It was October and just shy of my 16th birthday that I first stepped into these offices.

That’s coming up on 36 years ago.

I was a student at Franklin High School, and my then-Civics teacher Bob Wheeler found out I could string a coherent sentence together now and then. He put me in touch with then-publisher John Landry and made me an appointment. John hired me to write feature stories on Chitimacha.

To this day, I still kid Bob that he ruined my life!

But the truth is, it’s been a great ride. This job has more than its share—sometimes way more—of aggravations and frustrations, and there’s times when I wonder why I stay in this crummy business. But I have worked here, and at The Daily Review in Morgan City, the Slidell Daily Times, was a stringer for The Daily Iberian, news director at KFMV-KFRA and managing editor of the short-lived St. Mary Independent.

What a long, strange trip it’s been, as the Beatles said.

Sometimes, it’s just John Lennon’s way of putting it: Nobody told me there’d be days like these. I often like to paraphrase Three Dog Night, too: Mama told me I was dumb!

That’s how this business is. Always changing. Always something new mixed in with the hum-drum daily drill.

Thirty-six years. Count ‘em. That’s a lotta keystrokes, first on a 50-pound, black Underwood typewriter, then an NEC computer system, a Compugraphic One System, then the Windows-based ACT Editorial and finally Falcon Editorial. I feel like Edison might if he’d gone from the first incandescent light bulb to modern LEDs.

I’ve seen my share, believe me. Politics and shenanigans. Murder most foul. Fires, car wrecks, suicides. I’ve seen the absolute worst in human beings, but those are far, far outnumbered by the times I’ve seen shining, resplendent best in people.

We’ve been through a lot since 1980, this old town and I. From the roaring days of the oil industry at its height, when everybody had a job, everybody had a dollar in their pocket, to the great crash of 1986. This city and I have seen whole family names vanish from the phone book as 5,000 people simply vanished. We’ve seen political figures come and go, give and take, self-destruct or achieve greatness.

It’s what keeps me going.

I remember disappointing my family, my employer and others when I decided I would not go to college right after graduating high school. I spent a month at LSU and badly missed that paycheck every week, so I quit. John Landry had told me I had to get a degree; so figuring I had no future at the Banner, I applied for a job at The Franklin Post. I kid you not, by the time I left their office and drove home, John was on the phone saying, edited for general audiences, “I’ll be %$!@ if you’re gonna use what I taught you at the Post! Be here Monday morning!”

I never did get that degree, but I did go back to college when I was in my late 20s and almost finished a baccalaureate in anthropology. Horseshoes and hand-grenades, you know. Close don’t count otherwise.

Yeah, there’s moments I’d rather forget, but by and large, I wouldn’t change anything else. There’s folks out there who devoutly dislike me. With all due respect to law enforcement, journalists are like cops: If everybody likes us, we’re not doing our jobs. Of the many, many things John Landry taught me, my very first lesson was to never, ever take any you-know-what from anybody. As much as I blame Bob for getting me into this business, I blame John for my arrogance and hard-headedness! But then, both have served me well…mostly.

I once did an estimate on the number of columns I’ve written in my career, and came up in the neighborhood of 4,000. As most of you know, I’ve not been much of a columnist the last few years, and I apologize for that. With 4,000 of them under my belt, I think I’ve run out of gas.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten all you wonderful people who’ve read my words, caught my back, cheered me on when I was right and busted my butt when I was—ever so rarely!—wrong.

We’ve gone through some tough changes here lately. I know lots of folks were upset about them. Necessity is not so much the mother of invention, but the inevitability of adaptation. It’s a brave new world.

Thirty-six years ago I was young and idealistic. Now, approaching 52 in October, I’m middle-aged and kinda cynical and jaded. Still, I am happier now, in this place, with these people I know and sometimes love, than I have ever been. That’s the fulfillment rewarded by nearly four decades in a profession that unveils the underbelly of some things and the bright light of others. It’s not all the awards in the drawer of my desk, or the accolades from readers, or even the satisfaction.

A special bestwishes to Peggy Deats, our esteemed typesetter, who is retiring today. Thank you for everything!

One of these days I’ll retire, too, and if I’m not a pauper standing on a downtown corner with a tin cup, I think I’ll build another boat, a sailboat this time; maybe buy a cabin in the mountains, write a fourth and final memoir.

And if you see me somewhere along the way, you might find me singing Billy Joel in a low, but satisfied, voice: “I’ve loved these days…”

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