in the newspaper world, -30- means “the end.” at the bottom of every reel of type flying off the typewriter, once upon a time, a big-city scribe tapped four keys to signal the end, so the typesetters knew to move onto the next big story in their end-of-day unreeling of the hot breaking news.
all these years, the -30- stuck. only i grabbed it from my typesetting keys this morning not because of an ending, really, but because a bespectacled scribe i happen to love, one whose flight i’ve witnessed from an up-close unedited perch, he’s been waiting and waiting for today. today is the day he gets his 30-year watch. thirty years of calling himself a “chicago tribune reporter.” thirty years of chasing down just about any I-beam that dared to move in this old town. thirty years of thumbs-up or thumbs-down on wild-eyed architects’ intentions to make no small plans.
but more than what’s beautiful, soaring, inspiring, or not, he sees the way the carved-out hollows and high-rises of a big american city might move the human species into communion, or tear them apart. he understands the nuts and bolts of design, but he’s keen on justice and social equity; he understands the political powers and petty feuds that sometimes stand in the way of what makes a city — and its peoples — work, or not work.
and he’s spent three decades teaching all of us, teaching anyone who turns the pages of every day’s news, to do the same. it’s a way of seeing he’s intent on not keeping to himself.
and ever since the hot august morning of 1987 when he strolled into the chicago tribune newsroom in his navy brooks brothers blazer, white oxford, and khakis — aka “the uniform” — i’ve been watching. took another year till i rose to my rank as “girlfriend,” and then another three years before “wife” was affixed to my status (we had a lot to figure out, mostly in the religion department, during those long should-we-or-shouldn’t-we years).
so i know, more than almost anyone, just how much it means to him to have hit the sweet 3-0. to know that tonight, at the annual bacchanal that is the tribune awards hoopla, he will, at last, get his chicago tribune watch. actually, in a move that is so classily elegant and fair-hearted and loving as to be a signature BK move, he’s getting two tribune watches tonight. he put in an order for a pair, one for each of our boys, so someday, both will have a relic from their papa, one he wrote soooooo many stories to snare, one that in some scant way captures the nights after nights that he kept watch over stories, called in corrections to the desk, gave up a friday night dinner, surrendered a holiday, took yet another call from a “source,” chased a hot tip. because when you’re the son of a newspaper man (and he is) getting the news and getting it right, and never ever backing down from the truth, well, that’s religion to him. and he is devout, if anything.
and that might be the beauty of nights like tonight: they squeeze you into the think-back machine. have a way of making you stop in your tracks, think back across the long arc of your history, sift for those gold nuggets of meaning. (and you know i never ever miss a chance for gazing back over my shoulder, for rubbing my palms against the fine grain of time, squeezing out every succulent drop of “significance.”)
it’s the pause in the plot that always, always holds the possibility of taking life up a notch. that slows us down long enough to realize this isn’t just a race to the finish line, but rather a slow contemplative unspooling that is best lived and best understood, most certainly held up to the radiant light, if we pay close close attention to all the unspoken strands, the subtle and poignant shifts along the way, the moments where we rose up to champion status, where we lived with every ounce of hope and faith with which we were created and dreamt into being, and where we humbly account for our stumbles, realign our compasses and set forth again.
it’s a magnificent reel, this thing called our life, and it’s most closely savored when every once in a while we watch it in slo-mo, stop-gap, how’d-we-get-here, hallelujah style. and then, to anoint the moment, we bend knee, bow head, and whisper a holy thank you.
never, ever, in a million years did i imagine this 30 would bring my bespectacled scribe — and me, and thus W and T (our two and only double-bylines) — along this most blessed road to here.
a billion blessings, BK. and thank you.
have you hit the pause button lately, to look back on the road to where you are now? what have you gleaned, and what lessons might you carry forward?
p.s. an emphatic post-script to clarify, clarify, clarify: BK is NOT leaving the tribune, merely collecting his 30-year watch. he will be writing and writing and writing. so sorry for leaving wrong impression. it’s a tribune tradition that you get your watch and get right back to work. so so sorry if i left anyone thinking this was The End…..
Dear Famous Author,
Congratulations! And as I wrote Bow when the Cubs won and her husband got his ring after 35 years of toiling for them – You deserve this too, for being there every step of the way, living every up and down together!
I loved the picture. Please send us the list of books from the photo – some are hard to see.
Have a blast tonight!
Congratulations 🍾…what a bittersweet occasion…..I will miss reading every word bk has written but am so happy for him as he starts this next adventure…enjoy
oh, gosh, no no no! he’s not leaving, not at all, just getting his 30-year watch, which is a milestone. clearly, i am such a murky writer i left the totally wrong impression. BK is staying. his byline lives on. with a tribune tower watch on his wrist. egad, so so sorry for leaving you thinking he was anything but staying firm in his chair.
