It’s reel life, after all

“I have a theory that movies operate on the level of dreams, where you dream yourself.” ― Meryl Streep


Karen and I went to see The Post last night. At my suggestion. Which might seem odd, because it had a couple of things going against it, which I’ll go into in a minute. What it had going for it is that I’d met – and spoken briefly with – the real-life version of one of the movie’s main characters.

Cue the Meryl Streep quote above. Because her character, Katherine Graham, is the person I’d met before, although it was roughly six years later than the events of the movie, which revolved around the publication of the Pentagon Papers. I wrote about it here.

Anyway, Karen and I – both of us have journalism backgrounds – loved the movie. And I found Streep’s performance as Mrs. G, as they called her at the time of my visit to the actual Washington Post, to be pretty spot on – particularly in the charm category. The reel Mrs. Graham wasn’t as self-assured as the real Mrs. G, but I met her later than the events of The Post and I have a feeling the decision to continue publication of the Pentagon Papers forged a much more steely demeanor within her.

All in all, it was the second-best journalism movie filmed in color (so as to take His Girl Friday out of the mix) of all time, behind Spotlight, which Karen and I really, really loved.

As for the things The Post had going against it, here’s a list:

  • I don’t like Tom Hanks.
  • I don’t like Steven Spielberg.
  • My preconceived notion that it made no sense for a movie about the Pentagon Papers to be told from the perspective of the Washington Post instead of the New York Times.

Turns out I was – what’s the word? – wrong about two of those three concerns:

  • Hanks made a pretty good Ben Bradlee – or at least a pretty good Jason Robards. He wasn’t over-the-top, my usual complaint about him, and he wasn’t whiny.
  • And the movie definitely made the case that the Times was the firstest with the mostest when it came to the Pentagon Papers.

As for that other concern, Spielberg, there’s definitely some heavy-handed Spielberg nonsense. Bradlee sending the intern to the Times to spy – made up; the little lemonade girl had all the makings of made-up Spielberg forcing a kid into the action-ness in it (though for all I know it might have been true). There were a couple of other things I had issues with but don’t want to spoil.

Again, all that said, it was a terrific movie. I loved the hot type stuff. I came in at the very end of that era, and it brought back memories. I loved seeing the presses run. I loved seeing newspapers taking on the Establishment.

And that last one made me sad, too. I love the ideals of journalist, but I don’t love the news biz anymore. It’s as though we’ve resigned ourselves to the inherent biases, and I feel like the business in general is too close to the Powers-That-Be, at least at the top levels. Like it was then, too, for that matter.

I walked out of Spotlight feeling exhilarated about how journalism had done its job. I walked out of The Post glad that Nixon and the Nixonites had gotten their just desserts, but wondering why Trump hasn’t gotten his.


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A Christmas (Tree) Story, or Arthur’s Last Stand

No, nobody got his or her eye shot out. Though I once did shoot my best friend in the eyebrow. With a BB gun. Why’d I shoot at Mike? Because he asked me to. To see if he could dodge it. And I swear I’m not making that up. (Best friends since then be warned.)

But once again our quest for an Xmas – take that Robert Pittenger – tree took us down an unusual road.

Let’s recap some earlier tales of our annual quests for holiday trees and the crimes, near-crimes and misdemeanors that were committed in the process – don’t trust the process!

  • By far the most serious of the crimes was treespassing, which my family committed often when I was a kid. That’s not a typo – it really was treespassing – the practice of trudging through our neighbor’s land and cutting down one of his trees for our house. I wrote about it here.
  • The near-crime – a wardrobe malfunction that could have but didn’t happen – could have caused a scene at the neighborhood CVS. This was just last year, and I detail it in excruciating run-on fashion here.  (I know that’s not a great call-to-action, but hey. Either you want to read my ramblings or you don’t, and if you’ve made this far, you’re probably all in.
  • The misdemeanor – near-child near-endangerment – happened when Karen, at the time 13 months pregnant with our first child, and I took our tree quest to a cut-your-own yule tree lot in Cat Square. In Lincoln County. Near Gastonia. In a driving sleet storm. (Not our finest moment.) I wrote about it here.

