Now that I recently turned 65 years of age, I have found myself looking back at my life trying to re-follow my path as a writer. Ironically, we have a copy of a newspaper from Carmel Woods Elementary from back in the 1950s when I had my first byline in the school newspaper.
I was seven at the time and my subject was a yo-yo contest, which I guess signals not only my first “published” work but also seems to lead me to the world of sports writing. While I never really thought about that time more than 50 years ago, the yo-yo contest was actually a competitive event, so you might say that it was my first real step toward becoming a journalist.
In actuality, that yo-yo contest in Carmel was the first inkling that I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t take the urge too serious until about four years later while living in Woodland, Calif., where I suddenly decided that I wanted to write features on my 10 favorite baseball players.
I recall that San Francisco Giants’ star center fielder Willie Mays was my first choice; and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Chuck Estrada was another. I don’t recall the others, but I do know that long before the internet, cell phones and computers, I was pestering the publicity department of every team represented in my favorite players.
My grandmother stopped by our home in Woodland every morning to have coffee and the dedication to the project caught her attention. Once the photos of each player arrived in the mail, she would take my hand written copy to her office where she would type the features on single sheets of paper.
Once I had everything organized and the photos were received, I immediately attached the stories and their photos on the wall of my tiny bedroom. While I didn’t quite understand why, seeing my work in print on the wall was a fascinating experience, especially for a 10-year-old kid who seemingly had already found his calling.
As years past, I toyed with my writing before being turned away from a high school journalism class in Yuba City, Calif., because I had a C in English when a B was required. At the age of 15, a change in residences the result of a marital breakup of my mother and father suddenly found me headed for Las Vegas.
So help me, I will never forget leaving my mom behind to be with my father, who had relocated in North Las Vegas. While riding in my grandparents’ vehicle, we headed for Reno before taking I-95 through some of the most desolate country I had ever experienced.
On a cold and windy day in November of 1966, I would join my father and his new wife, who lived near Jim Bridger Junior High School in North Las Vegas. It was determined that after this confusing and frightening move from Northern California, I would be enrolled at Rancho High School.
For a kid who had just left behind the scenery of Northern California for the barren land of Southern Nevada, I kept asking myself just what in the world I had done. In fact, Vegas was a tremendous culture shock, so much so that my uncle would once tell my step mother, “Barbara, this is the ugliest country I have ever seen. You might as well just give it back to the Indians.”
In fact, Vegas did seem ugly without the trees, the water, the fishing and the farming I had left behind in Northern California. For the life of me, nothing made sense and for the life of me, I really wondered where I was headed in what was nothing less than a traumatic change of scenery.
However, the break of my life came when my parents would escort me to Rancho for a meeting with counselor Terry Mannion, who would inform me that I needed an extra class. When I saw that Journalism 101 was available, I quietly asked if I could take the class.
“Of course you can,” Mrs. Mannion quickly responded.
I then sheepishly responded by saying I had a C in English, and Mrs. Mannion responded by telling me the grade was no problem.
Without missing as step, I enrolled in Journalism 101 and the rest is history. While writing a feature on the history of Rancho High basketball, I suddenly found myself researching the assignment at the Las Vegas Sun where sports editor Royce Feour apparently took notice.
Royce hired me to cover high school athletics for $1.25 an hour and the rest is history. Before I knew it, I was covering the Silver Slipper Fight of the Week. Considering that I was still too young to drive, my dad would drop me off at the old Silver Slipper, where I would journey into the ballroom where the cigarette smoke was so think you could cut it with a knife.
For weeks, I covered the Silver Slipper fights. Once the action had been completed, I would hustle to a payphone where I’d dictate the story to Feour. Once that deadline had been met, I’d call my dad to pick me up in front of the Slipper.
I was in hog heaven. Two years later, I would again join Feour at the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Main Street as a stringer. Six years later, I would give up a great gig as a bellhop at the Sahara Hotel to become high school sports editor for $4.40 an hour, a far cry from what I made as a bellhop.
In December of 1989, I determined it was time to leave my post at the R-J to become a freelance writer under the name of “The Idea Company.” Some 26 years later, I’m still working as a freelance writer during a career that has no certainty from day to day, and I love what I do.
Traditional journalism is a mess and many media types have been ushered out of the profession by layoffs and budget cuts. Unfortunately, the quality of journalism has also decreased especially as the internet often spawns inferior writers who work for far less money.
In fact, conversations among us old-timers are often based on our fading profession which seems to have lost its luster. Press rooms are often void of significant numbers of writers covering events simply because media outlets have cut budgets so drastically that travel has been virtually eliminated in many cases.
Meanwhile, the world of freelancing has been interesting, for sure, and I’m so glad for the opportunity that was given to me more than 50 years ago.
What started out covering a yo-yo contest and was fine-tuned with my ten favorite baseball players in that tiny house in Woodland, Calif., has mushroomed into a great career, and I’m very thankful to my 49 years in Las Vegas. +