“Get an old newsman talking,” someone once wrote, “and he'll probably talk longer than you want to listen.”
With that warning...
As of 3 pm this afternoon (Monday), it is exactly 50 years since I walked in the front door of the Laramie Daily Boomerang, and started my first job as a cub reporter.
Back in 1973 there were just two reporters at the Boomerang, and we had to share a telephone. There was lots of cigarette smoke, and the newsroom was wonderfully decrepit.
My typewriter was missing the backspace key, but I loved that old Royal, banging out the Laramie Daily Record section. Fire calls, “suspicious person” reports, car accidents, warranty deeds, hospital admissions, births, marriage licenses, court news – a ream of the stuff every day.
One day at the police desk, there was a blotter item about a guy dressed up as the Easter Bunny, threatening people with a gun at Third and Grand. After entertaining kids at the hospital, he stopped at the Cowboy Bar for a beer, where some jokers hopped around and made fun of his bunny suit. He left in a huff, got into his pickup, and happened to see the cowboys who made fun of him.
So he held up his .44 pistol for the cowboys to see, and asked if they still thought he was amusing.
The guy was cited for threatening people with a firearm, and I reported the story in the paper. The Associated Press picked it up, and next thing you know Paul Harvey was reporting it on his hugely popular noon radio show. From the police blotter to Paul Harvey. In a bunny suit. Still makes me laugh.
I made my rounds at the courthouse every day, and knew there was bad blood between the sheriff and one of the justices of the peace. The justice of the peace claimed the sheriff would sit in the back of the courtroom and make faces at him. (Quite possible.)
One day, the justice of the peace allowed a longtime legislator charged with drunk driving to plead guilty in closed session. In the hallway outside the courtroom, I asked why the plea had been taken in private. He didn't answer, so I asked again. And then he declared me “in contempt,” and seeing a sheriff's deputy in the hallway, said, “Deputy, arrest this man!”
“I don't see anybody,” the deputy said, smiling, and I beat it out of there, getting back to my courthouse rounds. Word spread that the justice of the peace tried to arrest a reporter, but couldn't get a deputy to take me into custody. When I got to the district court office upstairs, District Judge Vernon Bentley was chuckling about it, and said if the deputy had arrested me, “I'd have put you on work release.”
Also during those years, I learned an important lesson when a dumb mistake I made in the Daily Record got us sued. I transposed two names, and had a woman who simply reported vandalism booked into the county jail for burglary. Ouch. We corrected my mistake – which appeared on an inside page - on the front page, but they sued. The day before the libel trial, the lady was offered $20,000 to settle. She refused. The next day a jury found us guilty, and awarded $500 in damages.
To this day I don't type a name without thinking about my dumb mistake.
Murder trials, a cattle mutilation near Rock River, three small plane accidents involving multiple fatalities, truck blow-overs out on I-80 west of town, and I even got to interview The Amazing Kreskin (he was amazing) – it was a great place for a kid in his 20s to learn the business.
It's a different world today, with the small local paper an endangered species, after the vast majority of our advertising dollars migrated to the Internet.
Luckily, as print papers that once published my columns decided they couldn't afford $12 a week anymore, along came something new and exciting called the Cowboy State Daily. And now, 50 years after that first afternoon in Laramie, I still get to do the work I love.
My Fifth Grade teacher told my mother I would be a writer someday. Half a century in the business later, I think I can safely say Mrs. Otto was right.
Dave Simpson can be reached at: DaveSimpson145@Hotmail.com