As it happens, sleet – and snow – played a part in this year’s adventure as well.

That’s because we’d planned to get the tree Friday night and put it up and decorate it Saturday and Saturday night, respective, so that we (and by we I mean I) could watch the Panthers game on TV Sunday. We generally wait a bit longer than most folks to get a tree because we like to leave it up a little longer – at least until New Year’s.

But the weather wasn’t great in the Greater Indian Trail Metro Friday night. It was snowy, sleety and cold. Neither Karen nor I wanted anything to do with driving the three miles or so to the lot we now frequent. We decided we’d go Saturday morning, which certainly would keep my Panthers plans on track.

Except Saturday morning turned into mid-Saturday afternoon. The guy who runs the lot, Steve, was stuck in the mountains with a truckload of trees, so we didn’t have many to choose from. But we found one we liked – though I distinctly remember mentioning that I thought the trunk might have been crooked …

Anyway, Steve’s brother trimmed the end off, bagged it, and tied it to the car. We got it home without incident. And that’s when I discovered how heavy it was.

Karen had to go to the grocery store, so we (and by we I mean I) took it into the garage. Truth is, it needed to dry out a bit anyway.

So we (and by we I mean I) didn’t take it into the house until she got back and we (and by we I mean we) put the groceries away. It was around 6:30 or so, I guess, when we started the effort to put it in the stand.

This is usually the strained part of holiday tree decorating in our house. I hold the tree, Karen screws it in and then we see if it’s straight. Or straight enough. Spoiler alert: It never is. Lather, rinse and repeat, until we get it right, at which point we’re generally to frustrated to decorate.

But this night was different. It was special. We got it in the stand, straight enough, the first time. Or did we?

Luckily, we took a break to eat a quick dinner. Which was a good thing. Because less than an hour later, the still naked tree fell.

So some Buffalo chicken sliders and potato skins later, we tried again, even tilting it a bit – we thought – so that if it fell, it fell backwards. It stayed that way the rest of the night – we decided we’d put off the decorating until Sunday morning. Panthers vs. Vikings was till looking good. I was confident.

You can see what’s coming, of course. I got up Sunday morning and found the tree had fallen again, after having been upright for at least seven hours.

What this told me was that the tree was just too heavy – and slightly crooked – for our stand. We thought about possible solutions:

  • Ditch the tree and buy an artificial one. This will happen at some point, we concede. We just won’t be able to handle putting it up.
  • Adopt a new concept. Let the tree stay horizontal and pile the presents up around (and over) it. I like breaking ground, but it might be confusing for my grandson, Samuel.
  • Buy another *#:!@)^& tree stand – we’d gone through days in which we purchased tree stands every other year, it seemed. But we thought we were done with that. Thought being the operative word …

So I took to the Interwebs to find a better tree stand. Which I did. It’s a monster. With iron legs and stuff and billed as the last one you’ll ever have to buy.

It had better be because it cost more than tree itself. But at 9 a.m. Sunday I was dragging my sorry butt to the Lowe’s in Monroe – the one near my house didn’t have any. How different was this stand? They didn’t even display it with the plastic stuff – it had it’s own space near the register. Outside. Which meant I had to actually talk to someone to buy it. Bah, humbug!

The good news. It worked. We installed the tree and it is solidly in there, standing strong and tall. We decorated during the game and had it ready when Sam came over. And the wonder in his eyes and voice as he studied the ornaments made it worth the price and effort and frustration and delay.

Arthur’s last stand? Probably. Because that horizontal tree(TM) is sounding better all the time.

Happy Holidays, all! Except for a certain Washington, D.C., resident whose heart is at least five sizes too small.




