Coming to a TV, then website, near you

I will be a guest on WTMJ-TV’s “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes” Easter Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

Those whose TVs are in range of channel 4 in Milwaukee can watch Sunday, while others can watch online at sometime Monday morning.

I don’t believe Ed Garvey was invited, so I doubt we will have the “They’re Coming to Take Me Away! Ha! Ha!” conspiracy theory of my Wisconsin Public Radio appearance one week ago.


Blast from the past: Adventures in radio

I first wrote this in June 2008, so add three to the date references. If I was writing more generally about sports broadcasting, I could add the thrill announcing a game on a press box roof during 40-mph winds, as I did in Kewaskum last October.

This year marks my 20th anniversary in the full-time work world. It also marks 20 years since I started broadcasting sports as a side interest, something I had wanted to since I started listening to games on radio and watching on TV, and then actually attending games.

If you ask someone who’s worked in radio for some time about the late ’70s TV series “WKRP in Cincinnati,” most of them will tell you that, if anything, the series understated how wacky working in radio can be. Perhaps the funniest episode in the history of TV is the “WKRP” episode, based on a true story, about the fictional radio station’s Thanksgiving promotion — throwing live turkeys out of a helicopter under the mistaken belief that, in the words of WKRP owner Arthur Carlson, “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

I’ve never been involved in anything like that. I have announced games from the roofs of press boxes (fortunately on a nice day), from a Mississippi River bluff (more on that later), and from the front row of the second balcony of the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse (great view, but not a place to go if you have vertigo). Even though I’ve never worked full-time in radio, for some reason I’ve had enough strange things happen to me during radio games to write a book — or this blog entry.

The second year I was doing games, I had a Friday afternoon football game followed by a Saturday afternoon football game — that is, until I got thrown into a Friday night game when the scheduled announcer chose the day before to have an emergency appendectomy. (Having had one 25 years ago, I can tell you that in those days, all appendectomies were emergencies.) Game number two was difficult enough in that I was announcing the team in the town where the radio station was, having not seen them play yet. The only score of the game was an interception return, and so, since I spent the time I’d usually take to memorize rosters driving from afternoon game site to night game site, I called the visiting team’s defensive back’s making like Al Harris against Seattle racing down the sidelines, not being able to identify him until he reached the end zone and I had a moment to look at the roster to identify him.

The next afternoon came game number three at a former Lutheran high school in Prairie du Chien (before that a Catholic high school, and now a prison for juveniles) where a game had never been broadcast before that day. The “press box” was just a table at the top of the bleachers where the public address announcer and scoreboard operator sat. No problem there; we just set up in front of the press table, which was equipped with speakers for the PA announcer. That proved to be a big problem, because the PA announcer fancied himself a play-by-play guy, and so every time we tried to call a play, he’d overpower us on the radio. (“On first down, a handoff to Jason JASON BRINKMAN ON THE RUNNING PLAY!”) We should have given him our game checks.

Five months later, I was announcing the last regular season basketball game between two archrivals; the home team could have been part of a three-way split for the conference title had they beaten the visitors, who had clinched a share of the title already. The home team picked a bad night to have a bad night, and toward the end of the game, I described on-air a group of people being told by the referees to leave the gymnasium due to their comments about his officiating. It was more than a year later when I found out who made those comments — they turned out to be some of the people who became my in-laws.

I then left southwest Wisconsin only to return to the radio a few years later, when, in a casual conversation with the radio station’s news and sports director, he asked me if I wanted to do games that fall. At the time, I was living in Appleton, about four hours away from said games. However, gas was a good deal less than $4 a gallon, I had the ability to get off work early, we had no children to deal with, and we could stay the weekend with the in-laws, so, for two years, my wife and I would get off work around 2 p.m., race home, hit the road for southwest Wisconsin and, four hours later, arrive at the game site to announce that week’s game. (That arrangement paved the way for the single oddest thing that happened to me in radio sports, which comes up in just a few paragraphs.)

I will probably spend time in Purgatory for this next story: At the end of the first year of this arrangement, I had a state semifinal football game to announce involving one of the teams the radio station covered. The game was at Sauk Prairie, so I drove from Appleton to Beaver Dam, and then my wife drove while I studied rosters and game notes. I also picked up that day’s issue of the Wisconsin State Journal, which had a story about the game we were announcing, noting that the opponent was inspired by the death of the father of one of the players earlier that year. That team indeed won in overtime, the second time in my career that I had been stopped from the chance of doing a state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. And on the way out to our car (fortunately out of the earshot of the winner’s fans), I muttered about the unfairness of using the dead for inspiration, thus creating the phrase “Dead Guy Game” in my lexicon. (Some time later, I heard that a sports correspondent who covered the team we were announcing suggested in jest that if that’s what it took to get to state, his own team’s fans could have arranged to kill their own coach.)

