15 years ago …

… I didn’t know any better. I wanted to get a start on my life. I’d graduated from college three months prior.  I was living closer to Mexico than to my hometown. Literally. The offices of the first newspaper I worked at were 11 blocks from the border of Mexico. I was 2,000 miles away from home. 

As I watched the FX series “The Bridge” earlier this week, I saw images of the border town I once knew – dusty, bilingual, foreign yet familiar. 

It was strangely comforting. And then I realized something: Has it really been 15 years since I took my first job out of school? 

Yes, it has been. The first job didn’t come without its struggles. 

Sure, I thought about quitting, about a month into my job, when my editor pulled me aside and told me in so many words, “you’ve got to prepare better for this, because clearly, you’re not.”

I drove back to my apartment and cried. I wondered if I could hack it. I thought about going to the news side. Duh, I told myself, this is what you love, you’ve come this far, why go back? Then, I went home and got a good night’s sleep, and took my editor’s advice to heart.  

I was 21 years old, and at the time I didn’t realize it, but it was constructive criticism. Andy ended up giving me a lot of that, which in the long run became valuable to me. Years later, Andy tracked me down after I moved to New England and told me how he saw talent in me, but that at the time it was green. 

I don’t know what happened to Andy – arguably one of the best editors I ever worked with. I sent him an email after I moved to the midwest but never heard back. 

I have a lot of good memories from my first job out of school. I met two of my closest friends, David and Rose, and met a reporter, Emma, whom I still consider one of the best reporters I’ve ever worked with – and who is still doing the damn thing all these years later. 

Two of the funniest Emma moments ever:

*When all the computers went offline in the spring of 1999, and Emma was outside smoking a cigarette. Someone complained and Emma said, “and it’s happy hour!” Marcial, a city reporter answered, “Well there’s a bar down the street,” and Emma didn’t hesitate.

“LET’S GO!” 

Four of us grabbed our bags and hustled to La Oficina, and drank wine coolers and listened to Tejano music. The computer system was still offline when we returned.

*Emma was on the phone, trying to get a response out of an official. Emma did that a lot. She was very reasonable with people, but I could tell the call was starting to get out of hand. Emma, a classy lady who knew when to pick her battles, kept her cool and ended the call in professional fashion. As soon as she hung up the phone …

“WHAT A PENDEJO!”

I died laughing. 

“WELL HE WAS!” 

Emma didn’t make excuses for who she was or what she did. 

Of everyone I worked with in the newsroom, only a handful of us are still in newspapers. Several have gone onto bigger papers, and some have stayed in the area, on the border of Mexico. They didn’t just have jobs there, but they had lives and families and genuinely loved the area. 

I didn’t get that at the time, when I was 21, because I really saw it as a springboard for the rest of my career, and for the rest of my life. And I feel differently now, that I’m in an area I like, and the fact that I have to think about two people now instead of just one. 

The first high school football game I covered in South Texas was Lyford against Brownsville St. Joseph. Tomorrow I’ll cover an FBS program. I realized this as I was driving to run an errand the other day. 

“Shit,” I said to my husband. “It’s been 15 years since I first started covering football for a newspaper.” 

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I’m so conditioned to being in this city, I almost wanted to put a dateline on this post.  But each time I come here – and I’m here a lot for work – I always think about one of my friends from college, who went to school here and who lives in the area with her family, and who likely works here.

Steph went through a rough go of it in college, and dropped out after three semesters because of health and emotional issues. I don’t know if it was the culture shock of moving to the United States from Canada, of being surrounded by seemingly liberal women after growing up in a religiously conservative household and having to straddle two worlds, of having to leave everything she knew behind including her boyfriend, her best friends, her college scholarship and her life behind to uproot with her family … I remember going to visit her when she was hospitalized and I gave her a copy of one of my favorite books. I wonder if she still has that tattered copy.

And I remember seeing her again in Colorado about 10 years ago, right before Christmas. It was the best three hours of that winter, sitting at the Cheesecake Factory and telling old stories and looking through photos of our lives. At one point, she made me stop as I flipped through an album.

