WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Thirty-six years minus a few days ago, I fell in love.
That was the Sunday I first walked into the city room of The Sun, the day the union struck the Baltimore Transit Company, H. L. Mencken died, and 10 people burned to death in the Arundel Park bingo-oyster roast fire. The whole news staff was called in and working furiously, shouting into telephones, banging typewriters, yelling "Copy!"
Buck Dorsey was managing editor, mapping out an all-local Page 1 -- at a time when The Sun's main local news "display" was still on the back page. Unflappable Paul Banker was city editor. He and Clarence Caulfield were dispatching reporters hither and yon, switching calls from legmen to Joe Sterne and Timmie Hutchison on rewrite.
Copy boys, one of them about 50 years old, came running and hastened stories from reporter to city desk. There was no such thing as computers. Stories were on paper, typed, physically transported from desk to desk, edited with a pencil. With headlines attached, they were sent to the composing room in a vacuum tube like the ones department stores used to deliver change.
Already committed to newspapers since wearing short pants, I surely could have found happiness some other place, under some nameplate other than the then-119-year-old Sun logo with its choo-choo train and full-rigged clipper. But that day I fell in love with a particular paper, a town, a way of life that were everything I ever dreamed of.
Someplace else, I never would have known Buck, Paul, Clarence, Joe and Timmie, or Price Day, Tom O'Neill, Al Sehlstedt, Bob McDowell, Ed Feingold, Bill Schmick, Don Patterson, Jerry Griffin, Phil Potter, Bob Erlandson, Brad Jacobs, Charlie Whiteford, Jimmy Margaritis . . . or a lot who came later.
On some other paper, I might have met the same presidents and prime ministers, but they pale beside Jerry Robinson, Teddy McKeldin, Tommy D'Alesandro, Jack Pollack, Hot Dog Simpkins, Danny Brewster, Frank Gallagher, Marvin Mandel, Blair Lee, George Mahoney, Gordon Boone and the rest who have made Maryland politics such a circus in this half-century.
At 2.30 a.m. someplace other than Davis Street beneath the viaduct, I would not have had the pleasure of hearing Odell M. Smith sing "The Banana Boat Song," and the consequent pleasure of meeting Officer Raymond Staniewski, Badge No. 729.
At 2.30 a.m. someplace other than the balcony of the Maryland Inn at Annapolis, I would not have heard Moco Yardley deliver J. Millard Tawes's inaugural address far more eloquently than the governor himself did later the same day.
At 2.30 p.m. someplace other than the old headquarters building, I could not have served as character witness when Patrick Skene Catling was interrogated on suspicion of reckless driving on the police parking lot en route to interview Commissioner Jamie Hepbron.
With another paper, I would not have accompanied Hank Trewhitt so often on late-night renditions of "Blue Yodel No. 2," in venues from Chesapeake Bay to Checkpoint Charlie. I would not have gotten sunburned in Nat Miller's Corvette convertible on the way home from the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, where I actually got paid for covering Louis Armstrong's birthday party.
I would not have dined with Lou and Alex Rukeyser, watching ducks at a quiet country restaurant beside the River Thames, or with Mac Mathias at the Guinea Grill, or studied the cultural life of Copenhagen, Moscow, Saigon and Hong Kong with Pete Kumpa, or gone moose hunting at Pereslavl Zaleski and ice fishing on the Volga with Leonid Lovtsov . . .
For weeks, I have been edging up to this column in my mind. I might have filled it with datelines, collected sometimes at minor risk and major expense, or with a roll call of the dignitaries I have known. Looking back, I realize that all the elections, battles, assassinations, launches, crashes, scandals, conventions, parades, fires and even Duke Ellington concerts I could recall don't matter nearly as much as the people who have made this newspaper great, and my time on it so much fun.