The first round of the high school football playoffs in Wisconsin is traditionally the Tuesday after the regular season ends. So, in year two, I left work early on that Tuesday, drove four hours west, announced a playoff game, and then drove back to Appleton, arriving at 1:50 a.m., in time for a whole five hours of sleep before I had to go back to work.

I got to repeat that arrangement a couple years later, when I went from Ripon to Portage to call in highlights for one playoff game, then drove to De Soto, which is on the Mississippi River, to announce another playoff game that night. I had been warned that the setting for that game was, shall we say, interesting — De Soto had a small press box/concessions stand/ticket booth, so our game location was outside next to the press box, at the top of the bluff below which sat the football field. We were higher than the lights, and sections of bleachers below us were roped off due to falling rocks. We were told that games had been interrupted in the past by deer who would wander through the woods behind the football field onto the field. After announcing in that interesting setting (which became really interesting when the fog rolled in), I of course jumped back in the car and headed back to Ripon (making it a 300-mile day), because I had to take my wife to Outagamie County Airport for her 8 a.m. flight the next day. The only thing that made that trip work was the fact that it happened to be the weekend when Daylight Saving Time ended, so I at least got one more hour of sleep than usual.

After those two years of games every weekend, I’d be asked to occasionally call games during periods where the radio station had more games than available announcers — for instance, the postseason if more than one team went far in the playoffs. One day after the March 1998 blizzard that dumped 28 inches of snow in Wautoma, I had to go to Mineral Point for a basketball sectional semifinal game. The problem was the roads were so bad that it took more than two hours to get from Appleton to Beaver Dam, where I stopped and called the radio station and told them I might not make it to the game on time because the roads were so bad. However, once I headed southwest on U.S. 151 again, there was absolutely no snow or ice on the ground. I got from Beaver Dam to Mineral Point (97 miles) faster than I got from Appleton to Beaver Dam (64 miles).

Another instance where I got called in was to do a girls basketball sectional final (the last game before state, which, like we all discovered this past January, is the absolute worst game to lose — to lose the championship game is better than not playing in it at all.) I went to the radio station the afternoon of the game to pick up the equipment, at a time when the only person at the radio station was trying to engineer coverage of two separate postseason wrestling team sectionals. When the telephone line to one of the sites disconnected, the engineer tried to magically reconnect the line by yelling “HELLO!” progressively louder into the phone. Just when you thought he couldn’t get any louder (“HEL-LO-OOO!“), he did (“HEL-LO-OOOOO!“). I actually had to leave the building because I couldn’t stop laughing, but I didn’t want him to see me laughing because, well, he had a reputation of being a bit unstable.

I got one day of warning for that assignment, because the sectional semifinal game was the previous evening. But I can do games on less warning than that — I was sitting in my office one early April morning at my former employer when I got a phone call from one of the hotels in Fond du Lac. The person on the other line was a co-owner of an adult amateur hockey team in Texarkana, Texas, which was playing in the USA Hockey National Championships beginning that afternoon. The tournament took place at the same time that the Iraq war began, and even though the team had purchased air time for the games on a Texarkana radio station, the radio station could not send anyone to announce the game because staff was needed in case of big war developments. The radio station sent the equipment on the team’s flight to Wisconsin, promising they’d find an announcer up here, but failing. The hotel clerk suggested calling Marian, I guess because Marian has hockey (though the games weren’t broadcast anywhere until last season). When the co-owner asked if anyone at Marian had broadcast hockey before, I said, why, yes, I had announced hockey before. (One high school game, 15 years earlier, which I did not mention.)

Six hours later, after getting my wife, who conveniently was home on maternity leave for our youngest son, to bring my game bag to work, I sat in the Blue Line Family Ice Center, announcing a team I’d never heard of before that morning in a tournament I had barely paid note of before that morning on a radio station I’d never heard of in a part of the country I’ve never been to (four states in the Texarkana area). It was, however, a great experience — three one-goal games, with the winning goals scored progressively later in the games. The Texarkana fans were great (there were three Web sites for the team, one of which had video of the team’s on-ice fights), and apparently the listeners back in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma liked my work, based on the feedback I got over the phone line from the radio station. They were particularly interested in my description of the eight inches of wet snow that fell during the second day of the tournament.

