One year ago yesterday was my first day working at the Pahrump Valley Times.
I spent much of the next three months on Indeed.com, figuring that getting out of this business — by choice for a change — was the prudent path. I don’t do that anymore, and it’s all your fault.
Perhaps I should back up a bit.
Personal is not my usual key. I would much rather devote this precious space to writing about what you folks are doing, or your sons or daughters, your neighbors, whoever. There’s no need to waste it babbling about whatever thoughts, however fascinating and insightful, pop into my head.
But a one-year anniversary seems like a good time to break my own rule. Besides, it’s not like I’ll do it again any time soon. So let’s go back one year.
Before last February I had never, not once, not even on a bet or a dare, driven over the hump from my home in Las Vegas. And yet here I was, outside the palatial offices of this fine newspaper, sitting in my car, staring at … um, well, nothing. I was staring at nothing, because that’s what there was. Except for the KFC drive-thru. There was that.
I returned a call from a now-former colleague at the Review-Journal who wanted to express his sympathy for my unexpected departure from my cushy job there. He asked how I was doing, and the first thing I could think of was, “I feel like I went to Mars and made a left.”
He thought it was funny. Me, not so much.
But the alternative was the kind of make-do, just-get-by jobs that I had previously when I was between newspaper gigs. I had done everything from checking for water in the gas tanks after a storm at a service station to telling someone why he absolutely, positively had to drop $16,000 on a first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” but I’m a newspaper guy. So I swallowed hard and walked in.
(The your fault part is coming soon. Promise.)
I got the job. I think there was only one other candidate, and with the position unfilled for three months, it’s not like they were going to wait for other applicants. Two of my former RJ colleagues even suggested I was let go specifically because my background would fit this long-vacant position, and the company was getting desperate. I never asked. I started the following Monday and wondered exactly what went on under the category of sports in this rather dusty place.
You have to understand that I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs, on a quiet, dead-end street with more trees visible from my parents’ kitchen window than exist in all of Las Vegas (including artificial ones) and a very large lawn in both the front and back with only an occasional need for irrigation. Deer ate my mom’s flowers, and wild turkeys would line up on the pool fence. Raccoons invaded the garbage, and you had to erect anti-squirrel devices on bird feeders.
The desert it wasn’t.
To be able to see for miles because nothing living obstructed the view was odd enough in a major city like Las Vegas, but out here? Was this place even on maps?
The only thing to do was get to work and hope everything else would take care of itself. But after spending most of my almost 30 working years as an editor, sometimes with major responsibilities and authority and sometimes charged with nothing more than cutting stories and writing headlines, being a reporter again had me a little nervous. Not the writing part, the people part.
I’m not a huge fan of being around humans if I’m related to them, much less when I don’t know anybody. Sending other people to strange places to cover games and fixing the slop they wrote when they got back was much more my speed. But what I wanted now clearly was of no significance, and I would have to face lots of people from a very different place who were sure to spend much of their time asking me to slow down while I talked.
Two days later, Pahrump Valley High School was holding a ceremony for athletes who were signing letters of intent to continue their athletic careers in college. Good. First time out, bright kids with athletic talent, and all seniors. Should be easy. Maybe.
That day I met Bryce Odegard first, then Sydney Dennis and Vaniah Vitto, and, after the ceremony, Garrett Lucas. I had good conversations with all of them, chatted a bit with then-athletic director Larry Goins and athletic administrator Jason Odegard, met the great Horace Langford, who took pictures of everybody’s smiling faces, and soon it was all over.
I went back to write, and it came out well. I’m not my own biggest fan, but I was happy with it. Or maybe just happy I got through it. But either way, you take happy when you can get it. More importantly, this really was just like riding a bike. It all came back as if I had never stopped writing and spent the past couple of decades fixing other people’s writing and designing pages. And it felt good.
To this day, I am very fond of Bryce, Sydney, Vaniah and Garrett. They made my first assignment easy and made me see that, while there were parts of the job that weren’t ideal, the actual work was going to be fine. More than fine, actually. This was fun.
In the past year, I’ve done numerous things I never had done before: attended a rodeo practice, went to a dirt track, watched curling from the ice, covered horseshoes tournaments, spent a summer day at a ski resort, visited the staging areas of two off-road races and went to my first Pahrump bar. But it’s not the events that make this fun, it’s the people.
Some of them are people that spend a lot of time making sure your kids have opportunities to play sports, some very visible and some behind the scenes. People such as Johnny O’Neal with football, Dusty Park with soccer and Caroline Thacker with Little League do the tasks that are necessary for the fun and games to happen. Knowing people like them, and many more I haven’t met, are around makes you feel a little better.
Coaches and administrators at Nye County high schools never act bothered when I call, text or email them about anything. Sure, I wonder what they say when they see my number pop up, but that’s not my concern. They give me what I need to do my job, and I’m grateful. And let’s not forget the fabulous Kendra McCauley, Pahrump Valley’s athletics secretary, whom I had many more reasons to bother the first few months on the job than I do now.
But it’s always better in person. Listening to Bob Hopkins talk basketball, or chatting with Joe Clayton as he totals up statistics in the wrestling room after a football game, or hearing Beatty’s Aimee Senior speak of the rewards of coaching a very inexperienced basketball team make you wonder why people pay you to do this.
Then, of course, you see your paycheck and dismiss such silly notions.
How can you not love a job that lets you meet people such as Marvin Caperton, who played football for Dick Vermeil and ran track for Jim Bush at UCLA and is faster today at 64 than I was at 24, and probably ever; the incomparable Rachelle Ryba, who only got into horseshoes and pool because of her boyfriend and now has handed me two great feature story ideas; Makayla Gent, who gave me my favorite postgame video clip as she enthusiastically credited everyone but herself for her winning goal in the regional soccer final; Drew Middleton, whose passion for baseball makes you think his mother was a groundskeeper who gave birth to him near an on-deck circle somewhere; Jose Chavez, whose sheer joy from leading Pahrump Valley’s boys soccer team to its first playoff berth in a decade led him to hug everybody in sight, even me; and literally dozens more.
I wasn’t born in Pahrump. I didn’t grow up here. I don’t live here now. But because of these people and so many more, working here is a blast. And the people make me want to do a better job telling their stories. And they are the reason I no longer think about looking for other jobs.
See? All your fault.
And now I know you make a right at Mars.
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter:@PVTimesSports