Pounding the Keyboard in a Hotel Bathroom

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PHILADELPHIA — It is 2 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. I am sitting in a hotel bathroom typing away because insomnia has again rudely reared its annoying head on our first night of a short trip to this historic city. I am trying not to wake my Beautiful Mystery Companion. The bathroom is the only place to not do so, without heading down to the lobby. The clatter of the hotel room door opening and closing into the hallway would no doubt wake her. Best to hide in the bathroom, laptop on the sink counter, the room’s only chair rolled inside. I keep banging my knees against the shelf beneath the sink, emitting muffled imprecations when I do.

Having a hard time staying asleep is a recent development. I am hopeful it will pass. If not, the bright side is that my life is no longer as structured as it was for the first half-century-plus of my working career. I am not retired, just rewired, to steal a phrase. I do not have to be at work at 8 a.m., bright-eyed and all that. I still get up early but can move slowly and avoid human interaction until the caffeine has fully jump-started my brain. Besides, these early morning breaks from restless slumber mean I am getting a lot more reading done, more writing as well.

Speaking of which, this piece marks 42 years of writing a weekly column, a habit that began on July 1, 1982, in San Augustine for The Rambler, a weekly newspaper whose owner had hired me as managing editor. My first column was about June bugs, setting the tone for the roughly 2,500 that followed. I am still not sure exactly what that tone is, but this is a habit I am still loath to break, even for a week. Thanks for putting up with me.

That weird sense of duty is why, besides not being able to sleep, I am typing in a hotel bathroom, a towel draped over my legs because the air-conditioning is going full blast. Philly and most of the Northeast are coming out of the throes of a wicked heat wave. I called our hotel before arriving to make sure it had AC. Past experiences taught me not to take that for granted when heading north of the Mason-Dixon, especially in older establishments such as this grand establishment, located within sight of the Liberty Bell. More on that and other historical attractions to come. Suffice it to say that this week there is a genuine Philly cheesesteak in my near future, cholesterol and triglycerides be damned, albeit temporarily.


A week ago, I traveled to College Station to be recognized, along with four fellow newspaper colleagues, by the Texas Press Association for having spent at least 50 years in this business. It was nice to visit with longtime colleagues, albeit briefly. This trip to Philly meant I had to rush home from Aggieland to mow, bushhog, and then disc up about an acre to plant in Bermuda grass when we get back. Since rain seems to have vacated East Texas, possibly for months, I plan to cast the seed upon returning, then rent a gas-powered pump to suck water out of Pancho’s Pond to water the seed. I have no idea if this will work, but it is worth a shot. If it doesn’t, I will keep running up to the feed store in Gilmer to buy Pancho the Donkey square bales of three-string hay.

While driving back home to Three Geese Farm from College Station, I had plenty of time to reflect on this half-century of newspapering. My involvement these days is writing the Capital Highlights column for TPA, which runs in roughly 100 Texas newspapers. I thoroughly enjoy this gig and plan doing it as long as the TPA folks let me, and my faculties allow it.

Newspapers face tough challenges these days, but that room filled with a few hundred folks still plying the trade was certainly heartening to see. I spied many familiar faces, but it also warmed my soul to see plenty of young folks (compared to me) there as well, people who have decided that community journalism is a career worth pursuing. Even now, with all the interests competing for our time, community newspapers remain the anchor of so many towns — the sole reliable source for news and information about what is going on at city hall, the local school district, and every other aspect of public life.

More than ever, I believe newspapers are essential to a vibrant, functioning democracy. Thanks to all those who also believe that as well and work in a profession that provided me with a good living and the chance to report the news, or direct its reporting, in communities like they now serve for a half-century — and to meet thousands of interesting people both inside and outside those newsrooms.

I am going to sign off now and hopefully get a few hours’ sleep before sunrise. See you next week with stories from the birthplace of our democracy. I can’t wait to start exploring.

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