It was 26 years ago, almost to the day.
Thrilled. Excited. Scared. Nervous. And everything in between, I drove myself from my parents’ home in Houma, where I had moved temporarily (of course), to my new job at The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans.
I had been hired a few weeks before to be an agate clerk by then-sports editor Tom Lindley. He looked me over, told me I was over-qualified, made a face when I told him I wasn’t available until after September 27th because my best friend was getting married that day, and hired me. Reluctantly.
So it was on October 1 that I made my way through the bowels of the massive building and up to the third floor, ready to go to work. The first thing they made me do? Drive to Bud’s Broiler on Banks Street to pick up dinner. The cafeteria was closed on Sundays, you see.
I nearly didn’t go back.
But I did. Even though, for several weeks “the boys” (and they know who they are) wouldn’t let me do anything, wouldn’t teach me anything, wouldn’t show me how. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me or trust me, it was just easier to do it themselves. As a wife and mother, I certainly understand that!
So for many weeks I watched baseball on TV. Watched them work. Followed them around like a puppy dog. Observed. Tried. Cursed them a bit. And answered the telephone.
Most of the calls were complaints. Why didn’t we cover Nascar? Our columnists were idiots. Where were the late scores?
Or bettors: Who won the fifth race at The Fair Grounds? Who won the Lakers game?
Or crazy: Why does Jim Mora say he’s Italian? Mora is Spanish!
A few months later, I was able to reorganize my life. I re-enrolled at Loyola to finish my final semester. At the ripe old age of 25, I moved back into a dorm with a bunch of 20-year-olds. I went to class during the day and worked at night. Sometimes me and the boys went for a beer after putting the paper to bed.
One night the gang introduced me to a local professional baseball player. They were very excited that he asked me for my number. More excited when he called me at work a few days later.
I was “the girl” in sports. But I became “one of the boys.”
And I loved it. Even when they moved me to full time days.
Even when they moved me from New Orleans, where I could hear the streetcar bells from my Uptown apartment, to LaPlace, where my next-door neighbor waited outside with his boa constrictor.
Because I was a sports writer. For 21 years I covered The Saints — St. Charles, St. John and St. James parishes. Football, baseball, softball, golf, tennis, volleyball, soccer.
I covered the state, from Belle Chasse to Benton and a bunch of places in between.
I covered games in rain, in snow, in blistering heat. I fainted at a track meet. I threw up at E.D. White. I covered a game from the top of a press box when it was 30 degrees outside. I sent a story from the floor of a Pizza Hut kitchen in White Castle. I got to Farmerville before the football team I was covering. And I never missed a deadline.
I covered Ed Reed, Eli and Peyton Manning, Laron and Dawan Landry, Mike Scifres, Corey Webster, Big Baby Davis and too many baseball players to count.
And I loved it. I thrived on the thrills, the stories of the kids and the coaches, the games. Even the deadlines, which seemed to get shorter as our technology got better. Very few people get to go through life saying they loved what they did for a living. I did. Truly.
This is what I always wanted to do. Always.
Then one day the men in ties told me they wanted me to be a clerk. And a crime reporter. My first week on the job I covered a murder-suicide. Both my daughter and I had nightmares. I’ve since covered three. More murders. Suicides. Armed robberies. Shootings. Deaths. Drugs. Accidents.
And a whole lot of nothing in between. My job was to sit and wait for something to happen. I sat so much I had to get the ergonomics specialist to come show me how to do it properly. I quit wearing a watch because I watched the clock all day. I prayed nothing would happen while hoping something would. I never stayed longer than I had to.
I did get to cover some stories I never would have before. A flock of stolen flamingos. A popular educator who lost her hands and feet to a massive infection, then danced at her wedding. A fun-loving red headed basketball player.
And now it’s over. Or it will be in five days. And who knows what my last byline will be.
I know that somewhere tonight a bunch of people just put to bed the last Monday paper The Times-Picayune will publish. Some of them will be there next Sunday. Many of them won’t.
I won’t. My last day is Friday.
And after I turn in my key to the now-shuttered River Parishes bureau, and my laptop (which doesn’t work) and my I.D. card proclaiming me to be “Lori Lyons of The Times-Picayune,” I will grab my notebook and stat sheets and head off to cover a football game. Now for someone else.
Because, no matter what they say, I am and always will be a sports writer.
This article by New Orleans journalist Lori Lyons is reposted from her blog, The Lyons Din.