I'm looking out my 9th floor window in the Features Department of the Sun-Times.
No, I'm not going to jump.
The eastern view is similar to the scene of 25 years ago when I filed my first downtown story for the newspaper. The Sun-Times always rises in the east. (My 25th anniversary was Feb. 19, thanks to Thomas Conner for the Merle Haggard milepost).
I don't remember the story I filed in February, 1985, but I'm fairly sure it was about some crazy nightlife spot. I sat at an open desk near the cluttered offices of film critic Roger Ebert and theater critic Glenna Syse.
I was jaked in February, 1985........
A Chicago journalist was all I wanted to be while growing up. Had I been the proficient first baseman in my soul, working at the Sun-Times/Daily News building, 401 N. Wabash, would have been equal to playing for the Cubs at Wrigley Field. I read all four Chicago newspapers my father brought home after work. I was editor of the school newspaper at Naperville Central. I cut my chops in the early 1980s under Lon "Ed Asner" Grahnke at the Suburban Sun-Times.
At age 13 I wrote to sports columnist Rick Talley at the now defunct Chicago American inquiring about career tips.
I saw a future in this game.
And he wrote back.
That's all a writer wants. Advocacy is one of the first lessons I learned in newspaper work. A good editor/elder is empathetic towards writing and wonder, no matter the genre. The Sun-Times was rich with that atmosphere in 1985.
Kup always smiled and said hello--although I was never sure he knew who I was. Glenna went out of her way to compliment me on a story.
Political columnist Steve Neal encouraged me to write more about traditional country music. Artist Bill Linden stuck spoons on his face and Johnny Downs thought I was the best thing since Lowell Thomas. Ebert took me to lunch at the old Burger King across the river from the newspaper. He was curious. There's an excellent Will Leitch Deadspin story about Ebert's broad approach to his movie reviews. Editors gave him that freedom.
I got into newspaper work because I like to share unknown stories, the humble glow from urban shadows. I like to listen to people. The late Sun-Times columnist Tom Fitzpatrick (no relation to my friend Tony) had a secret to interviewing people: "When the bird starts to chirp, shut up and let him sing."
I was idealistic. (I called my high school newspaper column 'Writing Wrongs'.) I still can be idealistic, I think the Cubs will be in a World Series before the end of this decade and I believe there's a future for newspapers.
For Christmas I gave my 88-year-old mother a large print version of Paulo Coehlo's 1988 novel "The Alchemist." It is about a Spanish shepherd's journey to fulfill his destiny. He writes, "Its the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting."
I'm not here to sell nostalgia. I do want to gut check and move forward through my core beliefs:
Hopefully, my career has been understood by consequences and connections I have made rather than any of my pre-conceived intentions. Its impossible for a journalist to be "objective," as we each carry our own distinct backgrounds and imprints. But we must be "fair."
Hopefully, my words have existed in the community and not alone in my mind.
I have discovered new songs, crazy ideas, lifelong friends and happy dance steps. Those moments are essential in our being. I have driven from Chicago to Los Angeles on Route 66 (with one car break down), boated from Illinois to New Orleans on the Mississippi River and seen the Midnight Sun baseball game in Fairbanks, Alaska. I still don't have a compass for where I am going but I know such wanderlust is the spirit of a writer's life. The view is clear and only my heart will lead me there.
Thanks for sticking with me.