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Shining a light on Christmas – the Murray Way

So here’s how things go around Casa de Murray. We got our Christmas tree Friday night from the local lot we always patronize. Really nice family from the mountains runs it. They even tie the tree on your car for you. Got it home and put it in the garage because we were tired and hungry. Saturday Garrett and I brought it in the house, set it in the stand, helped Karen get it straight and screwed in. We were going to decorate Saturday night after Karen went out to wrap up Xmas shopping and a short trip to the grocery store. Only we didn’t because we were tired and hungry. So we got up this morning and started decorating, beginning with the three strands of Xmas lights we had, figuring it would easily be enough. Only it wasn’t. So I threw on some jeans – more on this later – zipped my Red Ventures Insurance hoodie and ran to the CVS a block away from the house to buy two more strands of 100 lights each, just to be sure. When I got back, Karen – wanting to stay busy – had been working on decorating the mantle. It looked great to me, but she wasn’t happy with the ribbon. So she went to a different type of ribbon, which looked great to me, but she wasn’t happy with the ribbon loops. So she redid the loops after some careful measuring. Meanwhile I’m just evaluating her work, offering encouragement, which is what I do. (insert smiley face here) She finishes and it looks great to me. And good enough to her. So I go to open the boxes of lights I’ve just bought so we can get back to the tree. Only I bought two boxes – 100 lights each – of white lights. Which don’t go at all with the multi-colored strands we have on the tree. So I throw my jeans back on and zip up my Red Ventures Insurance hoodie and go back to CVS, cursing my stupidity all along. One good thing about waiting to open the lights – I still had the receipt instead of throwing it away as I normally would have immediately. So I get to CVS and wait in a short but very slow line. I don’t really understand how much receipt the registered printed for the woman standing in front of me, who only bought one thing. But I returned the white lights with no problem. So then I went back to the Xmas light aisle and discovered why I bought while lights in the first place – there were no small boxes of multi-colored lights. I searched and searched, even in the hair products aisle, but no luck. So I went back to the Xmas light aisle and bought a 300-bulb multi-colored strand on a pretty cool hose-reel-like apparatus, which fascinated me. Even though I didn’t think I needed 300 more lights and was pretty concerned that we’d have loops and loops of lights surrounding the tree skirt. Oh, and remember those jeans and that RVI hoodie I threw on – you thought I’d forgotten the more on that later, didn’t you? Well, they were my oldest jeans still in the rotation. And right now they’re pretty stretched out. And I’ve actually lost a bit of weight over past couple of months or so. Which mattered, because I could feel them start to sag as I walked up to the register with my hose reel of lights occupying at least one of my hands. So I couldn’t pull them up, which had the potential to be an issue. But luckily my Red Ventures Insurance hoodie is long, long enough to mask the problem until I could get to the car. So I get home and open the hose reel of lights and find that the strand, as packed, ends with the male end of the prong. Only we need it to end with the female end. So I start unwinding the lights, figuring I’ll have to unwind the whole strand to get to the connector I need. And it was then that I got my first break of the day – it wasn’t a 300-light strand – it was three 100-light strands. So I only had to unwind one. Which we connected to what we had on the tree. Which finished it up. We added our ornaments – we have some really cool ones which we supplemented this year with ornaments we picked up in Cozumel and Honduras. TL;DR – we expected to be done by 11 a.m. or so. We finished at 3. And, yes, we were tired and hungry. But we have a pretty beautiful tree, in my opinion.

So that’s how we do Christmas trees – it might take us 56 hours from the time we start until the time we finish, but we wind up with something we’re proud of. And to think I suggested to Karen that we might need to consider an artificial tree this year …

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When Too Cool Isn’t, or How I (Sorta) Met the Canadian Beckys

Since December, I’ve been commuting to Boston pretty frequently for my job. What started as a monthly trip turned into once every two or three weeks and, most recently, trips three weeks in a row and four in the past five. I generally only spend two or three days there, so I’m still in Charlotte more than not.

I’ve written pretty sparely about my experiences commuting – here’s the exception. But that ends today. This is about the weather and my recent odyssey home – complete with a Cyclops of a sort, roadblocks, the Flying Canadian Beckys, and more. So here goes.

Whether the weather matters – and how

Of course it matters. When I started going up last winter, I worried about the cold weather. Spoiler alert – it wasn’t really that cold this year. I remember one morning in the single digits (it happened to be a departure morning ). Other than that, I don’t even remember anything colder than the mid-20s. Tolerable, in the world according to Arthur where I’m ALWAYS too hot.

