Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No. 449 – Sowing the Seeds of Love

Performer: Tears for Fears
Songwriters: Roland Orzabal, Curt Smith
Original Release: The Seeds of Love
Year: 1989
Definitive Version: None

So there I was on an October 1989 morning, climbing tentatively onto a puddle jumper at O’Hare to jump across the Lake Michigan puddle and head to Flint for an interview with the folks at The Flint Journal.

The flight was uneventful, and I landed on time at Bishop International Airport, which at the time resembled the Benton Harbor Greyhound bus terminal in terms of charm, which is to say, it had none. A large black man held a sign with my last name on it. I felt like I had arrived.

Hank, who I later learned was essentially The Journal’s public ambassador, drove me into town. I was taken aback by the realization that even though I’d passed by Flint almost every year since I was a toddler, I’d never actually seen the city until now. It didn’t strike me as anything more or less than any other small industrial city. It wasn’t nice, but it wasn’t nasty—at least downtown.

I interviewed with Allen Wilhelm, the news editor who contacted me, and did a couple basic copy editing tests. They seemed to go well. Then I had lunch with several folks, including the news editor and the assistant news editor, at a nearby food court. Being taken to lunch was another first at a job interview.

After lunch, we went back to The Journal. I had one final interview scheduled, but the editor was unavoidably detained. In the interim, Mr. Wilhelm turned me over to Sue and Dan—a couple of copy editors who were just wrapping up work for the day and heading down to the break room for a smoke.

We chatted amiably enough, but I was struck by the realization that with the exception of one woman, I would be—if hired—the youngest person on the copy desk by at least a decade, if not two. At the Daily Herald, I was, at 25, far closer to the mean.

After awhile, another copy editor who was part of Sue and Dan’s crew came into the break room. He introduced himself as Randy, plopped down on a chair next to mine and looked me square in the eye: Do you know how to drink?

Sure. (In retrospect, I only thought I did.) Well, a few of us go to lunch at this place around the corner. Want to come? Yeah … can I go? As it turned out, I had some time to kill till my return flight, so I was allowed to go with them if I wanted, but just be back by 1.

This was a good opportunity, I thought. I had a chance to chat with people with whom I’d actually be working away from the newspaper where they likely would be less guarded. If there were any red flags about working at The Journal, I’d learn them now.

We went to a side street a block from The Journal to this real hole-in-the-wall called The Coupe. The Coupe was a two-room bar that sort of had a Spanish flavor in the first room, in which no one ever sat, and English in the second room, which is where the bar was.

The crew ordered lunch, but I already ate, so I just had beer—a whole lot of beer. One pitcher was followed by another, and the copy desk crew ran one funny newspaper story after another. OK, so I got along with these folks, but, whoa, I think I had a little too much to drink here. Which is smarter thing: Getting the interviewee drunk or getting drunk during an interview? I’ll leave that question for the philosophers.

Actually, I wasn’t really hammered. I just felt more full than anything, but I certainly had a little glow on when I got back to The Journal for my final interview, which I somehow managed without too much difficulty.

Finally, it was time to head home. This time, Mr. Wilhelm himself drove me. Along the drive, he made the offer. He couldn’t tell me salary, but he asked how much I was making, and when I told him, he assured me it would be more than what I was making.

The flight home was fairly bumpy—what little I remember of it. But what did I care at the time? Steve Dahl once said that the flattery of the offer is as good as it gets, and I was feeling pretty good when I landed back at O’Hare as the sun began to set. I had been flown in and—literally—wined and dined by The Journal. Flint can be all bad, can it?

A couple days later, I heard back: The offer was $500 a week, with a 5 percent shift differential for working early hours and the promise of a standard cost-of-living hike that all Journal employees got at the beginning of the new year. With a $1,500 repair bill staring me in the face, I was being offered nearly a 50 percent pay hike in two month’s time.

I had concerns about the age differential and, of course, going from the Chicago suburbs to Flint, but … I needed the money. Of course, I took the job.

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