I can't recall very well a time when I wasn't working in the media business. I think it was during high school, probably 1973-74, and I was busing tables at Cole's Town and Country Restaurant in Albion, Mich., just off Interstate 94. The owner, Vern Cole, had a banter with the patrons that consisted mostly of "hi there how are you come on in bye now." He was not humorless, but he had standards, and it was good honest work, as they say. I was on my feet during an eight-hour shift after school. Vacuumed the dining room after closing. Cleaned the restrooms. Went home smelling like fried food.
The only other non-media job I think I ever had was at the Left Bank restaurant in Walla Walla, Wash., possibly in the summer of 1977. My friend from Whitman College, Reed Price, who went into the news business himself and now works at MSN, was cooking lunch there and got me hired as a combination host-busser-cashier. It was a disaster. I think I was fired. But by that point, at age 20, I had a daily newspaper job under my belt and also that summer was working three or four weekend shifts as a disc jockey at KUJ-AM, "Southeastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon's official hit music and contest station." Several other commercial radio jobs ensued during college years, and I returned to the newspaper business a month after graduation. I've been a journalist ever since.