So now, of course, it’s spring – even in Boston. And compared to Charlotte, it’s much cooler. You’d think that would be a good thing, right? You’d be wrong.

Here’s why: Because it’s cooler to start with, it seems most drivers/businesses in Boston apparently see no reason to use (or even have) air conditioning. That’s why being cooler isn’t.

Not The Odyssey, but my odyssey

I had to get home Thursday night (so I could see Garrett get some awards Friday), so I took a later than usual flight back – it was to leave at 9:01 and land at 11:30. Of course, it didn’t, but that would up being a good thing – some interesting stuff happened.

The Big Lie

Have you seen all the TV and print reports about how terrible it is to get through security right now at airports, with three-hour waits common and folks sleeping in airports because they missed their flights and every other horror available?

I can’t speak for every airport, of course, and I know there have been some actual problems in Chicago. But I can speak for Charlotte and Boston (and I’ve read similar sentiments from Sports Illustrated football guy Peter King). It’s all overblown. The combined amount of time I spent in line and going through security last week for my trip was less than 2 minutes – yes, I said minutes.

What the cyclops didn’t see

In The Odessey, one of the problems Ulysses faces on the way home is the Cyclops – a one-eyed giant bent on killing him and his crew. The cyclops I encountered at my gate in the Boston airport wasn’t a giant, and she had two eyes. But she only saw one thing – herself.

I heard her talking to a guy near me as we waited for our group to be called to board the plane. She lived in Orlando but wished she lived in Tampa.  She was already obnoxious when I heard her say it.

‘I’m in Group 3, but I’m going to stand up there and get in the way and get first.’ This matters, because on full flights – and all Boston-Charlotte flights generally are full – it’s a mad dash to get your carry-on bag in the overhead container. Even in Group 2, it’s difficult. So jumping the line is ridiculous. And she bragged about it.

This flight was more than full – they apparently sold one seat twice. They resolved it, but it was a big hassle because nobody was sitting in the right seat. In part because of …

The Canadian Beckys

Despite the cyclops, I made it to my seat (a couple of rows behind her – I gave her a major glare as I passed but I’m pretty sure she was oblivious to anything that didn’t directly affect her – and got my bag stored OK.

And then I started noticing something: A parade of young women – most appeared to be somewhere around 15 years old – all wearing shirts that said ‘Becky.’ They started trading seats with non-Beckys so they could site near one another and a woman whom I guess was their chaperone.

I don’t know if they made up a choir or a sports team or a club or what. What I do know: They talked. A lot. Which is why I knew they were Canadian. One of them, Becky 7 (and I swear I’m not making that up), mentioned that they were from Canada. And that she was excited to be going to Charlotte. The chaperone reminded her that they really wouldn’t be spending much time in the Queen City – I don’t know their final destination.

But I know that Becky 7 also was excited about going to Chick-fil-A  – I boycott eating there but figured I couldn’t justify leaving the name out of this. And she also wanted to eat a grit.

Getting home

Becky 7 and the other Beckys chattered pretty constantly through the flight. Which was delayed. But we did finally get back about 11:45ish that night. And I gotta tell you, the Charlotte airport was active. By which I mean it took forever for me to get out, board my shuttle and exit the airport.

But now I was on the last leg of the trip home. Which I thought would go quickly. Except it didn’t.

I-485 wasn’t too bad, but when I got off on the local road that comes near my house, things took a turn. Or didn’t. Because I didn’t move at all. Because of construction on that road. I’m not sure what they were doing, but they closed a lane. And, like the refugees in Casablance, I wait. And wait. And wait.

Until finally it’s my turn to go. Now I’m in the home stretch. Smooth sailing, right? Nope. I go a mile or two and there are two police cruisers straddling my lane. I could go around them, but I wasn’t sure I should. I’m not sure why they were stopped there, but after a minute or two, one pulls off leaving me a clear lane.

So I beat on, a boat against my current, borne back ceaselessly … actually I wasn’t borne back at this point. And unlike Gatsby, I wasn’t attracted by a green light.

