let’s try a new change

For the first time since 2008 (and that technically doesn’t count), I have taking a new position in the same general area as the place I’m leaving. My commute will go to about one song to between one and three.

I’m working for another media outlet. It’s not a direct competitor, so it’s not a move based in Daniel Plainviewesque “I told you what I was going to do” like when I jumped from Petersburg to Hopewell.

I’ve spent six years with this company, nearly all of it with this paper. That is half of my career. I had fully intended to go the distance, but there is some uncertainty coming up and this opportunity arose in the midst of it. I’ve framed it as I would feel like an idiot if I didn’t at least try for the position and also if I managed to get it and turn it down. It was time to make another leap of faith.

My job is a lot like others I’ve had before — I think I only have to tweak one sentence in the “About Me” tab here. I’m excited about helping guide this publication into its next phase. I’m also excited this being a change not made of an overwhelming urge to leave where I am. It’s like the first time I left that newsroom. Although a lot of reporters (and editors) have come and gone there, it’s always felt like a family. It’s just time for me to leave home on my own terms.

My new place currently has a relationship with the old one, so it’s still not like I’m truly gone. What soon will be my former newsroom always will have a special place in my heart, much like The Hopewell News, may she rest in peace.

My biggest problem is that I really, really, really want to go by E. Devon Robinson on the things I write (this is a thing I did from middle school to 2008), but I don’t want anyone calling me Devon. No one’s ever called me by my middle name.

July 27, 2007

I’ve covered two things that involved brandished handguns. One of them was in my general direction. There have been other implied threats and tense moments, but the moment below stands out the most.

Hours after it happened, we made light of it in that way that some people fall into to cope. After the shooting today at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, I thought of it again. Although nothing bad happened to us, it’s not one of those instances where you look back at it and laugh. One of our reporters recently got a message from someone who had been holding a grudge for years. Occasionally, we journalists wonder if that irate caller actually will do something. But, despite what gets hurled at us, we journalists can’t let it stop us.

As Capital Gazette reporter Chase Cook tweeted in the wake of the violence, “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” 

Here is most of a post I made here 11 years ago when I worked in Petersburg. I made a few minor changes for clarification and truncated it because it referenced another post that you can’t read.

Because of the way my newspaper building is set up, people who want to physically submit letters to the editor or notices for lifestyles or anything directly newsroom-related have to come up winding creaky set of wooden stairs to get to the newsroom.

Today, a woman came up to submit a letter to the editor and request a story. She was in our police blotter a while ago after being arrested on charges of prostitution, solicitation and trespassing. She wanted to clear her name or something — we reporters weren’t really paying attention because our online editor talked to her first and then directed her to our managing editor, who was about to leave for the day.

Since the editor was ready to go home, the situation was a bit out of our control and it happened in my county, he was both trying to get rid of her shift her over to me. I wanted none of it, so I dialed a state police officer who was about to retire. I got his voice mail and started to leave a message.

Suddenly, she just started screaming for my editor to run her letter and write a story because she was not a prostitute. She asked a man in a car for $5, she said. He asked her what she’d do for it, she said. She was not a prostitute, she reiterated. Then she yelled, “I’m gonna go postal! I’ll make the massacre at Virginia Tech look like a kindergarten!” and stormed down the stairs.

Our editor followed her for a bit, which in retrospect was foolish, and when he returned told us that she almost knocked a customer down on her way out. He then called police.

As you may recall, this was about three months after the Tech shooting. She had a no-trespass order served against her. I don’t think I ever checked to see the outcome of her prostitution-related charges. We began locking the steel door between the newsroom and the rest of the building after that.

3-35

It’s my fourth wedding anniversary.

I turn 35 in 30 minutes.

By some measures, I’m no longer a part of the prime demographic.

I don’t know who new musicians are (generally).

I’ve been playing Beck’s Sea Change like it’s still 2002.

My beard has so many grey hairs.

I probably have two more job changes/promotions left before I’m firmly one of the olds and shifting gears is unusual.

As you probably can tell, we haven’t taken a trip. We’re adjusting to avoid once again vacationing in boiling heat. I’m glad we did. I had to run down to Hampton Roads for a family emergency, and my dog also is sick.

But, in all honesty, I’m not complaining.

There a lot of road and adventure ahead of me. And I’m looking forward to it.

This lament about getting older is nothing but that split second when all the traffic lights are red.

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Inadvertent metaphor taken tonight.

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.

fourteen

Renée mentioned recently that this album is 30 years old, and that made me realize I have been jamming to this song since kindergarten.

It’s getting to the point that this is depressing.

The summer before my senior year in college was 14 years ago.

Fourteen years ago, I was in that sweltering living room, wondering where I’d be after graduation.

I bought myself a plant in a tiny pot earlier that day. This was Cecil a few days ago.

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My little teenager.

I hadn’t heard of Facebook when this blog started, because it was just a few months old. Twitter wasn’t a thing. Nor was the iPhone. I was not quite 21.

Cecil went through a lot. I had no idea how to take care of a plant. There was a cluster of palms in that tiny pot. Two survived. These two nearly died several times in the early years. They started leaning in 2007 when I didn’t account for a balled-up article of clothing unfurling. But fronds no longer are falling as fast as the new ones come in. There’s been no leaf burn recently. Cecil’s finally in a window facing toward the south and west.

Cecil has been through a lot, but Cecil survived and is thriving.