In the late 1990s, I started doing Ripon College basketball on the local radio station. Ripon’s conference, the Midwest Conference, is rather spread out, with five Wisconsin colleges (including Lawrence, Ripon and St. Norbert), four Illinois colleges and one Iowa college. The basketball schedule included Friday–Saturday doubleheaders, and so we’d usually announce the women’s and men’s games at the first site, leave after the game and get to the second site sometime after midnight, so we didn’t have to get up early and possibly be at the mercy of the weather. The third year I did Ripon’s games, the schedule featured an epic road trip to Lake Forest College and Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill. — a round trip of 773 miles over two days. (Believe it or not, one year earlier I did a Ripon-to-Monmouth, Ill.-to-Grinnell, Iowa-to Twin Cities weekend for my games and my wife’s job — more than 1,000 miles over three days.)

A few weeks before that odyssey was scheduled, I was sitting at my desk at Marketplace reading the Wall Street Journal about the cult-like following of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Krispy Kreme had no Wisconsin stores yet, but there were four in the Chicago area, including one sort of on the way to central Illinois. So I emailed my fellow announcer for the games and told him that henceforth the road trip would be referred to as “Operation Krispy Kreme.” If you have to drive through most of the night, certainly Krispy Kreme doughnuts and coffee should provide adequate sustenance.

By the time of the trip, others more familiar than I with Krispy Kreme had heard about Operation Krispy Kreme, and so by the time we left we had a lengthy list of doughnuts we were commanded to purchase. I was concerned about getting to Krispy Kreme at all because the store we were going to was in a south Chicago suburb, and Lake Forest is a northern suburb of Chicago, and of course one of our games went into overtime. We reached Krispy Kreme at 11:40 p.m., 20 minutes before the store was to close, and the store was full. And if that didn’t explain why Krispy Kreme had a cult-like following, the free sample did.

I drove through snow to Jacksonville, propelled by Krispy Kremes and their excellent coffee, arriving in Jacksonville at 3:40 a.m. The next day, we got up late, missed breakfast at the hotel restaurant (to this day I believe you cannot buy breakfast in Jacksonville, because I have never found a restaurant that serves breakfast), announced both Ripon–Illinois College games, jumped in the car and headed back to Wisconsin through more snow, arriving back in Ripon much earlier … at 3:25 a.m. I’m certain that the pneumonia I got six weeks later had nothing to do with that trip.

That might strike you as the strangest thing I witnessed or did on the radio. But I have a better story than that one. Back when I was making weekly trips to southwest Wisconsin, we had a game one Friday night early in the season in Westby, followed the next afternoon by a game in Wauzeka, which, like the aforementioned Lutheran school, had never had a game broadcast from there before this day.

When we arrived in Wauzeka, the press box immediately reminded me of the guard tower that got blown up in the opening titles of the old TV series “F Troop.” (That’s what the literary types call “foreshadowing.”) Getting up to the press box, I noticed that three of the steps looked as though they were pulling out of one of the stringers, so I suggested we (myself, my wife, my fellow announcer and his four-year-old son) avoid those steps.

My partner then left the press box for a bathroom trip for his son, returning about 10 minutes before we were to go on the air. He got his son up to the press box, then headed up the stairs. And then I heard a tremendous noise, and looked at the source of the noise to discover that there was no fellow announcer and no more stairs. He had hit the bad steps, gone through them, and landed on the ground 10 feet below, leaving a gaping hole in the stairs. The home team’s trainer came over to clean out the nail gouges up both sides of his torso, but when he became woozy, it was decided that perhaps he should be checked out at the nearby hospital. So when the taped voice threw the game to us, naming both of us, the first thing I had to do was explain why only I would be announcing that day, seeing as how at that very minute the local ambulance was driving him and his freaked-out four-year-old to the hospital.

Complicating matters further was the fact that my partner, to avoid paying for the installation of a telephone line, had created a Rube Goldberg-like arrangement where the radio unit we were using (it broadcasts between the FM band and the public service band) was picked up by a police scanner, which was connected to an old telephone in an office in the high school, by using two alligator jacks hooked into the posts of the handset’s microphone and the external plug on the scanner. That arrangement meant that I couldn’t hear how I sounded; my partner was going to listen to a radio while we called the game, but that duty went instead to my wife, who doubled as floor manager, cueing me to talk when we came out of commercial. I also had to say on the air at the end that I hoped someone from the radio station could come to the game and disconnect the equipment, since I had no idea how to do it. As it happened, my partner checked out OK at the hospital and returned to the game site just as the broadcast ended.