What I nearly missed

No, mine was red. More specifically, it was the light from a huge blood red moon Thursday night. A not-quite full but pretty close to it red moon. It was beautiful – a small but welcome distraction that led me back home.

Where I wanted – and always want – to be.

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Longing for the Sound of Silence

I caught a break on my most recent flight to Boston. But it was a bad one. Things started well enough. I was taking the 9:40 flight instead of my usual 7:40 one, so that meant a little extra sleep. Which, as it turned out, was a REALLY good thing since I wasn’t able to nap during the flight.

That’s because of what happened once I made it on the plane. I had one of the Row 17 aisle seats – always great for me and my slight claustrophobia. Had no trouble getting my bag in the overhead. Everything was going great.

Until he started my way. I’m not sure how old he was, nor did I care. He pointed at the two seats on the row inside mine. I got up so he and an older woman traveling with him could get in. And made the mistake of saying hello. I think it was like inviting a vampire into your home.

From that point on, I’m not sure that he ever stopped talking to – make that at – me. Not when I started reading something – anything – on my phone. Not when I closed my eyes. Not when I turned slightly away from him. Not at all.

His name was Bob

Despite the short name, he was long-winded. Which wouldn’t have been nearly as bad had he been interesting. Or believable.

He said he’d been given last rites three times. And been in a coma. And came out of it after some voodoo or another in the hospital chapel. In which two other coma patients came out of it at the same instance he did. He’d been injured, he said, when a drunken driver (drunk before 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning) hit his motorcycle head on coming out of a curve.

Which might have been plausible. If he hadn’t told me about his painting prowess. He paints without using tape or drop cloths, he says. But using both hands, he says. Which makes him faster than any other painter, he says.

Or about how he got out of the Army after being harassed “for no reason” by a captain and sergeant who told him he’d never leave boot camp in Oklahoma, where they made him stand guard duty every night and train every day. He said he’d gotten out by calling a congressman he’d worked for as a child when the congressman was first running for city office. And how the captain cried when the congressman called to dress him down. And how another sergeant shook his hand for standing up to the corrupt captain. I’m not sure that’s how discharges work. I’m not sure that’s how discharges work at all.

Or how he broke 50 for nine holes of golf within four weeks of starting to play, winning $100 from a friend – he never lost a bet, he said.

Or how he was a shop steward for a shoe plant in the Boston area – he now lived in Maine but had been on holiday (in the British sense – my words, not his) in Melbourne, FL, but was flying to Boston, where he grew up, to visit relatives.

Or how he had a perfect record in grievance cases as the shop steward because he (a) know all the workplace rules and regulations and (b) played golf regularly with the company CEO.

Or how he knew the plant was going to close months before anyone else who worked there did and was able to get a sweet school maintenance job.

Or how in his new role as a school maintenance supervisor all the children run up and jump in his arms every time they see him.

Or how he hates Donald Trump – whom he didn’t mention by name. (Hey, I never said Bob was a total idiot.)

Or how he’s going to start a movement to end the Electoral College. Because he knows people.

Envy might be a sin …

Here’s the funny part. I’d figured the woman next to him was his wife. But it was actually his sister-in-law. His wife was sitting in row 16, the one in front of us. That meant it was impossible for her to have to listen to him.

Here’s the even funnier part. She originally was sitting in the wrong seat in row 16. It was the one furthest from Bob, on the other side of the aisle. Yes, I envied her.

The one saving grace of the experience. I’ve been trying to soak up the whole Boston experience – I’ve found the people there so warm and helpful – totally opposite of the stereotype. Of course I haven’t had the beans or cream pie up there yet. And until that morning, I’d never heard any Bostonite use the word “wicked” as an adverb. Sure enough, in the millions of words Bob through my way, one of them was “wicked.” As an adverb.

Later that night, as I was unwinding at the hotel bar at least partially from my ordeal with Bob, I got my second and third wickeds of the day. From the bartender (and I’m determined NOT to drink Sam Adams, by the way – that’s a story for another day) and one of the businessman sitting a couple of barstools down. I chuckled under my breath, downed the rest of my draft and made my way to the waiting clam chowdah and lobstah roll.

