25th

I’m counting Iowa.

A week ago, I went to Omaha and back. I was out of my house for about 40 hours. I didn’t take a lot of pictures. We didn’t do enough sightseeing to do it.

I did the math and realized Nebraska would be my 24th state. Unless you’re traveling to North Omaha, it’s impossible to get to the rest of the city without going to a portion of Iowa that wound up on the western side of the Missouri River when it changed course. I’ve reached the halfway point of visiting all 50 states. I was on the ground in a vehicle in Iowa, so I’m including it. I made that ruling because I count it when I enter cities and counties in Virginia.

If I didn’t, I truly never went to Falls Church until earlier this year, which would have made it an incredibly small outlier in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years or so. And my first official trip to the city of Suffolk would have been my sophomore year in college, instead all of the times my family rolled through it from the time I was an infant.

Anyway, along with going to an awards dinner, we did a little touring of the city. We saw some of the Old Market and ate at Upstream Brewing Co. I had a burger made of Omaha steak. It wasn’t the best restaurant burger I’ve ever had, but it is No. 2, knocking down a place in Charlottesville. Out of all the gourmet burgers thrown at me, Smitty’s still is first (Theresa and I once had the menu memorized).

After that, we wandered a bit and wound up at the Imaginarium. It was a labyrinth of things from my childhood and other interesting items both old and new.

“This is the kind of place where, if you go down the wrong aisle, you end up in an ’80s fantasy adventure or an ’80s slasher film,” I said.

I was tempted multiple times to buy something, but then I thought about having to get things through the airport.

The awards were bittersweet, because it’s great that we’ve gotten recognized for our work, but what was covered was terrible. That’s the problem with a lot of journalism awards — we put a lot of human suffering on display, hopefully for the betterment of society or a collective vow to never do that again, so it sometimes doesn’t feel quite right to be feted for hard work we did to ensure a heinous event goes down in history. I put off writing this because I thought I would be able to say something more profound, but I also think I’ve reached my limit of justifying being proud of covering a murder trial or bringing down a corrupt official or writing 5,000 words on someone who is destitute and on drugs.

Anyway, we then got caught in a torrential downpour on our way to having nightcaps at the bar of Sullivan’s Steakhouse. It was there that it was cemented that #rvatank was national and global news.  (I’d like to point out that, if you scroll all the way down, aaaaaallll the way down, I am the origin of the hashtag.)

The next day, we were going to walk across a pedestrian bridge to Iowa, but we were dragging a bit and just toured the main Omaha paper. After that, we rode through Iowa again and headed back to Virginia via a three-hour layover in Atlanta. We had a layover in Atlanta going. It marked my fifth and sixth times in that city without seeing anything more than the airport and what’s visible from Interstate 85.

I say I’ve been there.

awards

Over the past few days, my newspaper won the top prizes in its category for the Virginia Press Association awards and my wedding photographer won a Pulitzer. I want to make a joke about the candid photo of me on my main page now is priceless, but Ryan took a photo of a tragic event.

It makes being enthused about this award awkward.

I’m sure you all know what happened in Charlottesville over the summer. I’m also sure you know that Charlottesville is no more racist than your average American city, so don’t be afraid to come here. In my younger, single days, I would have found a belly of the beast to live in out of spite, but I have a wife and want to have children and have no problem with doing it here. Other than wanting to land in a larger metropolitan area a few fives of years from now because my wife is from New York and I know there are aspects of life in an Alpha City she misses with every fiber of her being.

But we were struck with tragedy. Unlike other municipalities that responded to America’s most recent public racial strife with the swift removal of Confederate symbols, Charlottesville is hampered by state law. The City Council made decisions in part to challenge that law, which made it the target of provocateurs. That situation escalated quickly, and we’re going to have to deal with the fallout for years to come, unfortunately. The only comment I will make is that our state government needs to get out of policing the minutiae of local government, especially since that largely doesn’t apply to fiscal issues. Being a Dillon Rule state keeps Richmond from bailing out cities like Petersburg, but Richmond can force cities and counties to keep war memorials they no longer want. I say we should let them have more home rule, and if it leads to statues going up or coming down with each successive city council or board of supervisors, so be it.

