A chance to write

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.

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31 Responses to “A chance to write”

  1. [...] snippet from the first post: Now, after 13 years in government, it’s back to the private sector. And there’s this blog as [...]

  2. Alana Boles says:

    Looking forward to reading this blog, Rex! Hope you are doing well.

    Alana Boles
    (I worked in Boards and Commissions and in D.C. for Governor Huckabee.)

  3. Brandie Jones says:

    I am beyond thrilled to have the Rex-inator share his ponderings and perspectives with the rest of us…
    I have missed sharing Leadership-AR dinner conversations with you, I fully expect this blog to fill a satellite seat at my table.
    Looking forward to future postings.

    Best regards,

    Brandie

  4. Glad to see your blog up and going. I look forward to reading more in the near future.

  5. Jeff Smithpeters says:

    What was it like working for an agency (Delta Regional Authority) whose budget George W. Bush was trying to cut every year?

  6. Jeff Smithpeters says:

    I too graduated from OBU. Actually saw you guest teach a class I took in 93. I too worked for the Siftings from 96 to 97. I wrote about 3 stories a day for $6 an hour and no health coverage. Glad I did it, but it helped formed me into a person who would not have been a good policy or message guy for many Republicans. Huck does seem more empathetic than most, I’ll grant that.

  7. alex daniels says:

    Rex—so that’s how you ended up in DC!
    As a Washington native who lived in Arkansas for a few years and then returned to DC to work in a bureau, I’m curious what your initial thoughts were of Washington.

    All best,
    Alex Daniels

  8. Scott Carter says:

    Great to get the chance for your insight on things.

    Scott

    PS — I have to laugh. My captcha words for this post are “diluting there” which is ironic because your message is anything but diluted.

  9. Stephen Koch says:

    Glad to see you up and running on such good topics, good sir!
    Add some ruminations on catfish noodling and corn-silk fiddling, and I’m in!

  10. Seegar says:

    Jeff Smithpeters, yet another angry leftist.

    Why are they so unhappy with life? Remember how happy libs used to be? Think of the 60s.

  11. Larry Hellums says:

    Rex, great to see something of you again, looking forward to following your wanderings.
    Say hey to the down home, yet unmet Alice Coyote for me.
    later

  12. Milton Fine says:

    Rex,

    Nice opening piece. As I’ve told you before, Arkansas Week has never been the same since you left. I’m glad I can again enjoy your perspective on a regular basis. Say hello to Sissy for me.

  13. Neal Gladner says:

    Great start Rex. I’m going to enjoy reading you again.

  14. Tonight in honor of the kickoff to this thing — I will go to my vehicle, and listen through the static to a faraway AM radio station since based on our previous road trips that is still your favorite thing to do while driving at 4 AM.

    Congratulations my friend!

  15. [...] may or may not be a representative selection. Anyway, there was a big shindig tonight at the Whitewater Tavern in Little Rock to kick this [...]

  16. Rocky Fawcett says:

    From old friend to another. It’s great to have you home full time and doing what you love. We will all be better for it. Look forward to reading you every day.

  17. Chris Pyle says:

    Bring on the food posts. It’s about time!

  18. Mike Dugan says:

    Rex- This will be a wonderful addition to Southern culture. Many of of us that graduated from the \higher\ side of the ravine will be tolerant of the OBU ramblings. I can’t wait until football season, while your political insight is unmatched I for one know that your football knowledge is even better. I can’t say too much about your golf work though, perhaps a good recipe for a cold Arnold Palmer might be a good start.

  19. Kay Brockwell says:

    Rex — looking forward to reading your thoughts. (I know I won’t agree with a lot of them, but you make me think!) Give me a shout when you’re next through Hot Springs…..

    Kay

  20. Chris Babb says:

    Rex – I didn’t notice anything about soccer in the explanation of your blog. I figure surely you just forgot…

    Glad you’re writing regularly again and I look forward to reading.
    52 days until kickoff

  21. Steve Arrison says:

    Look forward to your view on all things Arkansas!