Magnificently written piece!! Excellent photo that captures the spirit oh so well! 30 years! Congratulations to Blair for 30 years of doing what he loves!! Bravo!! JSM
thanks, sweet sweet john! xoxox
Oh, Barb. 30 years! This brought tears to my eyes. Please give my congratulation and love to Blair….and you too, of course.
oh, B!!!!!!!! wish i could bring you along tonight. beck awards are always most fun by your side! i’ve cried happy and proud tears for you on those nights, plenty of times, as year after year you walked out with “most loved” editor prizes. you are indelibly woven into our beginnings and our ongoings…..xoxox
Oh NO!!! I am devastated. I am absolutely bereft (using the word “sad” doesn’t quite capture how I feel). Who in this great city of architecture will be our “go to” journalist now? Oh NO!!! again. …But in the end, I understand. On to new adventures at some point, I hope. Just keep in touch with your fans, BK. And treasure more time with your family. 🙂
EEK! clearly, i blew it. and better go add a p.s. he is NOT NOT NOT leaving the tribune! i promise. he’ll be back at work monday. or tomorrow, being saturday, and if there’s a story, he’ll be on it….
P.S. has been added!!!!! BK is not hanging up his byline…..
Woohoo!! Warmest congratulations to Blair! Such a gigantic accomplishment!
thanks, honey, will pass that along when i stand off in the wings and the shadows tonight, squeezing tedd’s hand, wiping tears from my cheeks…..xoxoxo
Thirty years at the Trib! Such a fine accomplishment!! Congratulations to your beloved Blair! xoxo
thanks, darlin. i missed my 30 years by a matter of months, so no watch for me. and since i’d never dreamed of even a year in that newsroom, i got blessed x30.
Mazel tov! What a fantastic milestone to have accomplished. I look forward to more of his insightful columns. They are almost as good as your Friday morning missives!
ha! thank you, thank you. only one of us won the big prize in journalism, though. with good reason. xox
You are a fan favorite, none the less! Have a wonderful time tonight.
Congratulations to all of you, as we know it was a team effort to get to 30 yrs! Enjoy the party as you enjoyed the journey. And what a wonderful photo too! Lost Chicago is on our bookshelf too.
thanks, gorgeous. and thanks for flying the tribune banner there in DC! (i do love that photo too, with the flying buttresses rising behind him….)
Kudos, bravo and STET–yes, he’s staying. I know the ups and downs of being part of an institution for 30 years, seeing and surviving a lot of changes. But BK is one of the Trib’s treasures–he’s a big reason I continue to subscribe–and I read his columns twice, once for the content, again for the word craft. (You were another Trib treasure–I’m glad you still get some column inches with your not-to-miss book reviews.)
love your fluency in the shorthand of the newsroom. STET, yes, he’s staying. and bless your allegiance to newsprint, fish wrap or whatever we choose to call the indispensable dissemination of the day’s news and analysis. thank you thank you, it’s deeply appreciated!
Let’s just say the turtles and birds get day-old news.
Have a wonderful celebration, and I am so touched by Blair’s fatherly request for two watches. Yours is the most amazing family.
Thank you, dear Liz!!!
Major and heartfelt congrats to BK! What an accomplishment! And he is one of the better writers at that paper. I always find wisdom in his stories. Pushing the pause button happens a lot in my life. One of my grand daughters has an uncanny resemblance to my mother, both physically and personality wise. It’s such fun listening to her 4 year old wisdom, watching her reactions to the world, and wondering what my mom would say about her great grand daughter if she were still here. Life may change a lot, but I usually find something to draw me back in time. . . Have a great celebration tonight.
dear dear jack, so sorry for delay in replying. i was already on my way, i suppose, when you dropped by the table. and then yesterday i was out and about on a book adventure and came home exhausted! i love that your pause button is hit in watching your little one, and seeing another generation animating her. i’ve not yet gotten close to that miracle of miracles, the child having children. and i am intent on sticking around till i get to witness. better go gulp some kale, i suppose! (and thank you for the hearty congratulations for BK, whose watch is just gorgeous! and whose smile was even more gorgeous!)
Congrats to BK. No, I didn’t read it as the end but the ongoing ‘contemplative unspooling’ of which you eloquently speak!
Bravo and congratulations Blair on a trifecta of accomplishments! 30 years of brilliance and love of architecture and for looking at buildings from every angle (literally and figuratively). Also, the story of the watches put a lump in my throat. xoxoxo
sending giant squeeze to the high desert, dear beautiful. will pass your bravo along to the fellow! xoxox