It was, fortunately, a good game, with the home team winning 18–11. Afterward, my wife said she didn’t think before then that I could talk essentially nonstop for almost three hours. My thought was that I couldn’t imagine that anyone wanted to listen to me talk essentially nonstop for almost three hours.

Blast from the past: Adventures in rural ink

I first wrote this in June 2009, so add two to all of the year references. This is part one of my two-part demonstration that, for someone who has never worked in what could be called major media, I have had enough unusual things happen to me to start writing a book.

I was driving somewhere one day this week through a rural area. And for some reason, I had a flashback to two experiences in my career about this time of year many years ago.

Twenty-one years ago, eight days after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, I started work at the Grant County Herald Independent in Lancaster as a — well, the — reporter. Four years after that, on my 27th birthday, I purchased, with a business partner, the Tri-County Press in Cuba City, my one and, to date, only business venture. Both were experiences about which Wisconsin author Michael Perry might write.

I thought about all this after reading a novel, The Deadline, written by a former newspaper editor and publisher. (Now who would write a novel about a weekly newspaper?) As a former newspaper owner, I picked at some of it — why finance a newspaper purchase through the bank if the seller is willing to finance it? Because the mean bank lender is a plot point! — and it is much more interesting than reality, but it is very well written, with a nicely twisting plot, and quite entertaining, again more so than reality.

There is something about that first job out of college that makes you remember it perhaps more fondly than how you experienced it — the younger version of yourself learning to do your life’s vocation. I remember individual stories that were, and are, favorites of mine more so than the brain-deadening experience, for instance, of writing stories well past midnight on Tuesdays, the night before the papers went to bed. I remember people calling me to complain about certain things in stories that I got wrong, or their differences with their interpretation of what I wrote. (In one case, I was accused of religious bias for mentioning not a church, and not a church’s cemetery, but the name of the road on which the church’s cemetery was located. I also once got a non-fan letter signed by 19 people, which seems like more of an accomplishment.)

My training to be a newspaper editor began with my years as a small-town newspaper reporter. My work at the Herald Independent included writing about schools, police and courts, plus feature stories, sports, unsigned opinion columns, photography, layout, headline-writing and even a cooking column. My weeks were busy, and my social life was pretty nonexistent (or so it seemed at the time), until I did the second of two stories about a local woman who had just returned from 2½ years in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. (But that’s another story.)

I had two reporter experiences that aren’t really supposed to happen. I was assigned to cover a school district whose relationship between the school board and the school district administrator was, to say the least, fractious. I discovered how fractious one night during a disciplinary hearing for a teacher, ordinarily held in closed session, but requested to be held in open session by the teacher. The meeting was held in the high school gymnasium, with tables for the school board set up in front of the bleachers, which seated more than 200 people.

When the board went off into an opposite corner of the gym to discuss something, this struck me as really wrong, if not illegal according to the state Open Meetings Law. The second time they started to get up, I stood up and (as the Wisconsin Newspaper Association instructed print journalists) identified myself as a reporter and told them they were violating the state Open Meetings Law by not conducting all of their meeting in front of the public. (I didn’t know if going into the corner was their idea of “executive session,” since neither I nor anyone else knew what they were discussing. If it was, they were not adjourning into executive session properly under state law.)

The school board president, a grandmotherly type but, as I was about to discover, with a temper, said, “If you want to hear us why don’t you stand right here!”, slamming her hand on the table for emphasis. So I got up and stood right in front of her, getting — to my embarrassment, because even someone with an ego my size knows that the reporter is not supposed to be the story — a round of applause from the crowd.

About a week later, the local radio station’s news director told me that she had gotten a phone call suggesting that I should be careful driving in that area, lest I be — paraphrasing — run off the road and beaten up. This was about the time I started carrying a baseball bat in my car.

I covered one murder trial from start to finish, for the shooting of a sheriff’s deputy. (A police officer’s funeral is one of the most impressive sights you’ll ever see, with dozens of police cars and officers in their dress uniforms from all over the area attending.) The defendant’s attorneys sought, instead of a conviction for first-degree intentional homicide, a conviction for first-degree reckless homicide, claiming the defendant didn’t actually intend to kill the deputy.

