Monday, April 20, 2009

Back to the Future

I just back from a reunion. Nope, not high school or even college. This was a working reunion. I got together with a bunch of co-workers from my first real job. And contrary to popular opinion that did not happen during the Eisenhower administration. So many memories come rushing back.
My first job was in a television newsroom in New York City. I was paid the astonishing sum of $164 a week. I was so broke, renting an apartment was out of the question. I had to live with my parents in New Je
rsey and ride the train to work. My monthly commuter pass cost $180. I remember going to a bar after work for some drinks. I went because I wanted to be part of the gang. I ordered a Bud and choked on my peanuts when the waitress charged me $5!!! For one beer!!! But it was worth it. I was a working journalist! Even if my Grandma Helen kept telling me she was praying for me to find "honorable" work. When you consider that most Americans rate Journalists a step below pickpockets, it appears that Grandma Helen was ahead of her time. Most of my co-workers were just out of college. And we were going to set the world on fire. Once, when U.S. troops invaded the mighty republic of Grenada, my TV station aired the first video from the war zone. It wasn't because we were smarter or harder working than the other journalists. There was only one satellite transmitter. They held a lottery to see who could send out their video first. We won. And we celebrated our mighty journalistic coup as if we'd conquered Grenada ourselves. We had some real characters in our shop. One old timer used to chase police calls with Walter Winchell. We smoked in the newsroom. I even had a bottle of scotch in the bottom drawer of my desk. These days I don't even have my own desk! There were all-night parties, all-day hangovers, and in our spare time, we learned the tricks of the trade. After hours, a bunch of us would always hang out together, drinking too much and then drinking a little more. If we left the bars and the sun wasn't up, there was still more drinking to be done. There were late night visits to speakeasies, illicit gambling halls, and even the occasional go go bar. New York is the city that never sleeps. And we rarely did. Maybe I should explain that we worked the evening shift. That meant getting to the office at 2:30 in the afternoon and leaving at 10:30, in time to enjoy the "shank of the evening". Despite the missed deadlines, mangled copy and garbled transmissions, eventually we all got promoted and began making a little bit of money. That generally meant we could afford better quality booze. But it also meant the beginning of the end. Our close knit group began unraveling. I took a reporting job in Gainesville, chasing fire calls and rabid armadillos. Some took higher paying positions in New York. Others headed for Chicago and LA. Amazingly, we were a fairly successful bunch. In our old gang you'll find a fair number of Video Editors, News Writers, Producers, Executive Producers, Senior Producers, Field Producers, (in TV Journalism we have a lot of "producers", but not so many people doing actual work) Reporters, Directors and even a Network News President.
Back to the reunion. We met at a New York City bar, (imagine that) not sure who or what we might find inside. It was amazing to see those familiar faces. For a night, we shared hugs, war stories, lots of laughs and a drink or two. The wrinkles disappeared and the memories came flooding back. We
toasted a few who had passed away. And we remembered friends who couldn't get away to join us. It was intoxicating to relive our youth for a few hours. But in the sober light of day I know that we've all changed. I'm not talking about expanding waistlines or receding hairlines. We're different people now. We talked about kids, 401-K's, real estate and college tuition. The party broke up early. People had to get home to relieve babysitters, or be up early for Little League. But for a night, we were all 20-something and ready to take on the world again. We all promised to have more reunions. And we just might. I was among the last to leave around 10:30pm. As I made my way outside I couldn't help but think, sunrise was a long time away.

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