|A quick swig to start the day|
Theparade that February morning in 1978 was a blur of costumes and a marching band. My eyes misted to hear the pretty flutes and piccolos. From where I stood on the sidewalk children scrambled to catch candy thrown to them from antique cars. I wore jeans, a sweatshirt, and sneakers, thankful that reporters didn't need to look like models.
All weekend I worked on the article for the Gardena Valley News. First on a clipboard in longhand then typed and retyped from my wobbly card table in the kitchen. Several pages long, I presented my proud achievement to the city editor on Monday morning.
I stood by his desk as he read without comment, crossing out line after line with a heavy dark pencil. He X-ed out whole passages with arrows through the center pointing down to the next and only usable sentences. The result: a tiny blurb of a story.
"Not bad for a beginner," John said. "Go to Charlie for another assignment." He nodded toward the editor-in-chief, partially hidden behind a larger desk of clutter.
Embarrassed by my over-writing and no longer confident, I introduced myself.
"So you're our new stringer? Congratulations." Charlie Ferrell was friendly and upbeat with a great sense of humor that immediately put me at ease.
The term "stringer" goes back to the olden days when freelancers were paid by how much they wrote, that is, how many inches of type filled a column of the newspaper. Reporters used string to measure their articles then they were paid according to the length of their strings.
Over the next weeks Charlie and I became friends as I turned in more stories. I learned that he loved roller coasters and when we drove to assignments together he listened to Gregorian chants. Charlie understood my dream. So did John.
The more I wrote, even though editing squished my stories down to a few lines, the more exhilarated I felt. One day I burst into the newsroom and announced I wanted to be a full-time reporter.
"How much are you willing to sacrifice?" John asked.
"Oh just about anything. I'll even quit school."
He shook his head and wagged a yellow finger at me. "You do that, young lady, and you're bound to lose more than you bargained for. It's a tough world out there."
Boy, was he right.
From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.