This is the end section of a much longer essay I wrote for the sadly missed Fictionique (later cross-posted to Open Salon) about what life was like for a hard news reporter/photographer. I put this up here for two reasons: It's been 10 years since I last walked out of the newsroom, five today since I formally retired; and it perhaps gives outsiders an insight into how it all fell to pieces over the last 25 years. "Flash, wind" was a constant that ran through the original essay, and refers to a strobe light flash and the manual advance of the film.
The last time I was on the street as a reporter-photograper was several years ago now. Street mutts were in short supply, simply because no one wanted us or much valued what we brought to the newsroom table. Changing times, changing tastes, changing values and newsroom staff reductions made us a species on the brink of extinction. We were an embarrassment. Perhaps that's a good thing -- I simply don't know.
The journalism school grads wanted to cover politics, courts, environment, or, if they were desperate for a job, cops and fires -- as long as they didn't actually have to go to a scene, maybe get their mental Dockers soiled. And God bless the Internet, with its instant -- if meaningless -- press releases from police "media relations" that insulated newsroom drones fed to the paper's website, complete with loose ends and holes that no one could darn, because no one had a needle.
In that apocalyptic post-9/11 world of news coverage, even small-town cops were wearing enough body armour and sporting enough weaponry to invade a Third World country, gunned on a sense of power, paranoia and panic, working out of reinforced concrete bunkers with metal detectors and bullet-proof glass, waiting for The Revolution, or maybe bin Laden.
No one was talking to anyone. Once there were rooms set aside in hospital ERs for police, clergy and press, complete with coffee urn and telephone; now we weren't allowed in hospitals at all. Even the press club had shut down for lack of interest. We had let it all go without a pang or a whimper. Or a thought. The newspaper where I spent the most time would later sell its aging Gothic-style building, and renovate an old movie theatre to use as a downtown base. I'm sure you can see the irony.
So I backed off during that last go-around. I didn't bother developing a new network of contacts and sources, and ignored as many crash-and-burn calls as I could. Too much trouble to weed and feed the garden when it was never going to produce crops that anyone wanted.
The moment I could leave, I left. I wanted no party, no fanfare, no retirement notice rehashing my 40 years. I just turned in my parking pass and swipe card at 12:30 one Monday afternoon, walked out the newsroom door, and kept on going. I've never been back.
My arrival home an hour later was to the chorale from the Glorious Ninth wafting out the kitchen window, to a surprise committee of neighbourhood kids with a giant hand-made congratulations card, to the neighbours themselves with a celebratory bottle of wine. And to The Redhead, at long last, for good....
No regrets. Not one.
Still, you can take the kid out of the streets, but never the streets out of the kid. Every once in awhile, just before the hint of dawn, I hear a siren fading into the distance. Is it real? Or just the tag end of a dream I can't remember. I never know.
I grope for my notebook, my camera bag, my old clothes, my boots. Once again, I'm ready to speed through the darkness to someone else's nightmare, the cold cold cold of adrenaline spreading through my arms and legs, the thrill of the chase, pure joy singing in my ears....
Flash, wind. Flash, wind.