But I am wavering into being subjective.

And I digress.

I can’t imagine how it felt to capture something that marked the end of someone’s life, that marked the end of the illusion that America has moved beyond the mess that caused my mom to graduate from a segregated high school and made my grandmother fear traveling on unlit roads at night and enter a local grocery store through the back door even into the 1990s. If I were him, and it wasn’t my last day in journalism, I don’t know if I could have come back for another day of journalism.

And I’ve seen some things.

It’s part of the reason I know I can’t hack it as a beat reporter. I can handle that stuff, but my life cannot be just the accounting of human suffering. Those people need a voice, but I can do that but so many times. In my early reporting days, I tried to write fully about murder victims. It got overwhelming.

I wish it didn’t have to be this way.

But we have to do this.

If we don’t show humans at their worst, who will?

Who will tell these stories in an attempt to shame us all into being better to each other?

Who will pop the bubbles of the insulated?

Who will show those in similar situations the cold comfort of not being alone?

This is why I do this. This is why so many of us do this until we can’t anymore.

Collectively, as journalists, we can’t give up. And please don’t give up on us. Our humanity depends on it.

desperation

A few days ago, I saw this Washington Post analysis of homelessness and hunger among college students.

I scoffed. This is nothing new.

I knew at least one homeless college student. There were days when I was absolutely famished and didn’t want to ask my family for help because I was supposed to be an adult and doing this on my own, briefly had three jobs and, in theory I was guaranteed — up until my senior year, when my dorm was demolished there wasn’t enough housing and I could have been homeless if not for my fraternity brothers and I renting our unofficial official house —  three meals a day from the dining halls.

This didn’t end after graduation. After a few months of only eating beans, getting the occasional Wendy’s sandwich, gorging myself on whatever baked goods showed up in the newsroom and willing my credit card bills (and gas prices) low enough for some meat, I asked my mom for food.

From 2006 to 2009, my mom bought me groceries. Occasionally, she still does. I also try to raid her freezer whenever I visit. It’s more of tradition at this point. Or she sees a killer deal through the connections she still has from the restaurant industry.

Typically, whatever she bought me was all the food I was going to get for about a month. On paper, I made enough to live. I got paid between $22,000 and $24,000 a year at my first paper. I don’t exactly remember, but I know I made less than $12 an hour and absolutely did not reach $25,000. My rent was about $600. I had utility bills and a car payment I wasn’t expecting to have. I had college-related debt to pay back. From the start, I would get my check stub and realize that the entire thing was spoken for. And then some. I had a bank at the time that gave everyone up to $500 to use, minus overdraft fees, after hitting zero. You had 30 days to get your account back into the black. I mastered having about $5 in on the 29th day and then jumping back down to -$480.

I was constantly tired. Journalism is not an 80-hour job. We pretend it is. I’ve never worked at a paper where people put down ever hour they worked. I don’t see how some people have a second job beyond reporting. I walked into every day of my first six years or so of journalism not knowing when I’d get home at the end of the day. Even when I had food to cook, I’ve come home too tired to cook it. I went a day or two without eating because I didn’t have time to eat or had no time to prepare anything. When I lived alone in Petersburg, I’ve passed out because of that on more than one occasion.

On one particular occasion in early 2007, it took me entirely too long to have time to cook the chicken I put in the fridge to thaw.

It definitely had started to spoil.

I was in no position to waste food.

Yes. That happened.

Despite heavily seasoning it and baking it until it nearly was burnt, I almost couldn’t bear to eat it. Luckily, I had some liquor, so I figured it would help kill the germs or help induce vomiting later.

I kept it down. I don’t know how, but I kept it down.