Hey, Words Matter. But too many words don’t. At least not in a good way.

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The Reinvention of Arthur

Recently, a group of writers at Red Ventures – the company that employs me – asked me and some colleagues with newspaper experience to be part of a panel discussion about journalism and marketing copywriting. There is very little I love more than talking about myself, so I jumped at the chance.

They gave panelists the questions before the event, and I scripted my answers so I wouldn’t forget anything I really wanted to say in the heat of the moment (or in case they started playing the your-speech-has-gone-on-too-long-now-music as they do at the Oscars).

As I got to the end, I started thinking, ‘This might make a good blog post – the (partial) story of Arthur.’ Some of the answers here might be familiar to veteran Rants ‘N Raves readers, and I like to flatter myself that that’s really a thing. Anyway, here goes. Some questions – but not so much answers – have been edited for clarity and brevity:

When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?

At a very early age. It’s probably no surprise that superheroes played a big part in my career choice. See, I was a big Superman fan growing up – those were the first comic books my mom bought me. Anyway, Clark Kent worked at a newspaper as a reporter. From that time on, a newspaper career was the only thing I ever really wanted.

By the way, I often blame my mom for buying me Superman comics first and sentencing me to a life of journalism poverty. If only she’d gotten Batman instead – I think I was really much more cut out for the billionaire playboy gig …

Where did you go to school? What newspaper(s) did you write for?

I graduated from THE University of North Carolina in … well, nevermind when. Since then, I worked at a number of small papers across the state:

  • I spent 13 years at the Jacksonville (NC) Daily News, which was about 20,000 circulation or so at the time. (The truth of the matter is that I spent much too long there, but I was having too much fun – some idiot put me and my best friend at the time in charge – to leave.)
  • I worked 4 years at the Gaston Gazette – circulation around 50,000 at the time, the best I remember. Gastonia was and is The Hellmouth of Weird.
  • Then I was editor of the Henderson Daily (almost – we didn’t publish on Mondays) Dispatch for three years, which was near Raleigh but oh-so-far away.
  • I escaped newspapers but not journalism in 2000, when I returned from a vacation in the mountains and gave my two week notice at Henderson so that I could become a senior editor at a North Carolina business magazine in Charlotte with the ridiculously backward name of Business North Carolina. I stayed there nine years until they kicked me out – I got laid off like just about everyone else in journalism.

The truth is, I fell out of love with journalism (and especially the people who ran it) long before it fell out of love with me.

Describe how you got into the newspaper industry.

It must have been divine intervention. When I graduated from the University of the People, I had no clips, no experience, not even time at a student newspaper. But I managed to break out of my well-documented introvertism (I know it’s not a word – but I like it) briefly – I’m an INFJ – to talk my way into a reporter job at what had to be a very desperate Jacksonville newspaper. Here’s how desperate: Six months or so later later, I was city editor – the No. 2 position in that newsroom.

Which section did you write for?

I spent nearly all of my career on the news side, but I was the sports editor in Gastonia for a couple of years. The editor asked me to take over that section to clean up some problems (I won’t go into them) that had cropped up.

That meant I covered home Carolina Panthers games their first two years in existence – the first year of which they played at Clemson – and I attended an ACC Basketball Tournament the year dook sucked and Coach K had his “backache” – it was also the year that Dean Smith and Rick Barnes went nose-to-nose (not a winning strategy when it comes to Dean’s nose). Sadly, Randolph blanking Childress kept the Heels from winning the title that year.

Describe the story you’re most proud of.

OK, this is difficult because I spent so little time in newspapers as a reporter. Newspaper-wise, I guess I’m most proud of a series of articles I did covering the court-martial of Pfc. Robert Garwood – the last POW to return from Vietnam.

He was charged with desertion and collaborating with the enemy, among other things guarding fellow POWs and on one occasion striking one. He was convicted of communicating with the enemy and assaulting a POW (after hearing the guy’s testimony, I’m not sure I blamed Garwood). Ralph Macchio later played Garwood in a made-for-TV movie.

