RICHMOND, Va. -- I’m the luckiest journalist on planet Earth.
Some of you may know my weekly “RVA Revealed” segments about people, places, things, events, history and oddities that give Richmond its distinctive flavor. What a joy it has been to share these stories and my commentaries about our wild world.
I’m retiring from reporting - pretty much - this Friday, February 16 after more than three decades.
So, for my last regularly-scheduled RVA Revealed segment, I’ll tell you why I’m the luckiest, most-blessed journalist on the planet.
I’m a California native, a Marine Corps brat who moved around a fair amount.
After graduating from Mary Washington College in 1978 with a bachelor of science in biology, my future wife and I drifted around a bit while I finished my bricklayer’s apprenticeship.
We came to Richmond by way of Atlanta in 1980. There was a recession going on then, and Richmond was one of the few places that had big building projects going; the main hospital at MCV, the Veterans Hospital, the big state building looming over I-95.
Four years later, in 1984, I collided with journalism.
I’ve always loved music and that year I read a concert review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch of a show I’d been to and absolutely hated the report. Rather than just whine about it, the next show I went to I wrote a review in my pickup and drove it down to the newspaper.
They kind of laughed, but the next thing I knew I was in training to write concert reviews.
For two big years, I went to shows and other events. It was the coolest thing ever: bricklayer by day, scribe by night!
Because I had a different background than many reporters, I came up with more street-level stuff and the editors liked it. In mid-‘86 I became a full-time reporter, and thus began my years of professionally wandering, exploring, savoring and reflecting all things RVA.
That was the very beginning of the crack cocaine years and the rising tide of murders that all-but killed this great city.
It was crazy, scary, totally disheartening and, in my view, preventable.
If only everyone knew was going on, the root causes: racist and segregated public housing, rampant illegitimacy, concentrated poverty, illiteracy, substance abuse, hopelessness!
It was part of my job to try to make sense of it, to bring it safely to you. I’m sure I went to 100 murders and as many funerals. I’m surprised I survived a few of those nights.
Eventually, I became a metro columnist, sharing my offbeat views for the better part of a decade.
I wrote some 3,500 stories for the Times-Dispatch, covering the very best of RVA to the very worst.
Not once did I doubt that Richmond would rise up. I knew the people - how could it not?
Eleven years ago, in 2007, I was ready for a change. The city had rebounded, my four kids were mostly grown and I was thinking about heading to Nicaragua - or something else totally new and different.
The chief leaders at CBS 6 had enjoyed my journalism and asked if I would be willing to do a video version of my take-you-there reporting and commentary.
It was a totally different way of reporting and storytelling - surprisingly so - and I was terrible at it.
But man, the fun I’ve had, the wild and wonderful things and people I’ve gotten to experience during this long decade. I learned to love filming and editing, even though my shaky videography never inched much past the raw state. (Which suited me just fine.)
Yes, there were the heavy, ugly stories, but CBS 6 allowed me to spend a good bit of this time showing the many facets of a city, an area, that is now recognized as one of the coolest in the nation.
Honestly, I knew it would happen.
And so it’s time for another change.
I’ve always been a huge water and ocean person. It’s in my DNA. Regular trips to Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks were never enough, and one look at the amazing capes and islands of central/southern North Carolina made this current decision a requirement.
I have a sweet place in downtown Wilmington and an Airbnb 20 blocks away in midtown (the “Perry Mason House” - an intact 1951 mid-century modern classic).
My lifetime of building stuff (when I wasn’t reporting) has and will serve me as long as I’m healthy.
And I don’t want to wait until my 6-foot-9-inch frame breaks down. Overly tall people just don’t live that long (the closer you are to the ground, the longer you can hope not to be buried in it) and I want to have some time with me or my fishing line in the surf. (I also write for Salt magazine down there.)
It’ll be a challenge making ends meet, particularly with health insurance. At 62, I’ve still got to wait for Medicare and Social Security.
But it’ll be an adventure, and as I’ve always said, an adventure a day keeps the doctor away. (But not necessarily the undertaker.)
I’ll still be coming to Richmond to see my family, and to tell an occasional story for CBS 6, which has been a wonderful family for me and has left the door open.
I’ll be posting words and videos of my travels on WTVR’s Facebook page and website and you should see some of my stories on the air every few weeks or months.
RVA is in my blood. There is no other place like it. It has been so good to me - especially the people.
Thank you so much for allowing me in your neighborhoods, your homes, your lives. Virtually no one turned me away.
Thank you for listening to me, believing in me, caring about the stories I’ve loved to share about our sweet, distinctive and somewhat wild town.
That’s why I’m the luckiest journalist on the planet.