I had been a working journalist for almost 15 years, and a copy editor/designer for eight of those (meaning night and weekend duty), when an opportunity arose to start working days again. It came with more money, better hours and actually seeing my wife every day instead of being ships in the night five days out of seven.
The catch - leave newspapers and go to work for a sporting-goods company and design catalogs.
I took the job - quality of life is important, after all - and watched from afar as my last newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, and other papers around the country were shredded by layoffs. Mentors and inspirations alike were left to scramble through the wreckage for new jobs.
Every time I saw another revered figure get cut down, I thanked whatever deities there may be for my safe little corporate position.
I found the inkstains didn't just wash off. After about a year, during which my Diet Coke consumption was cut by two-thirds, I started getting the newspaper itch again. It's been incredibly hard to walk away from having a hand on that first draft of history, whether it's a city falling in war or a basketball championship.
There's something about the immediacy of being there when big things are happening that satisfied a need - something monthly deadlines changed at someone's whim by days or weeks didn't reach. I watched Obama get elected, Hussein and bin Laden get cut down, and itched on the sidelines, trying to convincing myself that I was doing the right thing.
I picked up photography again, shooting photos that would result in my first art show. Superwife and I traveled, visiting Europe and Maui and the Canadian Rockies. I started taking classes.
Then I started quietly dipping my toe back in here and there. It started with freelancing travel stories. Then I started working a night or two every few months for the San Antonio Current, an alternative weekly that needed help with ad design. The creative director there is another newspaper veteran, and we'd commiserate about the business, then go home and see our families.
Working at home or in an ad department isn't the same as actually producing pages on deadline, but it was enough, I told myself.
Then, the San Antonio Spurs went on a playoff run, and the Express-News got in touch through Facebook (which had just under 100 million users when I left newspapers, and over 900 million when they called).
Did I want to come in on a part-time basis while the Spurs were in the playoffs?
So, four years and six days after I walked out of a newsroom for what I had almost convinced myself was the last time, I walked back in.
There was a little trepidation - it had been four years, after all, and I hadn't touched the pagination system once since then. (If you know CCI, you understand why I'd approach with some fear.)
But familiar faces welcomed me back, and I was introduced to the two or three people hired to replace those that were gone. And before long, I'd been enveloped in the ongoing conversation that's part of any night crew - the 20-minute debate on the artistic merits of Jean-Claude Van Damme's theatrical stylings felt like I had heard it yesterday.
The next day had the predictable side effects - I was more than a little groggy from lack of sleep, and hitting the soda machine like Manny Pacquiao.
I ended up being a cooler for the Spurs - I worked two nights, and they lost two games, and their series, to the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the quiet of summertime now taking over the paper, I'm not sure when I'll hear another request for help.
But I'll keep an extra Diet Coke cold...just in case.