At the end of his legendary career, famed aviation pioneer Jimmy Doolittle titled his autobiography, “I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.” From down here in the flatlands of 21st century general aviation, Doolittle’s Olympian perch is a smudge on the horizon, but I nonetheless have mustered the unmitigated temerity to steal his idea and name my own book, “I Could Never Get Away With This Again.” Or I would if I were writing a book, which I am not because a three-volume history on pork belly trading would be more engaging.
But as Doolittle’s career reached an end, so has mine, thus your day may have begun drearily by clicking on a swan song. Could be worse, I suppose. At least it’s not another column about unleaded fuel. Normally, when journalists write these things, they insert lofty observations about things they’ve seen and covered during the grand sweep of their careers. You know, witness to history and all that. Sorry, I got nuthin’. The fact is, I never took good notes, learned early on that sources tell you what they think you want to hear—or will believe—and I’ll cop to being the walking, talking personification of a squirrel chasing the next new nut. If I knew this when I signed up for J-school 50 years ago, I’d do it all over again.
Let’s see if I can compress the history of how I got here into three sentences. I came ashore as a refugee from another publishing company, edited a couple magazines for Belvoir Media Group, helped start AVweb and became a blogger and a vidiot. This is the third sentence.
During the five decades I’ve been doing this, publishing has changed so dramatically that I can hardly describe it, so I won’t try, other than to say the newspaper I started at still had Linotype machines and like every other green reporter, I got minor burns from believing a pressman’s claim that it was cool to spit into the hot lead pot. It was a searing lesson in how to be skeptical that has served me well.
Most of what I have to say is by way of acknowledgement and thanks, especially to the many readers of publications I have edited. Small circulation magazines are uniquely married to the interests of their readers and because of that, the readers are intensely engaged, curious and of a higher caliber than the typical mass audience. They have self-qualified themselves to prize content tailored to their sophisticated wants. I am blessed for having been allowed to serve these appreciative audiences. Not all writers and editors can claim to be so fortunate. So to you readers and viewers, my profound thanks.
Belvoir Media was, for me, both a great haven and a source of inspiration. For at least the past three decades, print publishing has been under a relentless siege of declining economics, like flying into a persistent headwind that only gets worse. Year after year, Belvoir managed to navigate this dwindling universe, keeping its editors employed and, improbably at times, providing us with the resources to not just do the job, but do it well, unmolested by micromanagement. Belvoir always backed us in publishing topics that slaughtered the industry sacred cows.
Through an equally improbable set of circumstances, I evolved into an opinion writer and if born for it can be applied to anything, it applies to me. You will have noticed that I never lack for an opinion, wrong at times, obnoxious occasionally, but never speechless.
I know I pissed some people off because some of them still won’t talk to me. It’s less occupational hazard than the occasional unavoidable scar tissue. I can claim no great journalistic prizes or achievements other than having met the deadlines and properly filled the white paper with useful content. Well, maybe one. I believe I am the only editor who so enraged my boss (and friend) Tim Cole, that he slammed the phone into its cradle with such force that it scattered across the desk in its component pieces. To this day, neither of us can remember what contentiousness provoked this, but it’s a tribute to his patience and generous worldview that I wasn’t kicked down the stairs right then.
Tim not only suffered my cynical, juvenile humor but encouraged it. I can imagine no better working relationship, which is why I stayed on the job for 33 years. Rather than a gold watch as a retirement gift, I expect the pieces of that phone in a plain brown box. To my list of best colleagues ever, I would add Robert Englander, who raised Belvoir from a pup, and COO Phil Penney, who kept our myriad titles percolating along against odds I often thought insurmountable. My blogging colleague Paul Berge has been a constant inspiration and it was my honor to share this space with him.
Now that Belvoir’s aviation division has been bought by Flying Media Group, it is part of a greater whole. There is safety in numbers and economies in size and from what I’ve seen in the past several weeks of the transition, things are moving in a positive direction. I expect good things are coming and I’m pleased for my friends in aviation publishing who will remain in the game. Good on ya’, guys. I’ll still contribute an occasional guest blog and there may be a video or two left to be produced, but the daily grind passes on to others.
Published here are the very bookends of my aviation career. That’s a 1972 version of me with a post-war J-3 and striking a similar pose with the pre-war J-3 we now own. In between the two, well, I apparently really did get away with it.
So long y’all.