This still feels embarrassing, although a dozen years have passed. It’s because I went too long being too proud to ask for help. And then, when I asked for help, I was too ashamed to ask for more help.

You’re better off looking back at the time when you had to eat at a soup kitchen despite being in your chosen career than looking back at the time you cooked and ate rotten meat.

dozen

It’s gotten the point that it doesn’t feel like yesterday.

I was in Petersburg with Simone Tiffany Crystal — my 1989 Toyota Camry — James Cecil Wheatley — my two-year-old plant — my futon from middle school, which served as a couch, LSW2 — my laptop from Christmas 2001 — and the bed I bought when I moved into the Delta Nu Chapter house in 2004.

I had no idea what to expect. At the time, I knew I was covering Dinwiddie County, Virginia State University and Richard Bland College. I had done no research into Dinwiddie. I blindly walked into a contentious Board of Supervisors meeting. A kid horrifically burned himself when he inadvertently poured gasoline on a fire. I lived in a city that, while I was there, was the “most dangerous” city in the state per capita, but never made the official list because its population was under 100,000.

I loved every second of it.

Until I increasingly disagreed with the new managing editor and became the managing editor of the paper down the road.

I had no idea what to expect. I had to hire a new sports editor, the publisher fired a reporter, I had to fire a reporter and we fought tooth and nail to restore the reputation of a publication that often was seen as a laughingstock.

I loved every second of it.

Until I felt like it was time for me to move on and a storm nearly destroyed the building and I stayed on because I didn’t want to leave them in the middle of a disaster and then headed to a copy editing position along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.

I had no idea what to expect. I was hours away from everyone I knew and loved, made a nearly blind decision as far as housing, tried to balance a long-distance relationship and saw the writing on the wall when the company was bought out.

I did not enjoy that experience overall.

I then briefly returned to the paper I left before winding up here.

I won’t belabor modern history.

But this in less than two weeks, I’m moving away from the Richmond area, most likely for good.

That means that I’m also leaving where I began my journalism career, the Tri-Cities, most likely for good. I’m running out of reasons to go down there. Here’s what I said about that yesterday:

This pains me infinitely more than leaving Richmond. I learned how much I didn’t know during my time south of the James, and I had my biggest triumphs and failures there.

I love the Tri-Cities because it is a beautiful mess and because there are so many people working hard to remove “mess” from that phrase. It does not deserve the bad rep it sometimes gets. It’s a victim of so many things, including the state’s city-county divide, its own leaders at times and the changing face of commerce and industry in America.

Sure, I may rag on it and the contretemps of its governments, but you don’t get to unless you’ve lived there and worked there and rooted for it on its worst days. As recently as last month, I’ve driven to downtown Hopewell and made some of the rounds I made when I was an editor there.

I’ve half-seriously said I want to retire on some acres in Dinwiddie. Although I want my wife to go home to New York at some point, I hope at least a vacation place in that area is in the cards.

Here’s to a dozen years in journalism. And here’s to years to come.

1926-2018

The beacon of truth that shines upon the just and the unjust grew a little dimmer Jan. 18. The Hopewell News of Hopewell, Va., has closed its doors.

I was once the editor there.

I was 25 years old the first time I stepped into that building, and I had no idea what I was doing. But, damn it, I had ambition.

But I had a great mentor in the publisher at the time, Jim Smith. And I had an invaluable staff that I eventually had to pick myself.

I went with my gut a lot. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and ask for advice. Sure, we made mistakes along the way, but when we were on it, we were on it. We went from the town joke to garnering enough interest to print a third day. We broke news sometimes days before our daily and television competitors.

We kept long hours.

We went as far as Richmond and Roanoke to bring forth stories of local interest. We almost went as far as New Jersey, and I’ll never let Katy forget that she kept me from breaking news on my vacation.

We grew and learned and loved and fought and headed off to greener pastures. Those of us who stayed in journalism became better journalist because of it. Were were a training ground. I firmly believe every journalist needs a stint in a small town.

