Closed past, open future

After more than seven years -- and a dozen years before that, if you count my schooling -- my career as a newspaper man is finished. … For now, anyway. I won’t say I might never return. After all, I’m still a media guy -- just in a different realm.

I finished my last story around 10 a.m. yesterday. Interestingly, it was a story about the pursuit of the American Dream -- going back to school, pursuing a new job -- and local residents’ hopes and goals for 2010. ... Deleting years worth of e-mails and reference material from my computer, and cleaning files from my desk, just felt weird, but I got that done, too.

The last several days have been filled with dinners and gatherings in my honor. At first, I didn’t want the attention, but Kates reminded me I had to enjoy it and allow people to express their good-byes … Last week, a couple of my baseball buddies bought me dinner at one of our favorite burger joints, and they presented me with personalized wood bat. The next day, a group of co-workers took me to lunch at a pizza joint downtown.

On Saturday night, we celebrated at our house with Jon Troast, and then there were multiple gatherings yesterday for my last day, including a luncheon with sub sandwiches and speeches and gifts and heartfelt goodbyes.

For years I’ve watched and listened to my cohorts give their goodbye speeches -- some railed against the company and served up rallying cries for our union. Others said little more than a thank you. For weeks, I’d thought about what I wanted to say.

I'd wanted to talk about how I arrived there just months out of college, and how I sort of grew up in my time there; I got married and had a daughter. I wanted to tell the story about how great of an impression the city editor made on me when I interviewed for the job, and how he was a big reason I accepted the job -- and then left the day after I started work there, which showed how much of an impression I made on him (Insert crowd laughter).

My editor gave a schpeal about how the company hired me seven years ago to handle crime coverage and hoped I would grow to take on new things and be involved in different projects throughout the newsroom. I did that, he explained, producing features and entertainment stories, and working on our short-lived Internet Connections desk. He concluded by saying the company wished me well, although they were sad to see me go, yada, yada, yada ...

When my turn came to speak -- pfeeeeeew -- the mind went blank, and the best I could do was talk about how difficult a decision it was to leave, and how much I enjoyed working there, and how it had become a second home to me. I offered thanks for the friendships and everything my colleagues had done for me over the years. And that was it.

Last night, we celebrated over drinks and free pizza with a party at a popular joint. My cohorts and friends, past and present made appearances, all of them having a special place in my heart and memories -- Laura, Deneen, Joe, Liz, Dave, Darren, Gary. Even the chief stopped by, and a sheriff’s sergeant presented me with a challenge coin representing my fair coverage of their agencies over the years and offering luck in my new challenge.

I was blessed to be surrounded by so many people -- especially while snow was steadily falling outside and the roads were slick with precipitation.

The conversation was wonderful as we discussed my emotions and outlook heading into my new life, and reminisced on past accomplishments. There were jokes about how I should have gone off script during my last Weekday Report and instead offered a timeline of my “greatest hits” … “December 12, 2004, police shoot man armed with knife …” A true story.

There were some interesting revelations. Like when Joe informed me I was being replaced by a pool of three reporters who were going to rotate covering the crime beat. Another came when Darren inquired about my new responsibilities and mentioned I always seemed to be a person frustrated with my position. I answered a simple “Yes.” He had said it all by saying very little.

Kates and Phoebe joined us eventually -- after I had to make a run to rescue them. As Kates was leaving the house, with Phoebe and her bag in tow, she realized she didn’t have her purse -- which had her house key and car key. Kates had locked herself out of the house … Luckily, our neighbor was outside shoveling and let Kates and Phoebe inside where they could try to reach me. That took some time, though, because I couldn’t hear my cell phone above the commotion in the restaurant. Finally, Kates called the restaurant phone, a hostess corralled me and Kates explained the situation -- forcing me to drive home to unlock the house and bring Kates and Pheebs to the party.

As our gathering was coming to an end -- after we’d spent nearly three hours swapping stories, laughing and chowing free pizza -- the good-byes were bittersweet. The people around that table have become some of my best and closest friends, and I have no doubt a couple of them will remain that way.

It’s hard to say good-bye, but the world is a much more mobile place now than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. I can’t imagine not heading back to the Chicago area to visit family and friends, to take in a Cubs game and maybe make a trip to Summerfest. Cutting Chicago completely out of our lives seems unthinkable … Beyond that, with things like Facebook and Skype, now friends are just clicks away.

Then again, I suppose all of it is easier said then done. Just like I said I’d work at a newspaper for the rest of my life.

Right now, our future is wide open.

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