When I first moved to Orlando in early 2007, I didn’t have a job. In fact, I quit an okay-paying one to move to an unknown and expensive place without any real plan for how I was going to pay my bills. My long-time boyfriend sort of had a job and his family gave us both some money to bridge the gap of time when money would be an issue. I wasn’t worried about finding a way to live — I had landed every job I’d ever interviewed for and was okay with waiting tables or babysitting if it meant I got to move away and finally live with the man I just knew I was going to be with for the rest of my life.
He didn’t seem as optimistic as me. He was nervous about paying the bills. He didn’t like that his parents had co-signed our lease and their names were on the line if we failed. While he was on the extreme end of rationalism, I had my head in the clouds. I made good on my word to find a job “as soon as we get there” by walking over to a nearby steakhouse the morning we woke up on our hard apartment floor after arriving in town at 2 a.m.
I was hired on the spot and started my training a few days later. I perused the increasingly slim classified ads for jobs that sounded even remotely up my alley. I took a nanny job for about 10 hours per week with a nice enough family. The dad sort of creeped me out, but he was never there when I was around.
Even though I had never set out to be a journalist, I was already missing my job at a small town newspaper. Yes, I missed my colleagues, and my friendly sources, and my paycheck. But more than anything else, I missed the daily writing. With only four reporters on staff, I had grown accustomed to writing one or two stories on a daily basis — more if it was before a day off and my boss needed extra copy to fill the space when I wasn’t at my desk. My editor had started calling me the “scribe” and I liked it. I was practicing my craft every day.
As a town newcomer, I tried to find new stories to tell the readers. I made a lot of unlikely friends in the process, and a few enemies too. The police chief hated me for at least a few days when I ran a story that made it look like he would not talk to me about a suspicious death (he wouldn’t) and the city attorney had one of my stories stamped out by the publisher (the mayor’s golfing buddy) because it painted an ex-city official in a bad light. Perhaps I was making more waves than necessary in my role as reporter but I enjoyed challenging paid public servants to do their jobs a little bit better because I was watching. I missed the thrill too, I guess you could say.
I knew it was a long shot, but I looked up the name of head of newsroom personnel for the large newspaper in Orlando. I sent him an email explaining who I was, where I had worked and how I’d be happy to answer phones if that was the job he had open. I didn’t expect to hear back but I figured I really didn’t have anything to lose. Surprisingly, he wrote me back the same day and asked me to come in and bring my newspaper clips. We set an appointment for three days later. I dug out some of my folded over newspaper clips and compared them to the shiny, fancy version of the Orlando paper. I was proud of the work I’d done in Shelbyville but I hoped he wouldn’t laugh me right out of his office.
I printed out an Internet map to my location on the day of the meeting. It was 25 miles away. I figured I should probably leave about an hour ahead of time to be safe. We were living on the far end of Mickey-Mouse tourist town and what I had not yet learned was that there was never a fast, or even remotely reasonable route, anywhere. Period. Twenty minutes before my meeting, I was still 15 miles from my destination. I called him on my cell phone and said that I was running late. I hated having to do that. He asked if another day was better. The thought of making the same drive again on another day was too much to take so I said I’d be happy to wait if he had other plans by the time I got there. He said “ok” in a very monotone voice. Great, I thought, he already hates me. I reminded myself again that I had absolutely nothing to lose and decided to just keep inching forward. If it turned out he really did already hate me, well, then I’d know.
In another mile, traffic became less congested and I was soon going the speed limit. I found my exit and pulled into the newspaper’s visitor lot just two minutes after my appointment time. I probably could have avoided the earlier call completely. I checked in with security and the short, brisk woman called him to let him know I was there. I waited for her to motion me toward the escalator that I knew must lead to the newsroom but instead she pointed to a nearby table.
“He’ll be right down,” she said. I sat down with my clips and tried to decide in what order they should go. Should I lead with something titillating like a drunk falling into the river and washing up on the Fourth of July? Or maybe the apartment fire caused by a neglectful landlord? The little girl with chronic brain tumors raising money for research was my favorite series by far. But did people in Orlando care about kids, or cancer research, or anything I had to say at all? For about the hundredth time in my life I wished I had been the one to get the scoop on the local swingers club and write THAT story instead of my colleague, Bettina. Sex clubs were a universally good read. Why didn’t I land that exclusive?
I was still shuffling clips when the low, monotone voice from the earlier phone call said my name. There was absolutely no inflection. I did not know if he was confirming or questioning my identity. I stood up quickly, banging my knee on the bottom of the table. I cussed. I cringed. He stared at me stone-faced. We shook hands and sat back down. He asked me to tell him a little bit about myself and I rambled on for awhile as he glanced emotionless through my newspaper clips. He paused slightly on the clip of the sick little girl surrounded by soda can tabs and interrupted me.
“She looks like my niece,” he said with such little connection that I wondered if the comment was positive or negative. I kept talking. I knew I sounded like an idiot. I knew I was saying nothing at all of interest. My nerves were getting the best of me and my words were like a runaway train. When he was done glancing over the clips, he held his hand up. I trailed off in the middle of a sentence about the weather in Indiana…
“It appears that you do not have enough experience to be considered for any full-time reporters’ positions here,” he said. I nodded, deflated. He was right. What was I thinking?
“But, we do need some freelance help in our Osceola bureau. Would you be interested in that?”
I perked back up. Freelance writing was still writing. And money. Both of which I desperately wanted. I tried to contain my excitement.
“Yes, I suppose that would work,” I responded, as coolly as possible. He stood up abruptly and extended his hand again.
“Great. The bureau chief will be in touch,” he said as I shook his hand enthusiastically. He turned quickly and nodded at security before walking quickly back to the escalator.
I stood in the lobby, holding my clips and watching him ascend the escalator to the big newsroom in the sky.
“Thank you…” I whispered.
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