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Patrick Henry: Loss of nerve ended chance at news career

Seeing one’s words in print is a thrill, and having mine appear in this space is extra-special. I see it as vindication of sorts for a “career” in the newspaper business that has been as checkered as that tablecloth in your favorite Italian restaurant.

My first foray into the field, delivering the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch at age 12, was tough. It was an afternoon paper and only a small route, but one day a week I had to rise at 4 a.m. to get the Sunday edition on doorsteps by dawn. Even worse, when the holiday season came round, the paper’s weight quadrupled with sales inserts. I did OK in that first job, or at least no harm because, unlike my next employer, the Dispatch is still in business today.

My next job was with the now defunct Buffalo Courier-Express, one I can’t claim to have gotten on my own merits. It was due to my high school buddy, Peter, whose father was head of distribution. As you may have guessed, I wasn’t writing for the paper, I was delivering it again, though not door-to-door this time.

My job was as a “hopper,” so named because I rode shotgun on the trucks that delivered to stores and individual carriers, and hopped on and off with large bundles of papers. Loading trucks and tossing around those heavy bundles was hard work, but what really drove me crazy were the hours. Although the Courier-Express was a morning paper, its first edition actually came out the night before. Thus, we had to show up at 9 p.m., load and deliver that first edition, then leave, only to return again at 1 a.m. to deliver the final editions. That weird split shift, combined with the overnight hours, played havoc with my body clock, and I resigned after only a few weeks on the job. (Sorry, Pete. Thanks anyway!)

The low point of my newspaper career occurred not because of something I did, but because of something I didn’t do. Right out of college I was working at the now defunct (is there a pattern here?) Circle Art movie house and became acquainted with a News film critic. Hey, I said to myself, that looks easy enough. So I asked him how one went about getting a job with the paper. He advised me to write to the managing editor, which I did, and was soon told that I had an interview scheduled. The critic warned me, however, that my letter included numerous misspellings, and I’d best be prepared for the worst.

On the appointed day I went to The News building and paused nervously outside the area where the interview was to occur. With my hand on the doorknob I looked through glass walls at a large, open room.

People were dashing back and forth, and I could hear muffled sounds of clacking typewriters and shouted conversations. It was a Capra-esque scene of barely controlled chaos, typical I suppose of any 1960s newsroom, but to me it seemed overwhelming.

Intimidated, I slowly withdrew my hand from the doorknob, silently slipped down the stairs and went out the front door, never to return.

Both The News and I survived my failure of nerve that day. The News, needless to say, is still publishing, and I went on to a satisfying career in another field. Still, despite the gratification of finally seeing my words printed in Buffalo’s newspaper of record, I’ll always wonder what might have happened had I walked through that door.