Driving along a winding highway through the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York one memorable day in March of 1992, it occurred to me that the path of life can have sudden, unexpected twists and turns. I marveled as I rounded a bend and saw brilliant sunshine piercing through the clouds hanging over the mountains. I was entering another, more familiar, world. I had left the grayness and frigid cold of upstate New York behind me.
I was heading home, back to Long Island.
That was a happy day. My six-month adventure in Cooperstown, N.Y., had ended.
(I had accepted a job as managing editor of the Freeman’s Journal the previous summer and lived on the same street as the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown in the summer and fall is beautiful, but winter arrives early up there and stays late.)
Having lived on Long Island for the great majority of my life, I wasn’t prepared for what a Cooperstown winter was like. To me, it was like experiencing a blizzard every day, along with a level of cold that made a short walk to the newspaper office feel like an expedition. One day, exasperated after digging my car out of the snow (again!), I asked a woman in our office when these daily blizzards were going to stop. She looked at me incredulously and said, “April.”
That’s when I knew I wasn’t built for Cooperstown.
So I returned to Nassau County without a job, beyond some part-time work for Soccer Week, the publication I had edited before my move north.
An ad in a New York State Press Association publication for a paper called The Suffolk Times caught my eye. I sent my résumé, some writing samples and a cover letter to Mattituck. It was the only paper in Suffolk County that I applied to.
I soon received a call from Troy Gustavson, the co-publisher at the time along with his wife, Joan. I was offered a tryout for the position of news reporter. My first assignment was a story about a Grumman fighter jet that was a hero in the Gulf War.
Troy called me after reading my story. It was seamless, he said.
A good sign.
He had another test assignment for me. I apparently did well enough with that one, too, but he almost apologetically asked me to do a third test story — and I maybe even did another one or two after that. He wanted to make sure I was the right person for the job. And then he asked me if I wouldn’t mind working in the office for a week or so, again, just to be sure that I was the right fit.
“Sure,” I said.
I was fairly familiar with just about all of Long Island — except for the North Fork, that is. I had never been on the North Fork before. While making that first drive to Mattituck, I could not have imagined that I would spend the next 30 years of my life working in the area.
After the thorough tryout, I was hired. I was on the job for about month when I buzzed Troy’s office one day, asking if we could talk. I had a sense that it wasn’t working out. As I climbed the steps up to Troy’s office, I thought to myself that this was a failed experiment. We would mutually agree to part ways, shake hands and that would be it. When I said this to Troy, a startled look crossed his face. He assured me that the company was happy with me, and so, with that encouragement, I stayed on.
Two years later, I returned from a vacation to learn that sports editor Michael Gasparino was leaving the company. Would I be interested in switching over to sports? My background is in sportswriting, so I jumped at the chance.
And so that long ride began — and now ends.
After 30 years at the company, I am leaving Times Review Media Group. Today is my last day on the job. (Yes, I buried the lede.)
This is hard. When you work at a job for that long, it becomes a part of who you are. Space limitations prevent me from naming every person I want to say goodbye to and thank for their help and kindness over the years. That includes some wonderful colleagues at the paper. It has been one of the great joys of my life to talk to the athletes and coaches, write about the games they play and tell their stories.
The next chapter in my life will take me to beautiful North Carolina, where I hope to continue my love affair with writing.
Just another one of the unexpected turns on the twisting road of life.