Entré Computers logo, unchanged since 1985
I got off work. I was sitting in the parking lot in my then-brand-new Toyota MR2, which I still own, listening to KMUW, as usual. There was an announcement that my favorite radio show of all time, After Midnight, had been cancelled. It wouldn’t be on that night, or any other night, ever again. The end of a show that had been running for 20 years.
I was stunned. Wichita was pretty boring. After Midnight had been one of only a few bright spots. It ran seven nights a week, midnight to six or seven AM. They played a staggering array of weirdo alternative music. It was the most important force in my life in shaping the kinds of things I still enjoy listening to today. My peer group at the time revolved around that radio show, the KMUW studio, and the sad sack bar next door, Kirby’s. I counted a few of the deejays as friends.
The previous night, a deejay had played something with a lot of obscenities. It wasn’t the first time. The program director wasn’t running a tight ship, and the higher-ups hadn’t done much to get the situation under control. Instead, they decided to cancel it, replaced with nothing but dead air.
It seemed like there was a chance that the show could get back on the station, if stricter controls were put in place. Alas, the only movement in the situation seemed to be people from our crowd hurling epithets at the station manager. They were making the situation worse, not better.
I have always been apathetic, but this was too horrible to ignore. I decided a feature article was in order.
I interviewed everybody I could think of. KMUW’s station manager, recently axed After Midnight deejays, the show’s program director, current daytime deejays, station interns, anybody with a stake. Much of the language was harsh. I’m fairly sure I caught the station manager in an outright lie or two. But I wasn’t out to make anybody look bad. Just the opposite, I wanted all involved to better understand everybody else’s position. So I edited out all the harsh and incorrect bits, and did my best to make everybody sound reasonable. I submitted it to The Note, our local entertainment rag, and it ran a couple of months after the show went off the air.
I am proud to say that I think I did some good. The best comment I remember was from somebody who approached me at Kirby’s: “I had never heard the station manager say that before.” It wasn't enough. The show never returned to the air. KMUW eventually replaced it with prerecorded segments from NPR.
The editor at The Note liked my article. He asked me to meet him at their editorial offices in Lawrence. The gist of his message was this: “What else have you got?” I couldn’t think of anything, so he suggested a topic: marijuana tax stamps, a concept which had recently been passed into law.
(Here’s some excerpts from that web page, in case it goes away: “The fact that dealing marijuana and controlled substances is illegal does not exempt it from taxation. Therefore drug dealers are required by law to purchase drug tax stamps. [...] Payment of the drug tax will purchase the drug tax stamps. Attach the stamp to the marijuana and/or controlled substance immediately after receiving the substance. [...] Purchasing drug tax stamps does not make possession of drugs legal.”)
Once again, I went around and interviewed everybody I could think of with a stake. A bunch of NORML members. A strip club owner who was putting up his own money in an attempt to get the law repealed.
The final article was serviceable, but not nearly as good as my After Midnight piece. I couldn’t care less about tax stamps or marijuana. But in the long run, it might have been even more educational for me, because I discovered that I could still do a pretty good job of it. I thought many of the people I interviewed were ridiculous blowhards, but it didn’t prevent me from being outwardly empathetic to their cause. I got them to talk at length, and dutifully recorded it all.
That should have been my career path. I could have written freebie stories like the first two for awhile, and it would have eventually led to paid gigs. I know it. It would be so much simpler today, with easy access to laptops, digital cameras, and digital voice recorders. I could have been a one-man internet-enabled reporting machine, the Po Bronson of lost causes. Sadly, I never wrote another story for The Note or any other publication.
Why did I stop? I’m going to say that the biggest reason was that I had no role models. All the adults I knew had boring jobs that they barely tolerated, if that. It had not yet occurred to me that I was driven enough to bootstrap myself into any career that I wanted.
Instead, I stuck with computers. It’s not a bad way to make a living. I enjoy programming, and I enjoy building things. Getting something big to work right for the first time is incredible. But it’s far too insular and inward-looking. I’m fairly introverted, but not that introverted.
At this point, I have to stick it out. I have been doing this for decades, it’s where I can make the most money. And it’s finally starting to pay off. Right now I have more contract work than I could reasonably finish in six months. The world has a hunger for iPhone apps, and I can provide them. The idea that I might escape the prototypical dreaded office job is coming ever closer to reality. I might be able to live and work wherever I want.
Back in 2003, when it looked like I was going to get my share of the family fortune, I planned to use it to bootstrap myself into feature writing. A decade late is better than never. Then my (former) sister cheated me out of it. The stunning depth of that betrayal knocked me on my ass for a couple of years. I was in no mood to experiment anymore.
That’s a tale that will have to wait for my next blog entry. I’ve been sitting on that story for long enough.