Cecil is a metaphor.

days

Today is the first time I worked days since I was briefly a reporter again in September 2016. That ended a stretch of working days that lasted about a year. Before that, I came to work in Hopewell early every other day. I’m typically not a morning person, so not needing an alarm to wake up and getting home after 11 p.m. has been fine.

Until it stopped being fine.

At first, I though the extended period of my extreme commute made me hate nights. But we’ve been here two months now and I didn’t embrace it again. Being able to run errands and such when a lot of people are working wasn’t enough.

Leaving work with the sun still up felt wrong. Going home to cook dinner and eat it about when normal people eat dinner was weird. Being home from work and unwinding not meaning mostly gearing up for bed and not seeing my wife for a portion of that time is weird. And great.

I need to be at work within the half-hour period of when I normally wake up without an alarm, so adjusting my bedtime wasn’t exactly that hard.

Coupled with my short commute I might actually do normal things after work.

I could get used to this.

24

So … I’ve been pretty bad on this whole writing thing lately. I’ve estimated that the first step of my editing process, hitting F7 to get the easiest errors, will take 15 hours. I can’t bring myself to commit that much time to one task yet. I’m still decompressing to having a nearly three-hour commute for about five months. I’m basking in not exactly having to do anything for a few hours before work. I’m luxuriating in not having to cram all of my tasks into my weekends. I’m savoring getting home before my wife goes to bed.

I purchased gas a few hours ago. The last time I filled up the tank was in March. I think my longest trip since we moved to Albemarle County, not including a trip to Orange County for a dinner, was 11 miles. (And that was because I had forgotten a geographic quirk in Charlottesville and chose a road that took three miles to get within a half-mile of my point of origin.)

Anyway, I’ve been avoiding writing, editing and reading outside of work for a little while now. And it needs to stop. It’s been more than enough time for me to recuperate. It’s just that having lazy moments after being on the go so long has felt so great. I mean, I took work ethic to the extreme — I wrecked my car on the way home from work in January, did not make it home and still went to work the following day. I also nearly was in tears in early February because my longest extreme commute was really, really, really starting to get to me. But, if I’m still kinda sitting here, wasting time by the time my birthday rolls along I need swift kick in the ass. Ninety days to recoup is enough.

Notwithstanding decompression, I’m going to hit my 24th state before I turn 35. I count states visited when I get out of the car or venture beyond an airport. That’s the only way Rhode Island counts. And Mississippi. And Kentucky. And West Virginia. If you count sleeping in a state, I’ll only hit 18 (seventeen, if you don’t count passing out in a car in Kentucky). And my total is 21, if you count states in which I’ve driven. I drove my previous car, Nicole, in 17.

I’m a little excited about hitting 24 states. I’m certain I won’t have a direct flight to Nebraska, so I’m hoping the layover is in a state I’ve already visited; I don’t want to have an asterisk beside Illinois or something until I get around to getting beyond fare control. (I know the proper term is “airside,” but I like the rail nomenclature.)

Well, I’m more than excited.

Ever since I was at an age that “ever since I was a child” didn’t sound clichéd, I wanted to travel. I’ve always wanted to drive the entire length of Interstate 64. Of the primary freeways, I’ve done all of interstates 12, 66, 78, 83, 85 and 97, as well as the discontiguous pieces of 99. Of interstates 95 and 81, I only have New Hampshire and Maine (not including the future contiguous piece through New Jersey) and north of Scranton to go, respectively. I’m also proud to say that I have lived in the cities at both ends of U.S. 258.

My grandparents (and, to an extent, my parents) lived in a time when it wasn’t safe to travel. Hell, some people say today isn’t much safer. I refuse to be bound by fear. I love that I can say that it’s a shame that my favorite restaurant is in New York and my favorite bar is in Miami. And that I’ve eaten at the (in)famous Stinking Rose in Beverly Hills, taken a selfie at the edge of the Grand Canyon and had jambalaya in a spot for locals in New Orleans.

I refuse to be bound.

Do not allow yourself to be bound.

dcfc

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October, I need you so much closer.

As most of you know, I fell hard in the early 2000s for many subsets of indie rock. In a way, I think it was to be contrary, because nearly all of my friends at the time listened to hip-hop, r&b, and the flavor-of-the-week college rock songs

Early Arcade Fire spoke to me, and so did Blonde Redhead and Belle & Sebastian and Rilo Kiley.

And Death Cab for Cutie.

I have a 129-song playlist named “BEN GIBBARD.” I briefly didn’t like Zooey Deschanel because I felt Codes and Keys was too upbeat. Transatlanticism was my first, but Something About Airplanes is special to me. I know the words to nearly every song on Plans. I once wrote a half-page album review in a market that did not care at all about Death Cab. I did not care.

In October, I’ll hear some of my favorite songs live.

I normally don’t impulse-buy concert tickets. I usually don’t buy concert tickets in general. I’m fine with doing a lot of things by myself, but I like sharing concerts with people. But the people who love the bands I love don’t really live near me anymore. I hope the person I’m seeing Death Cab with is prepared for me losing it during the bridge of Tiny Vessels or shouting the lyrics to Fake Frowns.

I have a list of songs I want to hear. If they do Stability (not Stable Song) for some crazy reason, I’ll explode. I’ll settle for Different Names for the Same Thing.

For some crazy reason, I really want to hear Information Travels Faster live.

But I don’t care what they play, because I’m going to be there.

Only 166 days to go.

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.