Monday, February 10, 2014

No. 115 – I’m So Afraid

Performer: Fleetwood Mac
Songwriter: Lindsey Buckingham
Original Release: Fleetwood Mac
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: Live, 1980.

When my world fell apart over Labor Day weekend in 1988, I had but one thought: Get out of New Buffalo as fast as possible. The mere thought of going through another interminable winter post-Melanie was too much to take.

So I drove to Northwestern and met with the career counselor at Medill to let her know I was looking for a new job and to pass along my name to anyone who called. She had something right away.

The opening was for editor of a weekly in Manistique, Mich., and they passed along the name of the publisher and her phone number. I took a quick look on the map and saw that Manistique was way the hell up north, as in the UP. Woah. What kind of winters do they have up there?

Well, not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I called. The woman seemed pleasant, but the job did not. It would basically be the same job I had now, where I ran everything with a few correspondents to help, but even more so. For example, I’d have to develop my own film—there wasn’t a staff photographer, like there was through the News-Dispatch—who could do it competently. I also would have to do my own paste-up.

In short, this paper was a two-person outfit—her and me and mostly me. And because it was a small-town paper in a city that basically shut down in the winter, the pay was only slightly better than what I made now.

So, let’s see: I work 60 hours a week for $13K, and you’re offering me to work 75 hours a week for $14K in a town that’s smaller and more remote than New Buffalo is? Thanks but no thanks.

A month later, still in New Buffalo with the added benefit of a potential harassment suit, as I mentioned a while back, I was at wit’s end. Then I got a call from Northwestern: The Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill., was looking for copy editors. Was I interested?

I wasn’t, really. I wanted to move to magazines and go to a less timely deadline, but there had to be worse things than working in the suburbs of Chicago—like, for example, where I was working now. Sure, I was interested.

I sent my resume and clips, and the managing editor called and arranged an interview. A few days later, I was on my way to Arlington Heights.

I took the Tri-State around the city to avoid what I thought would be nightmarish traffic on the Dan Ryan and the Kennedy. I was going along at a fair clip as I drove past O’Hare. I’m not sure I’d ever seen it from this vantage point. Wow. Check that out.

I looked back just in time to see traffic at a dead standstill—my lane was blocked for construction. I slammed on the brakes and recognized instantly that I had no chance of stopping in time before plowing into the car directly in front of me.

I whipped my head around and saw that the next lane was clear, and without a second thought, I cut over and kept going. I avoided what a second before seemed a certain crash. I felt my heart begin to beat again and my breath exhale. OK, I’m ready for my interview.

I didn’t own a suit, so I wore my best pants, shirt and tie, with red suspenders, because I didn’t like to wear a belt. The assistant news editor at the time told me later that she took one look at me, noted the suspenders and assumed I was insufferable. It turns out, as I replied, she was right.

Like my interview with the News-Dispatch, I met everyone, because I wouldn’t be able to travel back and forth as easily as if I lived in the area. I met the managing editor, editor and news editor. I even drove out to the printing plant and met the Paddock family, which owned the newspaper at the time.

A few days later, I got a call back. The job was mine if I wanted it. The pay, $280 per week, was only slightly better than what I was making, but the workload was less. I saw my escape hatch, and I happily took it. Within a week, I had an apartment lined up in Mount Prospect where I wouldn’t feel alone and remote (or so I thought).

In taking the Daily Herald job, however, I chose the newspaper route. It wasn’t the avenue I wanted to take when I left Medill, but it was the one that I felt I needed to take at the time. I never looked back.

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