Can’t say I wasn’t warned.
When I moved to Spokane early in 1988, several people I encountered must have sized me up as someone who didn’t plan on living here long. Because they told me there’s something about this city. It gets its hooks into you and doesn’t let go.
One sage used the expression “velvet coffin.”
I silently urged them to mind their own business. My first impressions of Spokane were mostly favorable. I was happy to be here. But my parents lived in Vermont. My wife-to-be’s family was in Tennessee. That created a seemingly untenable geographic triangle.
Spokane could be no long-term solution for us.
And to tell the truth, that had been my career pattern anyway. The duration of my newspaper stints in different cities after college in Arizona had gone like this: Two years in one place, nine months in the next, six months somewhere else, two years farther down the road, six years in another place and then hello Lilac City.
My future wife was not scared off by this. Not at all. I had grown up in a well-traveled Air Force family. We moved a lot. She had not experienced that and sort of looked forward to living in different parts of the country.
More than 30 years later, she’s still waiting for that part of our marriage to kick in.
I don’t really think she wants to move anywhere. Neither do I.
So when I go down to the Review Tower to sign my retirement papers later this week, I won’t do so with some vision of packing up and moving on.
Spokane is our home.
No, this city isn’t perfect. But as it happens, neither am I. So it works.
My job, on the other hand, has been almost too good to be true.
To a perhaps alarming degree, I got to do what I wanted while pretty much being left alone. My daily interactions with readers helped inform my understanding of Spokane in a way I will always treasure.
I got to spout off about one thing after another and get paid for it.
Not everyone has enjoyed or even tolerated everything I wrote. (One of my regrets is that I did not save recordings of my most blistering phone messages. Some of them would have had my friends doubled over at a party.) But I liked telling people I hoped readers viewed me as an occasionally annoying brother-in-law who, every now and then, redeemed himself.
To those who continued to give me second chances, I owe sincere thanks.
On those occasions when I have written about personal loss, readers have been so kind, so supportive. When I was seriously ill in 2015, the extent of readers’ well-wishes knocked some of the cynicism out of me forever.
Some things you don’t forget.
My pact with contributors to my column was, every day, a living, breathing reality. People trusting you with their cherished stories is no small thing.
I loved going to work in our handsome building and was almost always the first person in the newsroom. Sometimes a reader’s email or phone message would make me laugh out loud when the only other sound in the newsroom was the police scanner over by the city desk.
I couldn’t wait to share those stories of cats, kids and the Inland Northwest version of the human condition with the newspaper’s subscribers.
And I got to work with some of the best people you would ever hope to meet – smart, tenacious, talented and wicked funny. I was proud to be in their ranks.
(Which isn’t to say we didn’t have our share of, uh, characters in the three decades I watched ’em come and go. More about that some other time.)
In an industry roiled by loss and cutthroat retrenchment, I have been unbelievably fortunate. Blessed, you could say.
I started work before I finished college and have not been without a job at a daily newspaper one day since. Until now.
So why retire?
I used to answer people asking me about layoffs and the 21st century turmoil at newspapers by likening my own situation to being in the eye of a hurricane. It was calm where I was, even as all sorts of chaos whirled around me.
But here’s the thing about hurricanes: They move.
I’m 63, closing in on 64. My luck might not last forever.
So when my company offered a buyout package recently, I decided to take it. Who knows if a similar opportunity will come again.
I’ll still write a couple of columns each week for the Northwest section and do something once a month for the Today section, my old home.
I’m grateful for the chance to stay connected to my paper and to readers. But I know it won’t be the same.
I will miss rolling into downtown on my bike before dawn. I will miss snapping on the lights in the newsroom, wondering what the new day will bring.
I’ll miss my colleagues. But I’ve had practice at that. Of the many reporters, photographers, artists and editors who worked at the S-R when I started on March 28, 1988, only a few remain.
Now I am one of those who have left the building. Right now, it’s a disorienting feeling.
When I called The Spokesman-Review “my” paper the word choice was intentional.
I suppose I’ll get used to writing from home, perhaps in my pajamas. But I wonder. Will my old teammates at the corner of Riverside and Monroe hear me rooting for them?