Huffman column: Out of the way, here we go
Over the past couple of weeks, when I’ve told people I’m leaving the Post, the first thing they ask is, “What are you going to be doing?”
I’ve learned that if I reply, “I’m not sure,” the reaction is similar to telling my friends that the doctor returned to the examining room with some very bad news.
But, if I answer, “I’m going to spend a few weeks driving across the country,” they act as if I’ve won the lottery.
So I’ve taken to using only the latter response when pressed about my career plans. It’s not a lie. The only question that remains is exactly when the cross-country caravan sails ó next month or next spring. Details are being finalized.
For the time being, I’m going to be out of the newspaper business for the first time in almost 30 years. As I’m telling my therapist and anyone else who doesn’t run when they see me approaching, “I’m about to start a new chapter of my life.” My sons are grown. Twenty-five years of plugging 10 percent a week into a retirement plan has left me … well, not rich, but no longer destitute. The stock market is going to continue its rebound, I try to convince myself.
Meg also helped me a great deal in making up my mind. A few years back, she lost her husband of 20 years when he walked out the door one morning and died in a car wreck before he could make it home that evening. As Meg asks whenever I contemplate a choice: “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Probably not as bad as what she experienced. And life, as they say, is short. So, here we go.
For the record, I’ve worked full time for five papers since 1981 and strung for dang near every newspaper in North Carolina. I’ve been at the Post for nine years, the same amount of time I worked for the Times-News in Burlington. Those are my longest tenures. My shortest (six months) was at the Winston-Salem Journal where I wasn’t happy with them and they sure weren’t happy with me.
Dwight Sparks and David Spear taught me more about the newspaper business than anyone. Dwight was the editor and David the publisher of The Messenger, a weekly in Madison where I got my start. We produced a fine newspaper back in the ’80s. It was there I learned that being in the newspaper business meant covering high school football games on Friday nights, town board meetings on Monday nights and county commissioner meetings on Tuesday nights.
Oh, and I got to help run the press on Wednesday mornings and deliver bundles of the finished product to surrounding stores in the afternoon.
I also learned a lot from Steve Williams, who was city editor in Burlington. Whenever someone called asking how they could keep an arrest report out of the police blotter, Steve’s pat answer was: “Don’t do it.”
The best line I wrote came decades ago when I covered a court case where a boy named Darius Brown was charged with kissing a girl named Cindy Green in a high school stairwell. The girl’s parents had the boy charged with assault. In court, the judge said he didn’t want to make the issue a racial one, prompting me to write: “Brown is black, Green is white.”
I should have retired right there.
I’ve had articles reprinted in publications ranging from The National Enquirer to The Biblical Recorder (the Enquirer pays better). I’ve made many friends in this business and run into only a handful of jerks.
I can tell you that regardless of what you’ve been told, not everything in the newspaper is the result of some diabolical plot conceived by a bunch of conniving editors. We’re not that smart. Sometimes, poop just happens.
I’m looking forward to where I go from here. Check with me in a year and I’ll tell you if I made the right choice.
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When not touring the nation and visiting such sites as the World’s Largest Twine Ball in Darwin, Minn., or the World’s Largest Cedar Bucket in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Steve Huffman continues to freelance for the Post.