in mind that finally in December I applied to a job on the Medill job board at the News-Dispatch in Michigan City, Ind., and a tech-writer job at a downtown Chicago business of which I long since have forgotten the name. I heard back from the business first; they offered me an interview.

OK. Classes had wound up at Northwestern, and Jin and Scott had driven to Chicago to help me move my stuff home from Evanston. My time had run out, and my prospects similarly had diminished to zero. I scheduled the interview for the afternoon before we’d load up my and Jin’s cars and head home for the holidays.

Then the day before that interview, I heard from the News-Dispatch. The editor also wanted to interview me, so I scheduled it for that next morning. I figured that Michigan City was about an hour and a half away, so I should have enough time to drive down, interview and make my afternoon appointment in Chicago.

I dropped off Jin and Scott downtown, figuring we’d meet for lunch, and headed to Michigan City. The job was to be associate editor of the Harbor Country News, a weekly newspaper that covered the southwestern tip of Berrien County in Michigan. I didn’t want to work at a newspaper, but a weekly might not be too bad, and it seemed from the posting that I’d have a lot of responsibility. That interested me.

I interviewed with the editors of the Harbor Country News and the News-Dispatch and probably a few other people. I don’t remember much of the interview itself, although I got the sense that time was passing and I was doing well. They said they wanted the associate editor to live in Michigan to be the face of the newspaper locally. No problem.

They had me take a couple of copy-editing tests, and I knew it was going well when they asked me to have a seat in the newsroom so they could meet in private.

I remember feeling very nervous while waiting, with the hope that I might get an offer right then and there. As luck would have it, a couple of reporters came over to introduce themselves and chat, and it turned out I knew one of them—a guy by the name of Jim, whom I’d met at Northwestern.

He had been an undergrad at Medill, graduating the previous summer, and worked in the sports information department doing p.r. for the Northwestern baseball team. He said apparently I had done well if they were in conference.

I might have done well, but when the conference concluded, I had no job offer. I also had a major problem. The interview had gone much longer than expected, and now I wouldn’t be able to make it back in time for my second interview. I hadn’t planned it this way, but I effectively just put all my eggs in the News-Dispatch basket.

So I doubled down on the commitment. If you can believe this—I honestly can’t, and I was there—I NEVER called the other business, not only to say I would be late but to say that I wouldn’t be there at all but thanks anyway. (I did at least call from a pay phone to tell Jin and Scott where I was.)

I blew off the downtown business completely, which has to rank among the most irresponsible and frankly boneheaded ideas I’ve had the misfortune of conjuring. To this day, they don’t know whether I was killed in a car crash or just a jerk. I’m certain it worked out fine for them in the end: Who would want to hire some immature little boy?

But I didn’t want a professional job—that much was clear. If I couldn’t have a magazine job, I wanted a newspaper gig or nothing. So I left Evanston for the Christmas holidays with nothing save for a promise that the News-Dispatch would call me after the holidays to let me know of the decision.

As you know if you’ve been paying attention, I got the phone call on Jan. 2, 1988 and heard what I was hoping to hear. I lucked out: I was heading to New Buffalo.

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