I started this column six years ago not because I wanted to, but because I was ordered to do so by my boss.
It was some unremarkable day in 2007, and I was walking by the Bossman's office when he called me inside. He pitched me an idea about a column for Tempo that would highlight the local entertainment scene, bands, bars and overall nightlife. I shrugged and said yes. In fact, I don't remember having a choice in the matter. When you work for a newspaper, if your editor tells you to write something, you write it.
If given the choice, of course, you would rather write less during the work week. Even something labeled as "fun and humorous" is still, well, work. The end result was something I was sometimes proud of, but it required sitting down and writing. And reporters are no different than 99.4568 percent of the population in that we are given to slacking off whenever a blessed opportunity presents itself.
The one thing I learned while writing the Nightcrawler is humor is incredibly difficult week after week. In an interview, David Letterman once said that he's amazed at how many people approach him in restaurants to say hello. They then will take a step back and wait for him to be funny, as if one could do this on command. Hey, just be funny! Doesn't work that way.
But when you're writing a humor column on deadline week after week, it's what you have to do. There have been many times when I've sat down to write the Nightcrawler at the end of a long night, after I spent the afternoon at a wildland fire outside of Shady Cove, my shirt reeking from smoke and splattered by that evil soup they dump from the bomber planes. I remember one evening I wrote a column about taste-testing 40-ounce malt liquors after returning from a gruesome fatal motorcycle crash in Central Point.
And that's what I'm most proud of after six years of Nightcrawling. I was able to get it done in any and all circumstances. Week after week. I've always thought of the columns as my little demon spores, spreading my cracked point of view through mass media. I love them all in their own way, but in the end, I'm satisfied with about 1 in 8 of them. There were more than a few "What the hell was I thinking?" moments and a couple of "They actually paid me for this crap? Ha ha, suckers!" instances.
I would happily continue Nightcrawling, but the time to leave the media business is nigh. I can't chalk it up to one thing in particular that drove me away from newspapers. I honestly didn't think I'd do this job for more than a couple of years. But I stuck around because I liked the Southern Oregon lifestyle and dug my co-workers.
In a way, I've always felt like a visitor in the newsroom. I liked aspects of the job, such as breaking news. I loved house fires, wildland fires, car crashes, murders, shootings, stabbings, bludgeonings and the like. All the bad news geeked me out. I felt most productive on a chaotic scene, such as the Albertsons parking lot after some U.S. marshals blasted a fugitive into the afterlife in front of a bunch of moms stopping by to grab a gallon of milk after work. I felt alive while scrambling among a crowd of mind-blown witnesses who had suddenly found themselves in the OK Corral.
Aside from breaking news, I wasn't a hard-charging newshound in the Woodward and Bernstein mold. I didn't grow up reading newspapers. A lot of reporters have a maudlin view of the profession that I don't share. I don't have warm and fuzzy memories of holding the crackling paper in my hand and smelling the ink while pa played the fiddle by candlelight in the living room.
I'm not sentimental about the newspaper industry, either. Its time has passed, and it had a good run. I'll echo the thoughts of Clay Shirky, a sharp media blogger, who says that society doesn't necessarily need newspapers, but it does need journalism. How that will be delivered in the future is a question that I can't answer. And neither can you. But I sure as hell hope someone figures it out, for democracy's sake.
But moving on I am. I'm going to give you a chance to guess my new profession. It's one of the following: 1. Roadie for Iron Maiden; 2. Referee on the rooster-fighting circuit; 3. Professional Juggalo.
If you guess correctly, you win a free two-week subscription to the Mail Tribune. To collect your prize go to the paper's website and click on the box that says, "Click here to get 2 weeks free."
Before I go, I do want to thank all my Nightcrawler readers, young and old, sane and insane, free and imprisoned. The feedback I got from you guys was a highlight of these past six years. I hope you'll forget all the lame columns and remember the ones that made you laugh.
And to finally answer the most pressing question since "Who shot J.R. Ewing?" I'll address the photograph that has accompanied this column since its inception.
Yes. It is what I really look like. You got a problem with that?
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.