This is not so much an aviation story as it is a story about an aviation writer (me), and one person in his life that gave him the break he needed.
That person was Budd Brockett, the long-time Editor of the Reedley Exponent Newspaper, a small town weekly in Reedley, CA, just southeast of Fresno. Budd died this past week, and the news caused me to reflect on a series of events back in 1986 that changed the course of my life.
Between 1977 and early 1986, I had been completely addicted to photographing auto racing, primarily sprint cars on dirt. To pay for this habit, I worked at a produce dock in Fresno...long, chilly nights spent hand-unloading endless semi-trucks jammed with fruits and vegies. In spring of '86, one of my arms gave out, and my "lumper" days were over. At 29 years old, I enrolled in a community college journalism class – I was grandpa to the kids smoking dope in the darkroom – and my goal was to get a "real" reporting job.
The first week of college went fine, even though the kids looked at me like I was from Mars, some kind of loser who was on his second wind. But when I arrived home from classes on the Monday of the second week, the phone was ringing. A guy named Budd was on the other end of the line, asking me if I wanted to interview to be his new full-time Sports Editor. When asked how he knew I was even alive, he just said he had "heard I was available" and left it at that. He was blunt, did I want the interview or not, he had no time for small talk.
So staring four years of college in the face – each year producing a new crop of young kids wanting the same premium newspaper jobs I dreamed about – I met with Budd at the Exponent office...right there on Main Street in downtown Reedley. At the time, you only had to dial five digits to make a call, and I swear it was only slightly removed from Mayberry, RFD. I told Budd straight up that I had never written a sports story other then car racing. But apparently a couple of the supermodified drivers in the area heard I was unemployed and showed Budd my writing style from the National Speed Sport News, which he loved.With an offer on the table of $325 a week, I signed up to cover two high schools, a junior college and numerous youth sports leagues, and also City Council, Planning Commission, and a few ag stories. I would have even caught the coveted story of Timmy the Turtle had it not been assigned to the Panorama Editor in the next cubicle. All I knew about writing stick and ball sports was what I had learned from being a fan. Earned run average...what the hell is THAT? But I knew I could string words together in a readable fashion, I just had to baffle 'em with brilliance and hope nobody saw through it all.
It was like this: I would go to cover women's collegiate volleyball, and have no idea what I was doing. Remember this was pre-internet, so I couldn't just make stuff up after Googling it. I'd go to the event, shoot a few rolls of something we used to call "film", try and get the players' names to match jersey numbers, and promised to call the coach on Monday for the facts. Then I'd race across town, blast into the high school gym for boy's basketball, load up my Minolta X-700 cameras with more free Kodak Tri-X, and try and get that one sweet shot for the article.Monday would come and I would fire up my Tandy 102 laptop – the exact model AP and the L.A. Times writers we using back in that day – and pound out a sports section full of crap that smelled a little like real sports stories. But that little laptop was a load of trouble from the day I brought it through the door:
This was 1986, when computers were still pretty "out there" in an office environment. The Exponent was so backwards that they even refused to move into ELECTRIC TYPEWRITERS! So when I arrived with this mysterious writing gizmo the size of an encyclopedia, you could almost see them putting up the sign of the cross as if to ward off a vampire. Budd especially was leery of the Tandy 102, because as a born and bred Reedleyite, his civic duty told him to be resistant to any sort of change. But he did marvel in how fast I could pound out story after story, even when it seemed like witchcraft that I could do it without the thing being plugged into the wall.Budd came to accept my skewered version of "sports stories" and even would defend me when an enraged parent would storm the front counter demanding that little Jimmy's home run be included in the line score of his T-ball game. The guy I replaced was a stats addict, and produced a full PAGE of stats each week, just like the big city papers, on everything from kid's ball sports to collegiate tiddlywinks. I thought stats were a waste of my precious time and didn't even know how to produce them, let alone try and chase down the girl's JV softball coach and get the 411 needed to tally everything up.
When the paper arrived off the press was the first time Budd usually read anything I had written, he had that much faith in my abilities. I wrote a column called "Sports Insight" which was not unlike this aviation blog, and if I strayed too far out in left field, Budd would come into my cubicle and just shake his head.
I stayed with that job for two hard years, and burned out on sportswriting forever. Today I rarely even pick up that section of our daily paper. But I have parlayed that Exponent job into a long career, and I owe it all to Budd Brockett for taking a chance on a guy with zero experience but one hell of a gift of gab. Budd never stopped performing his civic duties in Reedley, and while that little 'berg will never, EVER move out of the dark ages in many ways, with Budd's passing, it will also never quite be the same either.
Budd was a good man who would have jumped under a bus for a fellow newspaperman. He could swing a camera with the best of 'em. loved digging into a corruption story, and it was impossible to bullshit him. He know that I showed up each day, wrote reams of articles, and shot killer sports photos. He also knew that my large, dramatic, shots of the favorite star on the boy's basketball team would sell papers, and to Budd, empty newsstands was what this newspaperin' game was all about.Godspeed Budd...say hey to Papa Louie and the rest of my passed family members when you get up there.