  22. Kelly Boyd says:

    Good to see you up and putting out the word again my friend. Sorry I missed the big party Tuesday evening, especially since I am having to put up with a bunch of Tar Heels right now. I am also sorry to hear that David Kincaid ate all the food and consumed most of the alcohol at your event. Let that be a lesson to you. I am looking forward to seeing what you come up with for this blog.

  23. Tracy Winchell says:

    Reading this reminded me of that sweltering week we all spent in Houston – GOP National Convention. You and Bob Starr holding forth in the hospitality suite munching on Planters peanuts after our deadlines had been met. This former TV journalist learned a LOT from listening to you print guys. Those lessons learned carry over into my current career. Thank you for the opportunity to hear your viewpoints again. Not that I’ll always AGREE…but I’ll enjoy…

    Congrats, Rex!

  24. Bobby G. Jones says:

    Great site Rex. I have it in my favorites list. Tell your mom and dad hello for me. My mother has been in a nursing home for three years.

    Your friend (and a Reddie who supports OBU),

    Bobby

  25. Dave Edmark says:

    A few weeks ago our old friend Michael Gauldin dropped into Fayetteville from Washington, where he is a federal agency communications director. He lamented that he received an inquiry from someone described as “a freelance blogger.” We wondered if this is what it had come to. It used to be that a freelance newspaper correspondent was at the bottom of the food chain, but at least the newspaper freelancer got paid a few dollars on occasion. Now, freelance bloggers. I am glad to see that Rex has a blog home that actually provides a place to earn a regular paycheck.

  26. Dawn Cook says:

    Since you are my favorite story teller and since I always call you for advice on where to eat no matter what town I’m so looking forward to this blog. Yes this is perfect. Everytime you tell a story I wish I had a video of it. You are one of my most favorite people in the World. I didn’t just say that when we worked together to get you to edit my letters. LOL!!

  27. Eric Rogers says:

    One of the great things about Rex, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for the past few years; is that he is just as entertaining and enjoyable in print as he is in person.

  28. Monty Rowell says:

    Congratulations on the start of the blog…as far as I am concerned, it is required reading each morning….yes, I do not have a life. Gotta read something….LOL!!!!

  29. rexnelson says:

    Monty: Maybe you and I can trade KCON and KVRC stories on this blog one day — Rex

  30. Monty Rowell says:

    I suspect we have one or two tales that CAN be told…..:)

  31. Thomas Pope says:

    Dear Rex,

    Your editorial, Voices of hate, Saturday, Dec. 12, was a Quixotic opinion. The idea that the Hispanic population will grow rapidly during the next decade is based on past instead of currently developing trends. Presently, immigration of all types is slowing, will come to an abrupt halt, and an exodus will actually begin during the next decade. Even if the congress passes an amnesty for illegal aliens, immigrants, particularly Hispanics will depart America by the millions in the coming decades.
    It’s ironic, but the election of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s control of congress, partly because of Hispanic votes is the very event that will reverse the immigration trends of the last 40 years. The U.S. has been through several tumultous periods but this time it’s not business as ususal. The Democrat’s ineptitude will result in the total collapse of the U.S. economy. A coming war with Iran and Syria in the middle-east and other locations on the globe will join economic mismanagement to devastate America’s job market to the extent that it will be impossible for immigrants to remain in this country. Chaos, homelessness and widespread popular discontent in the form of mass demonstrations in our cities and towns will contribute to such an inhospitable environment it will be as America has become a place of bad air.
    You may scoff at my prediction and you may think this is a voice of hate but in the coming years you will see these events unfold. The greatest irony of all though, began when the Democrats chose to use immigration for party building instead of nation building and a fraction of the Republicans chose to join them for cheap labor. These are the real voices of hate then because they ignored the needs of the nation to increase their own personal power and wealth. As a result those selfish motivations will blow smack-dab-up in their faces.

    Sincerely,

    Thomas Pope
    Little Rock, AR

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