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Paul Turner: Moving on means looking back at decades spent documenting Spokane

Columnist Paul Turner interviews bicycling advocate John Speare in the Spokesman-Review courtyard on Sprague Avenue, April 10, 2010. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Columnist Paul Turner interviews bicycling advocate John Speare in the Spokesman-Review courtyard on Sprague Avenue, April 10, 2010. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

One reason many of us enjoy “small world” stories is that they can be remarkable and, at the same time, simply acknowledge 2019 reality.

That is, you never know when the familiar and the far-away will collide in a happy way. You know, seeing a Bloomsday shirt in Bangkok, et cetera.

Friday morning, I was talking to a Spokane cardiologist about my plans to move to Michigan next month. He asked where, and I told him the name of our target Detroit suburb.

“I know who you need to see,” he said. “He’s good. Trained at Michigan.”

He wrote down the name of a specialist who would know all about my particular heart problem.

“I think his office is at 14th and Haggerty.”

Cue “Twilight Zone” theme. The condo development where my mother-in-law and sister-in-law live is about a mile from that intersection.

From the home office

Before moving to Spokane in the previous century, I lived in Tennessee for six years.

When taking road trips while there, I sometimes found myself staying at Holiday Inns. At that time “America’s Innkeeper” had its national headquarters in Memphis, which was where I lived. And so, when I registered for a room at the front desk, I always wondered if the clerk would note my home address and speculate as to whether I might be the equivalent of a “secret shopper” – someone sent from corporate HQ to check up on the place.

That was a long time ago.

Now, as my wife and I are about to move to the Midwest for family reasons, I wonder about something else.

How will people there react to my driver’s license and Washington license plates?

Will anyone wonder if I’m from the Costco home office or Nordstrom’s headquarters?

Will people stare at my driver’s license and ask me what kind of place Spokane is? (To answer, I’ll borrow from Jane Austen and tell them the air is full of spices, or quote Garrison Keillor’s description of Lake Wobegone and say all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.)

Or will they assume we have moved to Michigan because we think our two votes, imported from a reliable blue state to a swing state, could decide the 2020 presidential election?

End note

From early 1988 until just a few years ago, I saved every S-R section to which I had contributed. Chronicle sections, too. I wanted a record of my work. Plus, when I moved to Spokane, I wasn’t expecting to be here more than 30 years later. So I believed it would be wise if I could quickly cobble together job application materials, if needed.

Saving the straight-from-the-pressroom sections at my desk in the newsroom became a habit, part of my early morning routine. And as I had something in the paper more days than not, this wound up being a rather voluminous collection.

I’m talking thousands of newspaper sections. Towers of boxes, eventually coming home with me and filling a corner of our basement to the ceiling.

I was almost obsessive. I had sections saved for me when I was on vacation. (Because I didn’t want anybody to get the idea the paper could survive without my musings, I almost always wrote columns to run while I was off.)

Long after it became clear that I had a thing for Spokane and relished my job, a question arose. What was I going to do with all those Empire Life, IN Life and Today sections? I had a few ideas. But mostly I just kept stacking. Higher and higher.

Then, sometime in the last few weeks, it came to me. Newsprint makes excellent packing material. As it happens, my wife and I – and our friend Ken – are doing some packing right now.

Where could I find a perfect, neatly arranged trove of newspapers? I knew the answer.

At first it made me wince to wad up pristine archival S-R sections for use as box stuffing. Once that might have made me faint. But I got used to it. Something else happened, too.

As I glanced at these pre-crumpled features sections from decades ago, I saw all sorts of stories about good people doing good things here in Spokane.

I remember him, I thought. Or, whatever happened to her? Or, oh yeah, that’s how that program got started. Someone had an idea.

I enjoyed seeing the bylines of former colleagues who wrote and photographed those stories. I was pleased to note that I knew a few of the people featured on our pages. They looked so young in 1994 or 2002.

Others I almost felt as if I knew because The Spokesman-Review introduced them to me. That’s one of the things a decent daily newspaper does, after all. It helps us connect.

But you already knew that.

After 31 years writing for The Spokesman-Review, including 27 writing columns, today is Paul Turner’s final column. He can be reached at srpaulturner@gmail.com.