Risk, opportunity and an ending
In early December 2001, I experienced what was to be one of the strangest and ultimately best interviews I have ever had.
Having followed my wife here from New Jersey for her job at WOI-TV, I had been out of work since August. We had just purchased our first home. I was getting jumpy to find steady work.
One afternoon, the phone rang, and a man at Business Publications Corp. named Jay Wagner, who was editorial director at the time, asked if I wouldn’t mind meeting him at the Library, a bar in the Drake neighborhood known for its Buffalo wings and Thursday night “Survivor” parties, to talk about journalism.
With my clips in hand, I walked into the bar and found a booth. Stacking the stories I had written that I thought were best on top, I organized a brief presentation. I was ready to speak about performance under pressure and my writing philosophy.
Jay walked in and brushed the clips aside.
He didn’t look like my New York editors. He was exceedingly casual, with Doc Martin sandals (sans socks in December), a goatee and shaggy hair. He ordered a large beer (can you do that at interviews?) and asked what I liked to read. Dutifully, I replied, “The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times…” He cut me off quickly. “No,” he said. “What do you read?”
For the next 3 hours, we spoke about Outside magazine and the New Yorker, about The Economist, Hemingway, Tolkein, Hunter S. Thompson and Dostoyevski. We had several beers, and the wings.
Peeling back the layers, I learned there was much behind his glasses. He had written for Newsweek and the New York Times. His family owned a newspaper in Northwest Iowa, and he had lived in a newsroom for much of his adult life. A day later, I accepted a reporting position at the Business Record, having never set foot in the company’s headquarters.
My previous job had been at Bloomberg News, a place whose soul was similar to a caged animal; restless, hungry and aggressive. Like most of New York, it knew what it was, and you always knew where you stood. It was frequently uncomfortable, and I loved it.
It has been different here. I have found co-workers willing to help because you need it, not because it will get them ahead. My boss, Beth Dalbey, and Connie Wimer, the newspaper’s owner, and others have taken chances on me. I have made mistakes, and they have treated me graciously. It has been warm and enriching.
In the 115 weeks since first walking through the doors of the Business Record, I have learned that this company and Iowa in general are both a lot like my first impression of Jay. They are quiet and unassuming on the outside. Inside, they have depth, ability, experience and potential that is shockingly exciting.
I decided two weeks ago to leave the Business Record, a decision that was the hardest I have made in years. Tomorrow (March 5) is to be my last day. Before I sign off completely, I want to thank the people I have worked with, and those of you who are reading this. Thanks, too, to those of you who have challenged me. I have learned from all of you, and am a better person for having worked here.