It seems like yesterday, though it has been almost 28 years.
I had just finished college at Ouachita, and I had also completed my tenure as the sports editor of Arkadelphia’s Daily Siftings Herald. A job in the sports department at the Arkansas Democrat awaited me. So did the chance to live somewhere other than Arkadelphia for the first time in my life. I had been born in Arkadelphia, graduated from high school there and attended college there.
Though I had lived in a dorm rather than at home during my college years, this would be the first time to truly be away from home. My parents followed me to Little Rock that day and helped me move into my furnished apartment at the old Rebsamen Park complex (a new complex is just going in at that location). I would be close to work and plenty of good restaurants, including the Steak & Egg on Cantrell for those late nights after work.
We moved in, and then my dad offered to buy dinner at the Steak & Ale on Cantrell. In 1981, the concept and even those goofy waiters’ uniforms still worked. At about 8 p.m., my parents headed back to Arkadelphia, and I drove down the street to the new apartment and the new life that awaited me.
I knew my parents wanted me to attend law school. The thought bored me to tears. I wanted to write. I wanted to be published. I wanted to attend sports events and get paid for it.
Wally Hall, the newspaper’s relatively new sports editor, had made me promise I would not tell anyone else at the Democrat that he was paying me $230 a week.
“We have people who have been here for years who don’t make that much,” he said.
How could I turn down such an opportunity?
I would leave the paper after a year to go back to Arkadelphia as the editor of the Siftings Herald. I would later return, though, and was Wally’s No. 2 person in the sports deparment when managing editor John Robert Starr called early one Monday morning in the summer of 1986.
“Why haven’t you applied for the Washington bureau job?” he asked.
“Because I don’t want to live in Washington,” I replied.
“Well, you need to apply because I have already decided you’re the person I’m sending,” he said.
You didn’t argue with Bob Starr in those days. I did mention how much fun I was having. I had even covered the Super Bowl in New Orleans earlier that year. I told him I had an obligation to Wally.
“Wally will do what I tell him to do,” Starr said in his matter-of-fact way.
He went on to tell me how he had started as a sportswriter for The Commercial Appeal at Memphis and thought it was all he would ever want to do for a living.
“Then,” he said, “I asked myself a question. Do I want to be 50 years old and begging a naked 18-year-0ld kid in a dressing room for a quote?”
It was food for thought.
So I moved to Washington, began covering politics, met the saint who is now my wife and spent four wonderful years on the East Coast before the urge to return to Arkansas got the best of me.
I would have the chance later to be the newspaper’s first full-time political editor during Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for president and during his first term. I would appear on national television and radio shows, as everyone in Arkansas with a pen and a press pass got his or her 15 minutes of fame. It was a surreal time to be an Arkansas newspaperman.
I would move to government in 1996 and spend more than nine years at Mike Huckabee’s side before being appointed by the president to work for four years on the problems of the Delta, a region of our country I have come to love.
I have been blessed to never have what I consider a real job.
Now, after 13 years in government, it’s back to the private sector. And there’s this blog as an outlet for the things I want to discuss. Blogs weren’t around back in 1981. But I feel like that 22-year-old all over again today because I have the chance to write.
And, Mr. Starr, if you’re reading up there in that newsroom in the sky, I am almost 50 and not having to beg any naked 18-year-olds for quotes. Not yet anyway.
Dad is in a nursing home here in Little Rock now. Mom lives in an apartment within walking distance of where he is. I hope to keep the house in Arkadelphia.
I just wish Steak and Ale were still in business so I could take Mom to dinner there tonight to celebrate. After almost 28 years, I feel young again.