My younger daughter Sophia and I drove an hour or so east of our home yesterday to watch a college softball game in Lexington, Kentucky. It was a good day. Sophia was chatty, and we had our usual conversations about the source of tofu and other deep topics. My mind wandered a lot to the distant past during our trip. My Alma Mater, Missouri, played Kentucky in that game. Lexington was the first place I lived after college.
When I graduated back in the Neanderthal days of 1981, I applied for a news reporter job at the ABC affiliate in Lexington. The TV news industry paid its young reporters in fame rather than fortune, and the offer was for barely more than minimum wage. I did a quick phone interview with the news director, who said the job was mine if I wanted it. I called my journalism school adviser Roger Gafke to ask what I should do.
“As your adviser, I advise you to keep looking,” Roger said. He didn’t like the sound of the opportunity. The money was too little, and the station seemed a little desperate. The station where I worked in college was the top-rated news operation in its market. The newsroom had just been expanded, the camera and editing equipment were new and plentiful, and the staff was comprised of dozens of talented journalism students, many of whom would have careers at places like NBC, CNN and ESPN. Roger sensed I would be stepping into a much different situation.
“I will consider your advice,” I said.
I did not consider it. The Lexington job was the first I applied for, and I feared I would receive no other reporting offers. Ever. I imagined living at home and watching Andy Griffith reruns with my parents. I wanted a place of my own to watch Andy Griffith reruns.
My mother did not want me to live at home either, but she also did not want me to move far away.
“I read there’s an opening for a photographer at the newspaper in St. Joe,” she said.
“I don’t think my TV reporting skills would get me a job as a print photographer,” I said.
“Then how about applying at the radio station in Bethany?”
I did not want to read noon livestock reports on the local FM station the rest of my life, so I packed my car and headed east.
Also yesterday, I made the deposit committing my older daughter Isabel to her college choice. That should have been a momentous occasion, but Isabel didn’t seem very excited about any of her college options. The university she selected is a good one. It’s not too far away, and the scholarship award is generous. Unless Isabel goes nuts at the nearby Ikea store, she should still have money in her savings when she graduates. Because Isabel doesn’t seem excited, her mother and I feel some anxiety. We worry she won’t be happy with her decision. What if she doesn’t like the atmosphere? What if she doesn’t make lifelong friends like her mother and I did in school? What if she regrets everything?
After the softball game, I drove Sophia around Lexington for a bit. We passed the church where her mother and I were married. I pointed out the stained glass window that was familiar to her from our wedding picture. I tried to find the first apartment we lived in when we married, though I couldn’t remember where it was. Then we drove by the TV station on our way out of town.
“It’s much different now,” I told Sophia. “The first time I came here, I thought I had made a huge mistake. The newsroom was small, the news vehicles were old, and the equipment was in terrible condition. The station was the laughingstock of Lexington.”
“So, did you make a mistake?” Sophia asked.
“Definitely,” I said, thinking how my career never really recovered.
Then I thought about the good friends I made, the wonderful person I married, the girl sitting next to me, and the other one back home preparing to graduate from high school. None of which I would have without that poor decision long ago.
“Actually, no,” I said. “Things turned out quite well.”