I'll be the first to confess that I get in a "mood" around this time of year. It's not a good mood but one of a pity, "poor me" mood.
Why? Because it's summer and I'm not a kid anymore.
I remember the days when the end of the school year meant three months of sheer fun. I would traipse out all over the countryside in rural Oakdale on my bicycle, living it up and having the time of my life. There were rivers to explore, the town pool to swim, visits to the downtown Modesto library, countless hours of doing nothing but what I wanted to do and bicycling down to the Ben Aker general store in Valley Home to buy candy and sodas and junk. It was an idyllic life.
Those days are gone just like 1974 is ancient history.
I'm a grown adult and I have bills to pay and it seems that the older I get the workload responsibilities only increases. The cost-of-living continues to climb which erodes into other things like money to do fun things. The grand total of this means I work like everybody else does. As some people are loading up the fifth-wheeler to head up to the coast or to the mountains for weeks on end, my routine at the Courier continues through the summer heat.
I do not have the kind of job the teachers have where you work nine months and get off three. I respect teachers for the important work that they do however they get no sympathy from me regarding their "I have to go back to work after three months off" moaning. Some of us like newspaper people work year-round.
I don't know that I want three months with nothing to do nor do I have enough money vacation for months on end. But there is an incredible fantasy just thinking about weeks off work. I am 53 years old and have yet to take a cruise. Most people my age have taken a cruise. Not I. I've never even visited anyplace outside the United States for vacation. Nor do I own any toys like jet skis, boats, RVs or travel trailers.
The grind of work continues with more things to do in a job that has ever increasing responsibilities.
Then this thought creeps in: that my job really doesn't matter in the big scheme of things and that working for a small paper in a small town lost somewhere in the dusty bowl of California is not a worthy way to spend a life. (Trust me friends, some people have never even heard of Ceres.) That's the feeling I fight as the thought gnaws at me that I should've moved on to a bigger paper at this station in my life but I've chosen to stay right here at the Courier.
Recently when I met Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars fame in Las Vegas (no the episode has yet to air) we made some small talk about things in general inside his world famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. He then got to a question I was hoping he wouldn't ask. After all, I was face-to-face with a man who is known throughout the world and who is extremely well off. I mean people like Katie Couric and George Stephanopoulos come into his shop to browse. I felt diminutive in stature when he asked "What do you do for a living?" I told him that I "just" worked for a small newspaper in Ceres, California, quickly adding Modesto because I was sure he never heard of Ceres. He picked up on my sense of a lack of self-importance because I used the word "just." I forget Rick's exact words back to me but he did his best to instill a sense of importance to my work "if that's what you want to do."
I have to remind myself that work in a small town is just as important as the places that are well-known on the map. My work may not be as well read as the most prolific writer working for the Los Angeles Times or for the San Francisco Chronicle. However I serve a community of 46,000 people whose center of the universe is Ceres. Since I started working at the Courier in 1987, thousands of my pictures of locals have appeared in print, many of them small children who were in awe that they gained local fame. I can't help but think that it has inspired them on toward better things.
Let me explain. I remember how it felt to have articles printed about me in the pages of the Oakdale Leader while I was a youth there. I enjoyed the feeling of being important in the eyes of the community and I think in some small way that's what inspired me to be a newspaper writer. On one occasion the Leader published a one-page story on my autograph collection. Another time several articles were published on the fact that I had been invited to the presidential inauguration of Jimmy Carter in 1977. On another occasion I was photographed accepting a check on behalf of the California Scholarship Federation from a civic-minded servant. In those moments I realize that doing good things in a community allowed you to grab attention.
Don't kid yourself that newspapers don't play an important role in the lives of our young people. Just think about the newspaper exposure given by the Turlock Journal to Colin Kaepernick while playing football for Pitman High School. I'm sure that the articles that he read in the Journal were quite an ego stroke that spurred him on to do better and bigger things. That is not to say that all will be inspired to be famous will be rich but local newspapers often are a major force in the realization that community is where it really counts. Ceres may not register on the scale of important places to the rest of the world but it's important to all of us here. It is a piece of America. But truly Ceres represents small town America where some of the greatest living takes place. Give me a small town like Ceres any day over a jungle like Detroit or Chicago or Atlanta. I'd mostly rather be in a small town and feel connected to friends and neighbors than living in a place where nobody knows who you are.
Because let's face it, not all of us are Rick Harrison.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org.