Where to begin? Well, how about “The End”? This is it for me at the Tucson Citizen. This effort will be my final column after 32 years as a full-time employee and a year writing once a week.
My column has been put out to pasture. I’ve been a deskman, reporter and sports columnist, and now I’m a budget cut.
It’s a strange assignment, but if the absence of my presence is what the newspaper needs, at least I’m helping the cause.
I actually retired Dec. 22, 2006, the last dinosaur on Planet Newspaper, and was given the opportunity to write one column a week.
It’s been fun, and the Saturday gig kept me in the game a while longer. Had it lasted just a few weeks more, I could have bragged about being a 50-year man in the business.
My wife, Marge, and I moved to Green Valley at the end of October. I am the only man down here who doesn’t play golf. If this gets out, I’ll be evicted, so when I’m standing in line at the grocery store or some public place, I practice my backswing and putting stroke.
The truth is, I have neither a backswing nor a putting stroke. What I do have is a lot of great memories from a newspaper career that began Feb. 2, 1958, at the Carthage (Mo.) Evening Press.
Friends occasionally have asked about the most exciting events in my career, and in the interest of precious news space, here are just a few:
• At the 2001 Final Four in Minneapolis, very late one night or early one morning (I forget which), I mistook a real bus for media transportation. I realized something was wrong when I saw the outline of windmills and farm buildings passing by. We were about 35 miles into the Minnesota hinterland.
The story doesn’t stop there. The bus driver was convinced he was dealing with a mental patient, and as I live and breathe, he turned around and took me back to the arena.
The story doesn’t stop there, either. Afraid of being alone in a scary part of the city, I looked around for someone to walk with back to my hotel.
I found a large group of people dressed in green. It didn’t occur to me that they were Michigan State fans until one of them asked where I was from. Arizona had just beaten Michigan State to advance to the national championship.
No matter, the good-natured Spartans fans let me accompany them.
It doesn’t quite stop there. Pretty soon a van came by and half a dozen of those Michigan State fans jumped in, pulling me with them.
The driver was bombed, and he ricocheted off one curb to the other, zigzagging all the way toward downtown Minneapolis. I could just see a mention in Steve Rivera’s notes column for the Citizen the next day: “Fellow reporter arrested with other drunks after game.”
About eight blocks from my hotel, I told my new friends, “This is where I get off.”
One of them was sober enough to notice there was no hotel in sight. I said, well, my rental car is parked nearby. I didn’t have a rental car.
• In San Antonio one year, after writing breathless prose about another basketball game, I went to the NCAA hospitality room in the media hotel and asked for a $2 glass of communion wine. The place was almost empty. I decided to stroll out on the veranda, a sort of patio on the 15th floor, to enjoy the downtown lights.
I contemplated the absolute beauty of San Antonio, one of my favorite cities, and thought deeply about the Alamo and the meaning of what took place there. A while later, I decided to call it a night (or early morning) and discovered I had locked myself out of the hospitality room, which, of course, was now closed. Not a soul in sight.
Then I pondered death by hypothermia. An hour or so later, screaming and pounding on the glass door, I managed to get the attention of a janitor, who unlocked the door and saved my life.
• Riding in the first row, window seat on the right side of a media bus on the Santa Monica Freeway in California one day decades ago, I heard a loud “BOOM!” and felt something weird in my right ear. I pulled tiny pieces of safety glass from my ear – after the driver said he saw a young citizen with a rifle raise up from shrubbery and shoot the window.
I was thus introduced to the modern phenomenon of freeway snipers.
• As I was watching the Giants play the Dodgers one night, sitting in the upper deck of the right-field stands at frigid Candlestick Park in San Francisco, my tam-o’-shanter-type cap was removed from my freezing noggin by University of Arizona baseball coach Jerry Kindall. He yanked the cap down over his ears, and it was one of the funniest sights I’ve ever seen. J.K. could have auditioned for “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”
• Many years ago, I spied the actor Lee Marvin early one morning in an otherwise empty Tucson airport.
I yelled out, “Shelleen!” He used that name for one of the two characters he portrayed in the movie “Cat Ballou.”
Marvin grinned and drew on me, aiming a deadly finger in my direction.
There actually were ballgames and stuff. Pretty exciting, too, some of them. But I’ve already written those stories, so I thought I’d finish with real-life drama I experienced . . . along the way.
Take care. See ya later.