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Farewell, for now

  • Published Monday, July 2, 2012, at 12 a.m.

True to form, I’ve put off writing this column until I’m on what I call “serious deadline.” My editor probably has another name for it.

The past week, my last week in this newsroom, has been difficult. After all, I’ve been working here for nearly half my life. And, quite frankly, I’m sure there is no place like it, except maybe other newspaper newsrooms.

Several months ago, I started talking to the editor, Sherry Chisenhall, about retiring. She always told me I was not to retire “on her watch.” Well, she stayed too long is all I can say. But we have agreed on something: You can take the girl out of the newspaper, but you can’t take the newspaper out of the girl.

In a few weeks, I’m going to be writing a column that will be in the Wichita Eagle on Sundays. I’m going to dive into freelancing and start in familiar waters. The column will be much like the Monday columns I’ve written for the past 30 years.

Knowing that I’ll still get to “talk” with you makes leaving easier, but I will, without a doubt, miss the newsroom and the people in it. Granted, it’s changed a lot in the past three decades, but it is still has a combination of diverse, funny, interesting, borderline crazy people who are my friends.

The newsroom isn’t as noisy as it used to be. When I started in 1980, everyone typed on electric typewriters. Only the editors used computers, and they looked nothing like the ones we use today. When everyone got computers, we had to share. My computer partner was film critic Bob Curtright. It worked out great. While he was at the movies, I was typing like crazy. It was so long ago people smoked in the newsroom. Lots and lots of smoke.

After a few years, we got a new computer system, and everyone had their own computer. The first day after training for several hours, I wrote a 70-inch social column — and that blankety-blank computer ate it. All that work was out there in cyberspace or wherever your hard work goes. I had to come back after dinner and write it again. But the latest system we had to learn was the most difficult for this old girl, and I swear there were moments I would have taken my electric typewriter back. Thanks to my friend and semi-techie Denise Neil, I only cried once. Katie Lohrenz, who is a true techie, convinced me that jumping out the window wasn’t necessary because eventually I would “get it.” Well, I have pretty much got it, and now I’m finished with it. Interactive content editor Lori O’Toole Buselt would probably not say I ever “got it.” Thank goodness for her and her expertise.

Through the years when I needed a break, I would get up and walk through the newsroom just to listen to snippets of phone conversations.

“Sir, I don’t know how they could lose it in the last four seconds of the game, but they did, and that’s what I reported.”

“What day do you plan on opening your business?”

“That recipe called for baking powder, not baking soda.”

“The body was found two days ago?”

“They tested the water, and fish couldn’t live in it.”

“OK, type Kansas.com. No, not in your search engine, in the address bar. No, not there. Is your computer on?”

“It’s hard to say where the best barbecue in Wichita is.”

“Yes, it is possible to get gum out of a suede skirt.”

“What time will the fireworks display start?”

It never failed. In only a few steps, subject matters changed dramatically.

We do talk to each other when we aren’t talking on the phone or to ourselves.

“Is anybody else frozen?” That question refers to our computers, not us.

“Is anyone else freezing?” That one refers to us.

The features team has a hot pink Snuggie we share. “Is it hot in here, or is it me?” usually was answered with a resounding, “It’s you.” Season after season, these are the people who were part of my support team when I lost my dad, and they celebrated with me when I got married.

I’ve always sat in the same area of the room, but when we got new carpet, I was temporarily located by my friend Kirk Seminoff in sports. The sports guys liked me sitting there because I brought in pretty models for fashion shoots. I watched an entire football game so I could talk about it with the guys. But when I launched into my spiel about how the whole team had let the quarterback down, I found not one of those guys had watched the game! So much for fitting in.

Each day held laughs, learning and surprises. We don’t have walls, so I’ve heard every word of Bill Wilson’s phone interviews and, because I find him very entertaining, I’ve enjoyed it.

Annie Calovich read somewhere that it was a good idea to sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair while working at your desk. She gave it a try. Put her a little too low if I recall correctly.

The late Steve Harper taught me that light is the most important part of photography. He’s also the guy who took me ice fishing so I could write about it. It took three days for my feet to thaw.

I helped Suzanne Tobias with her wedding when she married Randy, and now their daughter is starting high school. Where did those years go?

If I turn my head to the right, I see Carrie Rengers and Molly McMillin. I remember being on a plane with them, Denise Neil and Lori Linenberger headed to Las Vegas. Carrie said, “If the plane goes down, whose name would they list first in the headline?” Always the journalist.

Some of my dearest friends work in this room, and I’ll miss the luxury of seeing them nearly every day. But I’m ready for a schedule that is less packed and much more flexible. It’s going to be a new chapter, and I hope you’ll read about what I’m up to when my Sunday columns start in August.

Words can’t express the appreciation I feel for the kind emails, phone calls, cards, flowers, Facebook messages and comments I’ve received from Eagle readers. Your thoughtfulness has been overwhelming.

This isn’t goodbye.

It’s see you later.

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