We kept tradition going at a young paper in a young city in an old state. We penned the first drafts of history. We held elected officials accountable. We launched social media. We ventured into radio. We took home awards. We kept going because people said that we couldn’t or shouldn’t.

We provided a voice to the voiceless. We were that cliché of people who buy a failing business or abandoned building and then get a ragtag group of people armed with broom and paintbrushes and make it work.

We forged a kinship in that converted car dealership that went beyond being coworkers.

After we moved on, we constantly checked in, rooting for the underdog we once were a part of.

And now it’s gone. Abruptly. All of that grit and determination snuffed out.

The Hopewell News ranked as one of my greatest accomplishments. It still does. Nothing — not even the deletion of the online archives — can take away that great push we made during my tenure 2008 to 2012. It made us into who we are. For some of us, it made us into damn good newspapermen and women.

To name a few, Katy is now an editor herself at a major metro. Along the way, her tenacity brought forth sweeping change in state and local government. Jonathan quickly grew into his role of being the voice of local sports in the Tri-Cities. He just launched a new venture into Central Virginia sports.

And here a sit like a proud parent whenever I hear of the accomplishments of those journalists who were under my care those years. Even if they left the industry, like any rational person would do, knowing that I played a role in their journeys warms my heart.

I will forever miss The Hopewell Publishing Co., and I hope someone assumes the mantle for the betterment of the Wonder City. We need small-town papers more than we do national outlets. What goes on in your city hall affects your daily life more than anything that ever happens in Washington. The internet alone can’t fill that gap between your front door and the statehouse. A viral post from down the street without full context is just that: a virus.

“You can’t get your news from Facebook. People need to know that,” said the final editor, Adrienne Wallace, in an article in the first newspaper I ever worked, The Progress-Index.

Those words are very, very true.

24) ‘the sirens of jupiter’ by the olympians

If you haven’t noticed, I like almost every song that has trumpets and/or trombones in it.

And, here we are: The theme of right now. I know how to make an entrance.

Well, this one is kinda an exit, too. This most likely is the last entry for a bit.

I am content, though. While I’m back in Charlottesville, there is something I want to do, hence the vagueness and planned hiatus. This cunning plan has nothing to do with leaving that newsroom or the company, though. As you have seen over the course of 24 songs, I took a lot to get here. Twice.

Hopefully, this project quickly come to fruition and I’ll back sooner rather than later. And then this old new beginning will continue.

23) ‘after the legions’ by the calm blue sea

Although I was (and still am) excited about Charlottesville, I paused for a moment to think about how much Richmond and the Tri-Cities shaped my life. I was really the first time I did that. Every other departure was rushed in some way.

I’m leaving RVA, perhaps for good this time. Like this is as final as leaving Hampton.

Although I was 21-going-on-22 when I got here, I feel like I actually grew up here. I mean that as in truly maturing. I learned so much from Stony Creek to Tappahannock, from Burrowsville to Blackstone. That’s 5,280 square miles of Virginia in which I’ve had a byline. An area more than twice the size of Delaware. An area nearly as large as Connecticut. For roughly seven of the past 11 years, that has been my Central Virginia, my stomping grounds, my home.

I’ll eternally be grateful for the 804. I’ll always miss the Tri-Cities and the backwoods of Dinwiddie and River Road in Prince George and Murphy’s Law in Chester and everything the Fan has to offer and living in and around Church Hill and the Varina-Enon Bridge and Henrico’s Varina Managerial District and Ashland Coffee & Tea and so much more, but it’s time to finish what I started in Charlottesville.

And, perhaps, start something else.

And, perhaps, start something else.

Next: Beginning again

22) ‘sea of dreams’ by oberhofer

BoJack sent me here.

It’s a little weird to be talking about things that just happened. Well, for the past 13 years, this blog has been talking about things that just happened. I mean, I’m not recapping things that I mentioned not too long ago.