The prosecution methodically went through the entire evening leading up to the deputy’s shooting and capture, by a Dane County sheriff’s K-9 dog. (The arresting dog pulled the defendant out the haymow in which he was hiding by his face.) The defense then put the defendant on the stand, where he testified that he was afraid that his shooting the lights of a billboard was the reason he was pulled over, and since he had had one previous jail experience, he didn’t want to go back, which is why he freaked out and shot the deputy.

The district attorney, on rebuttal, asked a few questions, including “When the officer came around to the front of the tractor, that’s when you shot him?” The defendant answered, “I shot him when I saw him.”

The district attorney immediately decided he’d asked enough questions. We media types ran to the court reporter after court was recessed to make sure we’d actually heard the Perry Mason moment correctly. The defendant was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in less than 90 minutes, including lunch for the jury and the selection of the jury foreman.

Truth be told, such dramatics don’t usually occur. The rural newspaper job is more about covering endless meetings (there is a particular circle of Hell in which meetings to consider school construction projects can be found), going to the courthouse to do court stories and then looking to take a shower afterward, too-numerous-to-count “grip and grin” photos of checks being donated, games, prom court photos and so on. I watch the publisher and the editor of the Ripon newspaper, and they seem to have a camera surgically attached to their hands.

Weekly newspaper owners (that is, those that are not newspaper group owners) tread a tightrope between doing your duty as a journalist and being a business owner and therefore civic booster. (Being a journalist requires a particular personality type as it is — someone who is assertive, sufficiently extroverted to deal with the public, yet not bothered by being an outsider.) Reporting about bad things — job layoffs, dumb acts of government bodies, crimes and so on — is every bit as much your responsibility as reporting the good things going on, even though the former can have negative repercussions for your business. It is the old tension journalism school teaches budding journalists about the difference between what readers want to read and what readers need to read. Media people also are supposed to keep distance from who or what they cover, but in a small town, where the mayor is also the hardware store owner and goes to your church, that’s difficult to do.

Cuba City has the reputed oldest continuing Bicentennial project, a series of signs on Main Street commemorating all of our presidents. My newspaper office was where a group of us — the police chief, the Hall of Fame boys basketball coach and other business owners — hatched The City of Presidents, a motto that can be found on everything from signs to police cars to the city’s water tower. (My idea to change the official name of Main Street to the Parade of Presidents died when participants pondered the cost of changing stationery and signs for city offices, businesses and residences, let alone the time writing out “301 S. Parade of Presidents” on envelopes would take.)

Weekly newspaper editors, particularly the one-man shows, earn their pay. When I was the Tri-County Press’ editor, I was, in fact, the Tri-County Press’ editorial department — the reporter, the feature writer, the photographer, the columnist, the sportswriter, and the layout person. Other than a cooking column, social writing responsibilities of the office manager (basically birth, engagement and wedding announcements and the like) and occasional stories (county board or police and courts, a former beat of mine) contributed by my business partner’s other newspapers, I wrote every non-ad word in the newspaper.

This personal contribution seemed cool on most days of the week save one — Tuesday, when the newspaper was laid out. Most nights I was up past midnight writing, while my editorial assistant, son of the newspaper’s former owner, sat chain-smoking waiting for me to finish so he could put the print, photos and ads together on a layout sheet. (We had Macintoshes and word processing and desktop publishing software, but no 11×17-paper printer. We had at least advanced that far; the layout was not manually done as it was at most other newspapers in the area. We also had no fax machine of our own — we used City Hall’s up the street — and no cellphones. Web site? That was where all the spiders in the building came from.)

Production day the first Tuesday after we bought the paper was an all-nighter. The next week was much better — I got, I believe, 90 minutes of sleep that night. Sometimes I drove the paper to the printing plant in Lancaster right after we got done with layout; other times I got up early and took it there so it could get printed. Once printed, labeled and stuffed into Postal Service-approved mailbags, I drove to several post offices throughout Grant and Lafayette counties, dropping off the right mailbags so subscribers could get their papers the next day. I’d then go back to my house with an urge to do two things — read (odd since I just got done writing the entire newspaper) and nap.

As a business experience, it wasn’t the greatest; business partner problems forced me to sell my half of the paper 1½ years into the five-year plan my wife and I had to try the newspaper ownership thing. On the other hand, as my father pointed out, I was regularly paid a salary for that year and a half, and being the editor and co-owner of a newspaper most likely got me the job as the editor of Marketplace. (Some readers may consider that a mixed blessing.)