In addition to my coverage for the Jacksonville paper, I got a byline in one of the London tabloids for writing about the case. Another factoid: A book on the case was written by Duncan Groom, who later wrote … Forrest Gump.

But the story I’m most proud of during my overall journalism career came when I was at the business magazine. It was a profile of Jim Blaine, the CEO of State Employees Credit Union, the man most hated by the banks. He’d been a banker himself until he had a conversion experience – not on the road to Damascus but on the road to Fayetteville.

It was a cover story and the cover art itself was my idea – a photo of him with devil horns drawn on as though bankers had defaced it. He absolutely loved it; so did I.

Through all that, the accomplishment I’m MOST proud of during my time at newspapers is meeting my wife.

Describe the most interesting story you wrote.

I’ll answer first by identifying some of the most interesting people I interviewed: wrestling empresario Vince McMahon, Governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, a slew of state lawmakers (before the idiots took over), Burley Mitchell (who later became chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court), Shaquille O’Neal (in a group interview – Shaq was incredibly soft-spoken), a ton of Carolina Panthers, and tennis star John McEnroe (as you might guess, the biggest asshole ever).

The most interesting story I ever wrote might have been for the magazine – a profile of Dr. Johnnetta Cole, at the time the president of Bennett College, an HBCU for women in Greensboro. She saved the college by putting together an unlikely coalition of Bill Clinton, Robert Dole, Oprah, and others. Interestingly enough, Dr. Cole also once accepted a $20 million check from Bill Cosby to help save another women’s HBCU, Spelman College in Atlanta.

When I worked in newspapers, the most interesting story probably was a series at Gastonia – we set up an investigative team similar to the one in the movie Spotlight, except that we had two weeks to conduct our research, do our interviews and churn out the stories where they had years. And we weren’t that good. The story was about the coming water wars – it was ahead of its time then and still is.

How did you end up at Red Ventures?

After being laid off by the magazine, I spent nearly two years freelancing – it was fun but stressful because of the uncertainty from month to month. So I applied first for a contract writer job at RV – bailed when I heard the pay. Then a recruiter called me back and asked if I wanted to interview for a contract editor’s job. I did, and I talked to a couple of folks there and took an editing test – all told, I spent a little more than an hour here that day.

I got the job. After two three-month contracts on a project that I’m not sure ever saw the light of day, RV hired a handful of us to stay as permanent employees. So I never really had to go through the standard RV interview process – literally a half-day of interviews!

What was it like to transition from reporting to marketing?

As you might expect, the big change was switching from ostensibly neutral to unabashedly biased writing. The big advantages – I knew how to write quickly and crank out a lot of stuff in a day. I also was used to researching and sourcing articles.

What is your biggest obstacle with working in marketing?

Fully believing in the product I’m pushing. I’ve been lucky in that the two main businesses I’ve worked for here, I did embrace. Keep in mind that I’ve written/edited at one time or another for nearly every business at RV. That and writing too much – as fascinating as my words are, people don’t want to read as many of them as I want to write. And – this is going to sound arrogant but why stop now? – not being able to accept good enough work as good enough.

How did your journalism background help and hurt you in terms of writing for a marketing company?

It helped me in being able to switch gears quickly. And the attention to detail I picked up at the magazine has served me well. Along the way, I also picked up skills as a manager – I like to think I know how to develop and nurture writers and treat them well.

How would you sum up your switch from journalism to marketing?

(OK, the above wasn’t actually a question for the panel, but it gives me a chance to answer with one of my favorite song lyrics – from Return of the Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons:

‘Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you.’

That means I took a long, winding path to get to a destination I never saw coming. And I wouldn’t change nothing …

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Good Luck and Pulitzer Prizes

I mentioned on Facebook this morning that I possess an extraordinary amount of dumb luck – that’s the only way to explain the great stuff that happens to and for me. No, I didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize, though – my luck doesn’t go that far!

