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Time is the least thing we have of.
This quote on a poster inside a cubicle at the Las Cruces Bulletin pretty much reflects my decision to retire again. Time is our most precious resource. Spend it wisely.
In May 2011, at age 65, I walked out the back door of the Ruidoso News, where I had been editor for seven years, into the refreshing mountain scent of retirement.
I didn’t care whether I would ever write professionally again. I had made it through the corporate world of journalism and, frankly, that was never a given.
Five years later, I’m living in Las Cruces with a renewed enthusiasm for the craft, freelancing for the Bulletin, when the front door opens to the editor’s chair in December 2016.
What a blessing. In the process, I found community, lifetime friendships, a ton of interesting things to do in this town and a reason to drive into the crimson sunrise Monday through Friday – and sometimes Saturday and Sunday. I thank Osteen Publishing Company, Bulletin publisher Richard Coltharp and you for allowing me to be of service.
At 2 in the morning in the fall of 1969 an American Indian appeared from the edge of the desert and knocked on the glass door of radio station KMND AM/FM, Mesa, Arizona.
I was the night caretaker, for $2 an hour, fresh out of Arizona State University, where I had majored in radio/television.
Of course, I let the gentleman in, because it gets lonely in a radio studio slumbering in the off-hours. I called him Big Joe – I think that was his name – and we chatted a while before he vaporized back into the night.
Beginning at midnight, my duties were to take half-hour meter readings and, at 3 a.m., change the reel-to-reel tapes for the FM operation, which aired “beautiful music” like Mantovani and Ferrante & Teicher. At sunrise, I’d power up the daytime-only AM signal, airing George Jones and Patsy Cline, and play country DJ for half an hour or so before the morning jock arrived with his thermos.
In-between, I had a lot of free time. So, I’d bring in my Grateful Dead and Cream platters and crank them over the studio monitors for a private party, onward through the fog at the merciful end of the Sixties; 1969 was a turbulent conclusion to a decade of flower power.
I didn’t last long at KMND. One day they told me not to bother coming in tonight. Oh, well, I probably wasn’t career material, anyway.
Later that fall, a blonde Norwegian from Wisconsin entered my life and changed its trajectory. After graduating from ASU, Lee Ann Mason applied for grad school at Cal-Berkeley and I followed her back to the Bay Area, where I had grown up. I changed my name to Marty Mason to fool the campus employment service into thinking I was her husband and took landscaping jobs through the university in the East Bay hills. Because, degree or not, I was simply not career material.
We rented an apartment in Oakland, where our VW bug got stolen, the downstairs neighbor peddled mescaline, and the oft-violent campus protests unfolded under clouds of tear gas down Telegraph Avenue. Governor Reagan called in the National Guard, and one afternoon, while a group of us huddled in a laundromat to escape the anarchy, a man on a balcony just above us was fatally shot.
It was too much. The hate, the paranoia, the vitriol. 1969 was a bad year. Lee Ann quit grad school and we bolted back to the safe, tangerine skies of Arizona.
When Lee Ann landed a teaching job in Wausau, Wisconsin, I left Tempe for the Northwoods. Culture shock. We married in 1972 and I took a reporter/weekend anchorman position at WAOW-TV, the local ABC outlet. On Election Night in November 1972, our anchorman Ken Thorpe reported the results, headed home and was killed by a drunk driver. I took his seat on the set of the next day’s newscast, dutifully reporting the tragedy.
I lasted two years in TV, long enough to know I was never going to be career material. After the divorce, I headed to the nearest big city.
In 1975 a photographer walked into the office of the Bugle-American, a Milwaukee “underground” weekly. Cathy Gubin, from Racine, Wisconsin, of all places, and I forged a journalistic bond that was unbroken for five years.
I had been hired as a reporter at the Bugle for $100 a week. First, Cathy taught me how to see, and then I learned how to write. We went on excursions – the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City, hitchhiking with truckers down to Tennessee, spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers in Arizona.
I also secured a part-time DJ slot on WZMF-FM in suburban Menomonee Falls. From 10 o’clock Saturday night until 2 Sunday morning I was “Dr. Metal,” spinning Foghat, Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd (I was on the air the night of their fatal plane crash).
One afternoon, music editor Gary Peterson asked if I’d cover a concert. Boston was playing the Milwaukee Arena and since I was in rock radio, he figured I could handle the assignment.
The rest is history.
I became a music writer, typing at the dining table in our upstairs flat on Maryland Avenue late into the evening, fueled by cigarettes, a six-pack of Wisconsin’s finest and new wave and Southern rock on the stereo.
In 1979, Cathy and I founded a music monthly, Xpress, produced in our living room. She took the photos, I wrote half the copy, designed the pages with Letraset and Xacto knife, sold the ads, took the proofs to the printer up in Shorewood and distributed the publication to the racks.
Later that year, the morning daily Milwaukee Sentinel hired me as a music stringer to help cover the huge lakeside festival, Summerfest. After toiling in the “alternative press” for five years, I joined the establishment, accruing a legitimate portfolio by phoning in concert reviews and dictating copy to the night editor for the early editions. After one such concert by Devo, which, admittedly, was one strange band, I scanned the next day’s paper and the review wasn’t there. I called my editor.
“Well, I’m sorry, but your copy made no sense,” he explained.
In 1980 Cathy toured with Van Halen as their photographer. She was also hired as a photographer by the Houston Post while I remained in Brew Town publishing Xpress. Through Post music critic Bob Claypool, a country-music expert, she learned that crosstown rival the Houston Chronicle was advertising for a music critic. I took my portfolio to Texas in an old beat-up van that leaked oil and won the job.
This was the big time. No more midnight masterpieces crafted with beer and cigarettes. This was: get to the office early, even if you’re not awake, slug down some newsroom coffee and make your deadlines. Oh, and ditch the cigarettes. So, in 1987, I quit cold turkey.
I’d never compete with Claypool, who wrote “Friday Night at Gilley’s,” said to be the book “Urban Cowboy” was based on, so I veered into the punk-rock scene, easily as beer-stained and fraught with danger as a Houston honky-tonk. Somehow, I lasted 22 years, having skirted several close calls – like the time I covered Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” tour at Texas Stadium in Dallas, returned to the hotel to bang out a review for the early Sunday “owl,” poured a drink of Jack Daniel’s and woke up hours past my deadline.
In Houston, I met this bartender at Fitzgerald’s, my go-to music club. Glynis Onstott, who later became a computer programmer and my wife, was from New Mexico. In 2003 we returned to the Southwest, where we belong to the long-distance skies, where a career would strike a final note nearly half a century after it never really began.