“Is that graduation?” she asked. It was. I wondered how Steph felt when she saw that.

I remember that when we hugged in the middle of downtown Denver and parted, a Christmas carol covered by Christina Aguilera was playing on a nearby sound system. I can’t listen to that CD without thinking of Steph.

In the 18 months I’ve lived here, Steph hasn’t returned any of my emails or phone calls – so I’ve gotten the point. Set ’em free, right?

When I’m in Ann Arbor for work, sometimes I’ll be sitting at Starbucks or at lunch and I’ll look out the window, wondering if I’ll see Steph pass by.  And I wonder if I would get up from my seat and chase her down. I wonder if it would be worth it.

Second 5K of the summer

Just finish before the pregnant lady. And the nine-year-old.

When I wrote down my goals for today’s 5k, I thought of three things: Finish it. Finish it in under 40 minutes. If you’re having a good day, finish it in under 36:10. 

Then, I got to the start of the 5K, which was in what you would call a “tony” part of town. And when I saw the pregnant woman pushing the stroller with a number attached to her shirt and the kids – lots and lots of kids – I told myself the first statement of this post, and texted it to a runner friend of mine in Canada.

The starting line wasn’t really clear, just a line of blue tape across a side street. And then the race started – with an actual starting gun, and before I knew it, people started jogging. At a really fast pace. And I was jolted to run. But as I went through that first half mile, I watched all the happy runners in front of me and thought, by the first mile and a half, a lot of these people will be walking. 

Sure enough. By the time I trotted to the first mile, I passed several people who’d already begun to walk. I felt a little better about myself. I remember a lot of the run. There were lots of dads pushing strollers. Three cyclists cut across the course at one point, as a course marshal’s back was turned (smooth move, buddy). Some kid had a super soaker and I waved at him. He aimed in my direction. Man, did that cool blast feel good.

After the 2-mile mark, I came upon the second and final hill. 

OK, here’s the last hill. OK, I’ve done hills before … once before.

I remembered what a coworker told me about running up hills: shorten your stride and pantomime pulling yourself up the hill with a rope.

Then, as I rounded the corner towards the high school, something kicked in. I motored in that last quarter of a mile, and I didn’t see pregnant women or nine-year-olds. I saw the scoreboard above the football field as I crossed the finish line.

34:52.  

My runner friend wrote back to me after the 5k: “HA HA! Good luck! You got this!” 

I hate running. Absolutely hate it. But I’ve been jogging since June – I think I just woke up one day and said, “hey, I think I’ll start jogging” – and when a college classmate of mine suggested I join her for a women’s 5K, I thought about it for a day.

And then I registered.

At 7:30 Saturday morning, I got in my car and drove to the site of the 5K. I was more anxious about the time leading up to the race then I was about the race. I wasn’t used to all the waiting. Usually, I just walk a block and start jogging, on my terms.

Finally, I started jogging.

OK, this feels fine, this feels OK. Have I run a mile yet?

At one point, people handed me cups of water. I sipped. Dropped the cup on the ground. Kept jogging. Wondered if I had run a mile yet – because I have no faith in the measurement function on the Nike iPod fitness app. Then I saw a yellow sign. And my husband, waving to me.

That’s a mile? Are you sure? 

I kept jogging, wondering when that two-mile mark was. And I was a little dismayed by the lack of roads that were blocked off. At one point there was this massive tanker/18-wheeler pulling out of a parking lot and I screamed at it, “Come on, there’s a 5K going on here!”

I’m sure the driver was real concerned about all these women jogging by.

But I started to get tired around the 2-mile mark, yet I didn’t stop and walk. I slowed down. And when I came around a corner with less than a mile left, I thought, well, damn, if I’ve come this far, I might as well just jog to the end.

And I did it. My goal at the start was just to finish. Then I thought, if I can finish this in under 45 minutes, I’ll be OK.

I finished in 36 minutes, 10 seconds. I think I’ll run another one soon.

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