To put it simply, goodbye.
This edition of the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol newspaper — June 30 — is the last one for me. I am retiring, not only from the Sun/el Sol but also as a working journalist.
As I say goodbye to the San Fernando Valley (at least professionally), I want to thank you for embracing me and reading my work here for the past 13-plus years, starting in February of 2009 when I was hired after spending a year out of work because my previous employer, the Los Angeles Times, was shedding personnel via buyouts and layoffs. (I took a buyout.). Thank you, San Fernando Valley, for acknowledging if you thought the work was good and scolding me when you thought it was bad. But you read. That’s all I could ask for.
I also say thanks to the profession I was able to be part of for more than 40 years (of which 35-plus years were primarily writing about sports). It gave me both a life I dreamed about and never could have imagined.
Let’s be honest: it’s never easy to leave something you love doing, because when you love your job it rarely feels like work. And I have also been fortunate to be doing something I love almost entirely where I grew up, having been born 68 years ago in Los Angeles. I was lucky to have been informed, nurtured, mentored, groomed and pushed — even if and when I pushed back — by so many who believed I could earn a seat at such an exalted table. To all, I owe an immeasurable debt.
But love is often predicated on an emotion. Reality is a different beast.
A reality for me now is how I’m changing physiologically while moving into the next phase of my life’s journey. I’m not quite as sharp and as fluid to the constant demands of journalism as I once was.
The pace of the profession — of “the life,” if you will — continues to accelerate at the speed of the internet, phone cameras and podcasts. While my health is still good, my body and my mind are telling me I am slowing down. When that happens, it means you should get out of the way for someone else who is more attuned to the contemporary methodology, and who deserves the chance to pursue their dreams as I was able to do.
Do understand, this is not a lament. I am grateful for a professional career that started in 1977 at SOUL magazine (writing on jazz music), then eventually moving into mainstream newspapers: the San Bernardino Sun and USA Today, the Washington Post (briefly), the LA Times and, finally, the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol.
Over the years, I’ve been able to talk to and banter with an amazing array of iconic people from Muhammad Ali to Jesse Jackson, as well as slightly more dubious souls from Hugh Hefner to O.J. Simpson — and all the athletes, actors, politicians, and newsmakers in-between who heard my questions and offered their thoughts. I was in the front row of the press conference when Magic Johnson announced he had tested positive for the HIV-virus and would retire from the Lakers. I covered (and was a de facto participant at) the Million Man March in Washington, DC. I’ve been given other glimpses into history in real time. Too many to mention here; but I was there.
In sports I was able to travel nationally and internationally, covering college and professional teams ranging from champions (Sparks in the WNBA, the Super Bowl, NCAA men’s and women’s basketball finals) to those bitterly denied by fates they could not control (the 1986 Angels in Major League Baseball). I also, off-and-on, covered high school sports.
The Valley was different in that — at least before my position here also involved news writing — it was mostly about kids on their high school or college teams; the next generations on the cusp of adulthood, developing their talents and imagining their possibilities.
And it didn’t always involve teams; there were young boxers like Roxonie “Right Hook Roxy” Verduzco and Rahim Gonzalez who won national and international amateur titles. Gymnasts like Caitlyn Cody who competed on a national age group level. There were amazing profiles in courage like San Fernando High wrestler Samantha Ochoa, who finished second in the City Section finals in her weight class while battling multiple sclerosis.
On the flip side, there were genuine “senior” standouts to chronicle like LA Marathon legacy runner Jim Davis, and triathlete Sue Baker. Their continued, active participation and triumphs were more proof that age can be just a number, and not a barrier.
The Valley was —and is — rich with these kinds of stories. It could be hard to simply be a dispassionate observer discussing the celebrations or silently commiserating with the tears of disappointment, even though that is a requirement of the job. I tried to keep in mind that they — the youngsters — are still at the forefront of their frontiers and hopefully have many more days left to live, discover, and succeed.
I just won’t be there to witness those journeys anymore.
There are other things that need my attention. I tease my beautiful and wonderful wife of 31 years, Gayle, (herself a brilliant and award-winning journalist who now works in media relations) about the 538-page honey-do list she has been compiling and updating. I also must be more readily available for my mom who turned 90 on June 12; I need to be there for her in the ways she was for me, her only child.
I do have some other writing ideas that are whirring around in my noggin. I don’t know where they will take me, but I will have the time to explore them without the demands of a regular job.
I will still be keeping tabs on the Valley and the rest of the world; just not from the same close-up view as before.
I will miss that — and you all.