Happy birthday and happy anniversary … to me

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This was a big week for me. I turned 65 today – Sept. 8 – and that makes me a target for phone calls from Joe Namath and Jimmie “J.J.” Walker and their Medicare plans.

Sept. 8 also was my late wife’s birthday. And our anniversary. She’s been gone 17 years after a short battle with cancer, but Sept. 8 always will be a numbing reminder.

Professionally, it was a big week, too. I started my journalism career in 1972 on with a story on Sept. 5, which means I’m now in my 50th year of writing stories.

When I started, we used typewriters and they had to be re-done by typesetters who prepared each line upside-down and backward in slivers of lead.

When I was away from the office, I had to find a payphone and dictate, word by word, a story to a clerk.

Nobody in the business thought it would get any faster than using a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 word processor. You could type about 700 words, call the office, insert your phone into a coupler and hope nobody sneezed to break the connection that sounded more like a pair of worn-out car brakes.

How many of you remember a typewriter? Or a pay phone? Or Radio Shack? Not being able to work from home?

Now we work in the cloud. Whatever that is.

I’ve gone through eras of bell-bottom pants and leisure suits. I survived disco. I’m old enough to remember when MTV was a music channel and when it was safe to drink water from a garden hose.

No matter how old I get, the need to report stories responsibly has never changed. Most journalists my age now are either waiting on blue plate special hours, on the golf course, on a fishing boat or in the graveyard, but I don’t plan on going anywhere soon. Being a reporter isn’t what I do. It’s who I am.

There have been happy days in my career. The best came on Sept. 25, 2006, when the New Orleans Saints re-opened the Superdome against the Atlanta Falcons for the first time since it was closed ahead of the 2005 season.

I had the honor to see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar play once in his final season; sit courtside to watch Michael Jordan play 25 times; see Eddie O’Brien kick a 55-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in 1985 to beat Bethune-Cookman, 39-37, for the Knights’ first win against the Wildcats; write a full-page feature on Space Shuttle Discovery’s launch in 1988, three years after Challenger blew up 73 seconds into its flight; have Kentucky Fried Chicken with President Ronald Reagan and NASCAR’s Richard Petty in the Daytona International Speedway garage area after Petty’s 200th career win; be at the Augusta National Golf Club during Masters weekend; and, witness the final game for legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden.

Of course, there were difficult days – none worst than Feb. 18, 2001, when Dale Earnhardt crashed and died in the fourth turn of the final lap of the Daytona 500.

I also had the emotionally-draining responsibility to write about former Orange Park High and Florida State all-star basketball player Alicia Gladden shortly after she was killed by a drunk driver in Jacksonville; find creative ways to describe a loss during the Orlando Magic’s first season when they won 18 out of 82 games; go through any airport; walk Augusta National Golf Club during Masters weekend; and, the faces of every young athlete following a loss in the playoffs.

So here’s a toast to my birthday and the memory of my wife’s birthday and our anniversary. I also raise my glass for the next 50 years of writing stories. The industry has evolved further than any of us could have expected in the past 50 years. Who knows, 50 years from now stories will be delivered telepathically.

Cheers!

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