Toward the end of the summer, after having a BoJack Horseman binge and having it haunt me (but not as deeply as “One Hundred Years of Solitude” — that book hit me harder than “Colony of Unrequited Dreams”), I had heard of a departure in Charlottesville.

This was after all of the unrest that occurred.

I was at work in Richmond the day of the event that now pops into everyone’s head when one says “Charlottesville.” I mentioned several times that it most likely would have been a day I would have been working. I wouldn’t have been downtown, but I would have been receiving all of the dispatches and getting them online through all channels.

It also bothered me because I lived not too far from the Downtown Mall (Renée and I often walked there), and from my years of living there, it wasn’t the Charlottesville I knew and loved.

Also, it made me realize it would make people think twice about going there. That couldn’t be me. It made me realize that it was all the more reason to go back.

For reasons I won’t go into because it goes into internal workings of the company I love and have worked for over the past five years, I figured going back was a long shot. Additionally, I was committed to live in Richmond despite not being exactly where I wanted to be in my career.

I sent a text to a former coworker joking about coming back.

Then I got asked if I’d seriously consider it, because it was potentially doable.

Emphatic yes. After talking to my wife, of course.

But I had to do it.

In an exchange almost as swift as the first time I was hired there, I was on my way back.

That was a little more than a month ago. The next entry is the penultimate song, and perhaps the penultimate post here for a while. As I said before, there’s something I have to do, and I can’t do it with certain distractions. I went as far as changing my license plates a few moments ago, which is something I never thought I would do.

When I’m serious, I’m serious.

Even if this doesn’t work out, the actions I’m taking were overdue anyway.

21) ‘3 o’clock’ by blonde redhead

You wouldn’t know it from the songs that have been in this playlist, but Blonde Redhead is my favorite band. Its latest album, Barragán, is my favorite album of theirs after Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons.

Blonde Redhead’s latest EP, 3 O’Clock came just as I was thinking about moving beyond the copy desk in Richmond. As I have mentioned before, I’ve always wanted more, so reaching my 2006 goal wasn’t going to cut it. At the time, I was certain we weren’t’ going to leave Richmond, so reservations, I decided that I had to look elsewhere. There had been several transitions in that newsroom and there wouldn’t be another avenue for me to move up again unless someone quit or took an obscenely early retirement.

To me, this song, which is the title track, sounded like the beginning of an end.

I figured I would leave that newsroom before 2017 ended. I wasn’t expecting that when I arrived, but leaving Charlottesville when I did took my career in a direction I wasn’t planning. As every day marked the longest time I’d ever worked at one company, I wondered if those days also were counting down.

Next: It started as a joke.

20) ‘ms. garvey, ms. garvey’ by roy hargrove big band

It took me months to pick this song. I honestly considered ending the playlist completely with “Minor Soul” or, since I was in the same company, leaving it at “Git It Awn.”

I picked this song a little more than a year ago after I grew tired of being a reporter, didn’t get the editor job I wanted on the management side and wound up becoming a copy editor.

For those of you who have been here since the very start in 2004, you probably recall that my original goal in life was to be a copy editor at this newspaper. I wasn’t 100 percent happy there because, as I put it, “It was my goal in life 10 years ago. That means I expected to be somewhere else 10 years later.”

This was me trying to inject something lavish into it to deal with it.

I fully planned on dealing with it. As recently as August, the plan was to deal with it and continue the plan of renting a place with a yard for Missy until my mom’s house was sold and I threw that money into buying a house for myself.

I was getting back into the swing of things, but as I have said numerous times, things in Richmond just weren’t the same anymore. I’m not going to belabor it.

I kept telling myself I wouldn’t go back to Charlottesville and made a joke out of it.

Meanwhile, I still read the paper every day and never bothered to fully disentangle myself from some of the mailing lists.

In retrospect, my tone of “I’ll never go back there” was identical to how I swore I wouldn’t date Renée again … although I visited her in New York almost every time I went to Newark.

Next: August.