But I have been lucky enough to be introduced to (and shake hands with) at least three Pulitzer Prize winners during my life. I’ve written previously about meeting Bob Woodward and Katherine Graham on a Saturday morning at the Washington Post, thanks to a friend’s dad. Here’s a short snippet from that post:

Both publisher Katharine Graham and Bob Woodward were working that day. That should have scared me off journalism right there. … Mrs. G, as she was known around the office, was warm and seemed interested in us. (This is the same person of whom Nixon henchthug John Mitchell once said, during Watergate: “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” Yes, that was our attorney general in those days.) Woodward, on the other hand, could hardly have been more disinterested. He gave us a limp handshake and not much else. 

The dumb luck part comes in how I met the third Pulitzer winner. Here goes:

I’m fortunate that my employer, Red Ventures, allows us to work from home pretty much any time we feel the urge. Much of my team, at this point, works in Boston, so it doesn’t really make a lot of difference most days whether I work at RV in Fort Mill, SC, or from my house. This week, most of the rest of my colleagues who normally work in Charlotte were in Boston, too.

That’s the reason I’d been contemplating working from home today, though I’d been waffling because the main thing I’m working on right now might – and I stress the word might – go faster and easier working on my dual monitor setup at the office.

I was still going back and forth with myself – I’d even sent an email to two coworkers telling them I planned on working at home – when Garrett came downstairs and declared he had an upset stomach. Well, that cinched it.

One reason I wanted to stay at home was because I wanted to, while I was working, listen to music without wearing headphones. Now I couldn’t do that. Plus, I didn’t want to be distracted. Plus, I didn’t want to get infected with whatever ailment Garrett had. (And yes, I realize what a crappy father I am for making this decision.)

So I showered and threw on some jeans and a T-shirt. Not just any tee, but one of my Golden Door Scholars T-shirts. Golden Door Scholars is a program started by RV CEO Ric Elias – we provide full-ride college scholarships for undocumented high-performing students. I believe passionately in the program and in the two scholars I mentor, Maria and Vanessa.

Anyway, I got a bit of a late start and wound up getting to work about 10 minutes or so later than normal. Which is not a big deal at RV.

What was a big deal …

So as I was walking from the parking deck to my desk – entering one building, trudging up three flights of steps, and entering the second building of our campus (yes, I could park closer to my desk, but I tell myself I’m at least getting a little exercise by taking the path I do), I spied Ric and another man walking toward me.

Ric greeted me warmly, as he nearly always does, and asked me about one of my scholars – I’d mentioned to him earlier this week that I’d gotten an email update from her and that it was spectacular. He wanted details – I told him about her summer research internship at the VA Hospital in Portland, and how she’d won two other scholarships, and been elected chair of the student senate at her college, and met a recruiter for an important Research Triangle Park biotech, and had all A’s so far this semester (again) except for one B in inorganic chemistry. You get the idea – to say she’s a high-achiever is to undersell her. (My other scholar is similarly outstanding – she has a research internship this summer at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.)

Then Ric introduces me to the guy – his name is Jose Vargas. He’s speaking tonight at Davidson. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist (part of a Washington Post team that covered the Virginia Tech shootings). He’s written for The New York Times magazine and been on the cover of Time. He also wrote, produced and directed a film, Documented.

His speech tonight is about immigration and HB2, two issues I care deeply about. (In case you don’t know, I’m passionately for immigration and I’m adamantly opposed to HB2 – in its entirety.)

So I met this a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. In town to speak about immigration. With me wearing a Golden Door T-shirt. And got to schmooze with the boss. Because I got to work late. And because I decided to go to the office today. Because my son didn’t feel good.

Luck? Destiny? You decide …

But wait, there’s more …

Here’s the post-credits scene to the tale above. A little later this morning, I had to go to the bathroom – Karen says I shouldn’t have mentioned that fact, but I think it’s vital to show just how random life can be. For some reason, I didn’t go to the restroom that’s closest to me.

I picked another one, for no particular reason. And barely beat one of the IT guys to the single stall. When I came out to wash my hands, I came face to face with Ric again. We chatted again, and I mentioned that I’d looked Jose up and thanked him for introducing me to him.

He didn’t miss a beat when he spoke:

“No, Arthur, he was lucky to meet you!”


Filed under Biography, work