Being the editor also means you are the chief complaint-taker, either because of your own work or your hotshot (more like hot dog) reporter’s work. (Which means that your readers care enough about their newspaper to complain about it, even if some of the complaints appear to come from an alternative reality.) The day the local high school principal came to the publisher’s office to complain about the reporter’s work — not because of the quality of the work, but because the principal didn’t care for a reporter who did not see himself as the PR arm of the high school — was an interesting day. I often fielded complaints from people who had spoken at government meetings and didn’t like the fact they were quoted in the paper, including government officials who should have known better. I also fielded complaints from, shall we say, people who had personal experience in the court system who didn’t care for how what they did to get them into the court system was characterized. (To quote the theme song from “Baretta,” don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.) I knew some people didn’t like the redesign of the Tri-County Press when several called in the day after our first edition hit the mailboxes saying they hadn’t gotten their paper. I once got a rather nasty phone call because I had run a photo of a high school’s prom king and queen instead of the entire prom court.

But there are — or, in my case, were — enough of other kinds of moments to keep doing the rural newspaper job. I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to mentor young journalists, whether interns or employees. In Cuba City, many people refused to subscribe to the newspaper, because then they’d get it a day late; they paid an extra 20 cents a week to get the paper the day it hit the counters of supermarkets and convenience stores. One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten came from someone who passed on what his father had told him — under previous ownership, he could read the paper in the distance between his mailbox and his house, but after we took over, he had to actually sit down and read the paper. I got a Wisconsin Newspaper Association award for the most improved weekly newspaper in the state, and I’m very proud of that.

I remember an amusing conversation with the local bank president at a church luncheon, where we both got milk to go with our lunches, and he noted, “Yeah, none of my customers are coffee growers.” I once covered, at the nearby UW campus, a speech by former NBC-TV reporter and U.S. State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb, who gave the greatest opening to a speech I’ve ever heard: “Thank you very much for inviting me, and other than that I have no comment.”

I interviewed the owner of two bear cubs one day. (Which, as a correspondent points out, made me the “cub reporter,” at least that day.) After a while, the cubs started to inspect the contents of my camera bag. And then after tiring of that, they came over and started gnawing on my ankles, thinking I was a 6-foot 4-inch chew toy, I guess. I got another WNA award for a sports feature story about a boxer whose title was taken away due to a failed drug test, who had relocated to southwest Wisconsin to try to resurrect his career. A friend of mine who is a small town radio station news director and I have had a 20-year-long running joke, from one of those aforementioned school construction project meetings, a public forum in which a woman wearing a jacket from a seed corn company asked, rather piercingly, “What about the farmers?” (I figured out that particular project wasn’t going to be approved by voters when, during a referendum call-in show on a radio station the night before the vote, a caller complained about the school district’s “Gestapo [pronounced “GHESH-ta-po”] tactics” in promoting the project.)

I covered a few state champion high school sports teams, which is quite an experience when you, and practically else in town, follow a team to state. One rather hectic Saturday, I went to cover postseason girls gymnastics in the morning, covered a regional final boys basketball game in another location while my wife covered a different boys game at the same time, and then we met at the site of the girls sectional final game at a different location yet. That was about a 13-hour day, but no one cared because it was where you were supposed to be and the local girls won to advance to state, adding a gold trophy to their trophy case two games later.

One of the favorite teams I ever covered was a high school baseball team that had two more losses than wins going into the postseason, but not only won three playoff games (the last using a freshman whose first varsity pitching assignment was the game before state), but won two games at state to get to the state championship game. Their shutout loss in the state title game did not diminish the feat of accomplishing the highly improbable.

I remember one other night for some reason. An old hotel building, built in the shape of a triangle because of the railroad tracks that used to come into town, had had a fire one summer Friday afternoon. Once the fire siren went off, I ran up to the hotel to get photos. After that, my rescue squad pager went off because a firefighter had gotten heat exhaustion, so I had to retrieve the ambulance to get to the fire, about a block away from the fire station.

That evening, the police chief stood watch over the building because it was considered a crime scene, since the cause of the fire wasn’t yet known. I walked over, and for close to an hour the two of us discussed our mutual affinity for one of the great car-chase movies, “Vanishing Point.” It was just a nice evening, shooting the (smoky) breeze. All it was missing was beer, but the chief was on duty, after all.