ON THE ROAD — The truth about life is that we are always doing that — being on the road.
Sometimes that route is direct; sometimes it goes in reverse.
I recently took the reverse road, by going back to Des Moines, Ia., where I had gotten my first full time job. I was a young hire, just out of college at The Ohio State University. The Des Moines Register had been recommended to me by college professors, who knew I was looking for a good place to land.
When I first flew to Des Moines, the airport wasn’t much more than one of those corrugated metal hangars.
Now, don’t take this as an indication of my ancient age. It’s just that Des Moines was a little bit behind the times.
Iowa is a major agricultural state, and it can be said most people living there thought worrying about the soil and hogs was most important.
My time in Iowa — beyond compare.
Of course things impress you when you’re young. For then, you don’t have much basis for making any kind of comparative judgment.
I thought it was big to be put up in the Hotel Fort Des Moines — a monster of a building sitting a few blocks from the Register.
My time at the Register – 11 years — flew by. I did it all. I was first a general assignment reporter, then school page editor promoted up the ranks to be covering state politics and national politics. Then, on to the city desk where I was an assistant city editor.
You can make a lot of friends when you do that job, and get a lot of laughs.
The man who was our farm columnist at the time was Don Muhm (we called him the Muhm-er) knew everything one could about agriculture, but the writer gene seemed to have missed him. I would handle his copy, then frequently roll onto the floor trying to contain my laughter.
How many ways can you talk about the sleek shanks of a hog or a cow?
Good times abounded. When I covered state government my crew of friends included people who were also on the Des Moines Tribune, which was the a.m. newspaper. There was a sense of competition, always. You almost felt like you should go invent a story so that you could scoop an a.m. reporter.
One person on the Tribune staff at that time was Larry Fruhling. We became very good friends. He later was a city editor, and got promoted to the Washington bureau of the newspaper.
But, Larry was unlike most people elevated to that position. He couldn’t stand Washington.
I visited him while I was in Des Moines, and he said he was more of a “flatlander” because of his beginnings in Nebraska.
I was curious about the state of Des Moines, because it was a while since I had been there. The main streets are still there — Grand Avenue, Ingersoll, Locust. And there are still the magnificent old apartment buildings on those streets.
But the area across the river, nearing the capitol building, is now referred to as East Village. Gentrification, here we come. There used to be car dealerships there, and old greasy spoon restaurants.
Tasteful new restaurants and new construction apartment buildings are on the landscape.
I was reassured by Larry Fruhling that one hot spot in the old days, Kelly’s, still exists.
This is where we would go over the lunch hour to escape the turmoil (and boredom) of the state capitol.
Larry and I have always kept in touch, because we share many of the same sensibilities.
I contacted him May 1 of this year to keep up with our tradition of greeting that date with “Hooray, hooray. The first of May” etc. And told him if I traveled I would go one of two places — to Des Moines to see friends or to Washington, D.C., where I had also lived.
On this Des Moines trip I regaled him and his wife Bernie with stories of being the powerful editor of a small town newspaper. (Larry is a person with a keen sense of the ironic).
One of my other Des Moines friends, Lindy Voss, and I did a lot of running around together while in Des Moines. She had done numerous jobs at the Register, then ended up working in St. Paul., Minn.
I told Lindy I wanted to see the old Register building.
It is now a shadow of its original self. Part of the building is eight stories tall. The rest is four stories, because the newsroom there was located above the pulsing printing presses in the basement.
The Register, like all other newspapers, was downsized when purchased by Gannett.
That purchase was the death of a very fine publication. Staff was slashed, quarters shifted to a location where no outsider can get it.
The Register building, of all things, is being turned into loft apartments.
And, in the lobby, there is a bar area.
Lindy and I visited the Register building on Sunday, to check things out. You can get into the building — but of all things the Register bar was closed.
How, in a newspaper world, could that be appropriate?
Several people recounted stories of visits to the “loft apartments.” They have names trying to keep up with newspaper parlance: scoop, cutline, teaser, crop.
One apartment looks out over an alley, but because the building is on the Register of Historic Places, the only window in the room had to be preserved intact — with chicken wire meshing running through and through.
Old newspaper days — gone.