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34 years after leaving, I returned to the Victoria Advocate and brought back one of its copy editors

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

I recently traveled to Victoria to attend a college graduation. I spent a year and a half there as a reporter for the Victoria Advocate newspaper in my 20s.

In my column last week, I recalled my days at the paper. I was covering education during the week and the cops on Saturdays. It was my second journalism job, the first one being at the Bay City Tribune, where I worked right out of college in 1979.

Victoria was a really nice city to practice my trade until I found another job and moved on. It was within a short drive to just about everywhere, not too far from San Antonio, Austin, Houston or Corpus Christi. It was a safe place to live and work. My Saturday assignment was mostly boring. Rarely did anything really bad happen there.

I left Victoria in 1982, and since then have only driven through it a couple of times on my way to somewhere else. This time, though, my wife, Sharon, and I decided to revisit the Advocate, at least stop and take some selfies outside for memories’ sake.

When we drove into Victoria, it was all new, like I had never been there. There is no way I could have found anything without a GPS.

“I think we’re coming up on it,” I told Sharon as we drove toward the paper. The surroundings started to look familiar. Probably because not much had changed in that part of downtown.

The building looked the same on the outside. We took a few selfies with the entryway with the Advocate sign in the background, and then decided to see if the front door was open.

I first walked through those doors in September 1980, when I started working at the paper. There were two open positions at the time. I took the reporting job, and a young woman journalism graduate named Sharon, from Austin, was hired as a copy editor. We started working on the same day, and we had the same days off.

You probably guessed it by now.

“Let’s go upstairs,” Sharon said. “I want to see the newsroom, see how it has changed.”

We walked up the stairs to the second floor and came to another door, which was locked. But, we could see inside the newsroom. “Look, there’s Vince Reedy’s old office. It looks the same,” I said. Reedy was the managing editor who hired both of us.

A young reporter rushing to an assignment opened the door and let us in. We were standing in the old newsroom where Sharon and I met.

It had changed a little. The old desks were gone, replaced by more modern ones with a curved design. The old monitors on which I used to bang out my stories on deadline were gone also.

We met a couple of reporters, J.R. Ortega and Rye Druzin, and joked that we came in peace. We just wanted to see the old place.

“Look, Sharon, your desk is gone. Mine is still there,” I said. It was actually a different desk, but it was in the same place mine used to be, and was just as messy.

The kids were really nice (we used to be those kids), and wanted to hear about what we did back in the old days. I told J.R. about doing police beat on Saturdays. Nothing ever happened. That’s what he was doing, he said. And from the looks of things, not much has changed in that regard.

I used to make the rounds and wrote up the police briefs, if there were any. One weekend I missed an accident in which someone got a broken leg, and on Tuesday when I returned to work, I heard about it.

“You can’t miss something like that,” Jimmy Simon, the full-time grizzly police beat reporter reprimanded me when I showed up. He was loaded for bear. I should have gotten that, I replied, and apologized. That’s about how exciting things got in Victoria back in those days.

Jimmy was a seasoned cops beat reporter. He knew everyone and never had to use tools like the Open Records Act to get what he needed. I don’t think he even knew what that was. He just asked, and got it.

You could always hear him coming into the newsroom because he had his portable police scanner on. I think he slept with it. At least that was the rumor.

The kids seemed to be interested in our anecdotes, but I got worried that we were interrupting their work. We weren’t, J.R. said. There was nothing going on. So, we continued.

“Is the coffee still 10 cents in the cafeteria?” I asked.

“It’s free,” one of the reporters said.

No way. The Advocate is giving away free coffee? How did that happen?

We used to go to the cafeteria during our break and play a game of chance to decide who would pay for the group’s coffee. It gave the people who were in the newsroom at the time a chance to hang out with all the editors. Attendance was not mandatory, but most of us went. It was fun.

Except when I lost, and there were 12 of us. That hit me back $1.20. But the winners all said thank you.
We had to eventually part ways, but it was great to see our old stomping grounds again, and thanks to all the reporters and editors who were so gracious.

I left in 1982 to chase my dream of working for a major daily. I did that, and then Sharon and I started The Bulletin. This time I left - we left - just feeling really good.

Whoever said you can’t go home again? Actually, Thomas Wolfe wrote a book with that title published in 1940, but that’s not my point.

You can. But only for a short period, for nostalgia’s sake.