After a 23-year association with this newspaper, and 20 years of delivering a weekly column, the time has finally come for me to say goodbye to all of NUVO's readers and the city of Indianapolis, my beloved hometown.
It feels like I've been saying farewell in print for months, because I have been, but I promise it ends this week. I'll be gone as a weekly presence in print but will contribute the occasional article or blog piece to this newspaper.
I'm sitting in our new, sunny living room in the Alamo Heights area of San Antonio, tapping away my last NUVO column on my phone as my wife takes a Saturday afternoon nap. Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 8 is playing.
Back in 1993, when I began writing this column each week, I hoped it would be successful. I wanted certain people to like it, certain people to be apathetic to it and for a certain segment of the population to be completely and utterly outraged by it.
By those standards, if no other, this column has been a staggering success, exceeding my highest expectations.
If I had known in 1993 that the column would run for two decades and terminate due to my moving to Texas after being promoted to a good job with a Fortune 500 company, I'm not sure whether I would have reacted with happiness, terror or disgust.
But here I am, working in a six-floor office building in Texas and signing off in print in Indy. It's been a good run for which I am profoundly thankful. It ends on a good note on the 23rd anniversary of the newspaper you're holding in your hands or seeing on a screen.
My professional career in journalism and writing goes back even further, to the late 1980s, where I worked for the Indianapolis Recorder and the Noblesville Daily Ledger, two very different places culturally. I covered dozens of metro counties council and zoning meetings for the Indianapolis Star and the sadly deceased Indianapolis News, as well as high school sports for the great Associated Press.
It's been a gas. In my 27-year career as a professional staff and freelance journalist, I have spoken with James Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, Yoko Ono, John Updike, George Clinton, Tony Bennett and Elvis Costello. I've breakfasted with Claire Danes and lunched with James Earl Jones and Steve Wilkos.
I've covered hundreds of speeches featuring notable and historical people: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Nelson Mandela (twice), Allen Ginsberg, Dan Quayle, Bill Clinton (5 times), Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Ralph Nader, Gerald R. Ford, George Bush Sr., Dan Rather, John Waters and hundreds more.
I've been to at least 700 Pacers home games at the Coliseum, Market Square Arena and the Fieldhouse. I've seen the legendary players of the ABA Pacers and have been present when Reggie Miller was draining threes. I covered the 2000 NBA Finals and chatted with Shaquille O'Neal and Jesse Jackson in the Lakers' locker room. I hung out with Mark Cuban when Dallas came to town.
I've seen almost every single one of my musical heroes perform in person except John Lennon and Mozart. Prince, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters and hundreds more. For years I was paid to go to concerts, which is more fun in theory than reality.
And every week since 1993 I've done this column. I've written it on planes, trains and buses, in hotel rooms and in the back of cars doing 90 mph on the interstate. It's been a constant presence. Most of the time I've enjoyed it but sometimes it's been a drag. It's very cool to have the privilege to say whatever the hell you want in print, but when you're setting the alarm for 5 a.m. Monday to get up and write a piece in less than two hours, it most certainly feels like work.
Unlike most writers I know, I don't keep any of my old stories or clippings, so it's hard to review my columns and choose a favorite. The ones that stand out in my mind are the ones where I either told a story of injustice that needed telling or where I cracked myself up with my comedy.
Several times I've written reviews of vending-machine food in the style of a snooty restaurant critic. For some reason, that makes me laugh. I also have enjoyed the book reviews I've written that ignore the book's content but focuses on its physical properties: the quality of its paper, the strength of its binding, the readability of its font, etc.
I also have enjoyed relating personal stories of my life in Indianapolis. Here's my final one, taken from one of my last days before leaving town.
I was walking down Ohio Street in front of the federal courthouse, minding my own business and listening to Mozart. Something hit me hard, similar to when someone pats you on the back especially hard. Except it wasn't my back, it was my left leg and my foot was pinned underneath the wheel of a motorized wheelchair driven by a 60-year-old white lady with an artificial leg. "Oh my gosh," she said, "Are you okay?" "Not really," I said. My foot felt like it was on fire and I was afraid she'd caused serious damage.
She apologized profusely and I hobbled off. I thought, "Bitch, you may have only one leg but you have two eyes and they both work"! Once I was at my desk, I inspected the damage: A chunk of flesh the size of a JFK half-dollar had been gouged out the side of my foot.
I've never even heard of that happening before. The strangest things always happened to me in Indianapolis.
I'm just about out of room but have a last few thoughts before signing off. I apologize to anyone in my personal life in Indy that I've mistreated in any way. My life hasn't always been as upbeat as it is now and I've burned some friendships along the way. I deeply regret that.
But I don't apologize for standing up for the workers, the underprivileged and the voiceless. I don't apologize for promoting a liberal or socialist agenda. History has and will continue to prove me right on that.
Two of the people most responsible for shaping my attitudes and urging me towards excellence are no longer with us. Harrison Ullmann, NUVO's editor from 1993 to 2000, fought to get me a weekly space in the paper and helped me craft my prose. My mother also shaped my philosophy of standing up for the underdog. She died on Christmas Eve 1999 and Ullmann passed away a few months later. I still miss them but feel their presence in my life.
So instead of being a controversial local columnist and minor local celebrity in Indiana, I am now a hard-working union man in Texas. I'm grateful for the change and the opportunity for a fresh start. It feels good.
My last words as a print columnist are these: Thank you for reading, whether you've supportive of me, vehemently against me or were apathetic. I'm humbled by the opportunity I've had. Thank you Kevin McKinney, thank you Jim Poyser, thank you NUVO. May God continue to protect and bless the great city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana and everyone who lives there. I'll never forget any of you. Goodbye.