News - A parting glimpse of Land

A Creative Loafing veteran says goodbye

It's Monday morning and I'm running my deadline to the edge. As usual.

For nearly 12 years, I've begun virtually every week with a hectic jump-start, feverishly rushing through the cram-and-write routine of the weekly reporter in between the scattered brushfires that accompany the position of CL editor.

Don't let taut faces and outbursts of profanity fool you: News folks thrive on this stuff.

Deadline adrenaline — admittedly a sickly cousin to the heart-pounding, ear-ringing variety enjoyed by, say, base-jumpers or Gary Condit — nonetheless has its attractions. For one thing, your butt is generally in one piece when it's over (editor teeth-marks notwithstanding).

But it was that other kind of adrenaline that originally brought me through CL's door as a full-fledged member of the exuberant, disorderly Loafer family.

On a frosty, sleeting December day, atop a massive Ponce De Leon Avenue home, a crew of workmen was placing the last few sheets of plywood decking on the roof of a new addition.

One of the crewmen lost his footing on the icy slope and went sliding toward the edge, feverishly swinging the claw end of his framing hammer in an effort to arrest his descent.

Finally, the iron bit into the wood; feet dangling three stories over the concrete driveway below, the worker looked up into the laughing face of a colleague.

"Haw, haw," he jibed. "You oughta see your face. You're white as a sheet."

At that moment, the lucky nail-driver made up his mind. That evening, he tossed his nail-apron into a corner and picked up the phone.

"I just about got my ass killed today," he said into the receiver. "I need a job. Now."

So it was then that I returned to full-time journalism. Earlier stints with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Marietta Daily Journal had convinced me that mainstream reporting wasn't particularly well-suited for a fellow whose predilections and erratic hours frequently rendered things like coming to work and being able to converse intelligently — or even coherently — before, say, 10 a.m., a near impossibility.

But a few years of nail-driving had readied me to abandon the wood-butchering trade to return to full-time word-mangling. I signed on as CL's copy editor, and became acquainted with its brilliant, compulsive, endearing, frustrating publisher, Debby Eason, and the cohort of delightful, often-dysfunctional characters who somehow cranked a paper out of her clanking, rattling Rube Goldberg publishing contraption every week.

For me, it's been a marvelous trip.

As I worked my way through various positions up to senior editor (even serving as managing editor between the comings and goings of the five MEs I've worked with), I've managed to thoroughly enjoy myself, and cover a breadth of subjects no mainstream reporter could dream of.

Perhaps the most pure fun was the seven years I authored "Slippin' Round," a blues and traditional music column. It was during those days that I had my most memorable interview: an entire one-on-one evening of conversation with blues giant Willie Dixon in his hotel room just months before he died.

But the years are full of memories. Particularly pleasant (for me) throughout a decade as CL's main political writer has been the annual "Golden Sleaze Awards" issue, a full-fledged orgy of political satire, overblown rhetoric and Gatling-gun character assassination to pillory the self-important and self-serving in the Georgia Legislature. This is an exercise I'll miss dearly; somehow, I don't think many of the Gold Dome crowd will share my grief.

These and other recollections — the incessant scramble to cover the Olympics and the greed-fest that surrounded it; the late-night dash to flood-ravaged South Georgia for a last-minute cover story; the horrendous affair of the Giant Seersucker Rat of Houston, a tale too sordid for public consumption even today — are the reminiscences I'll remember with a smile. Or a flinch.

But it's time to move along. Twelve years is too long for a writer to stay anywhere, particularly in the field of alternative journalism. By its very nature, this medium should stay fresh, and new blood is essential.

CL has served as training ground, playground and haven for me. I'll never forget the people here, and how they stood behind me even when a spate of health problems kicked my pins out from under me.

But things change. CL isn't the paper it once was. Debby Eason's son, Ben, is now the president and CEO of the chain and, aided by an infusion of cash from the AJC, has pumped new resources into the editorial department. At the same time, that seat-of-the-pants, Mom-and-Pop feeling has largely disappeared, replaced by a more professional, corporate atmosphere.

But these changes are far less involved in my own decision to leave the Loaf staff than simple itchy feet: I was pretty much offered a chance to write my own job description here — it was the "here" part that hung me up.

So it's off to other pastures for me. I'll be doing some writing for a national news publication, peddling stories to other mags and newspapers, and beginning one of the books I've been threatening for so long. I may even show up in these pages occasionally.

It's been fun, Atlanta. See ya in the funny papers.??

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