While waiting for the C’s and Blazers to get underway, I happened upon the bowl game they play in Boise, Idaho (ah, the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl. Thanks Google). That, plus the University of Oregon playing in the Holiday Bowl got me thinking about how it came to pass that I wound up in Oregon, as it says on my bio, which was really Idaho, which I’ll get to a minute. It’s kind of a convoluted story, but I thought I’d share.
The year was 1997. A rookie shortstop named Nomar was winning over the town. The Celtics were in the middle of the Brett Szabo era and hoping to draft Tim Duncan when they brought in a savior named Rick Pitino (whoops). The Patriots had just hired Pete Carroll and the Bruins were terrible too. BC had a gambling scandal rock the football program and Jim O’Brien split for Ohio State after some nastiness with the admissions department. Those were not good times (except for Nomar).
At any rate, I was about to graduate from BU’s journalism program and I needed a job. At nights I was answering phones at the Herald and covering Waltham sports under the watchful eye of Tom Curran (yes that one). The people at the News-Tribune thought I had done enough to warrant a shot, which meant that if I went underground and learned how to do agate pages for six months, I could have a gig. Tommy, or Tom E. if you prefer, was heading off to cover the Pats, but he advised me to take it.
No way, I said. I’m a writer not a desk man, and besides it’s a little hard to meet girls when your answer to the eternal question “What do you do?” Is, “I’m an agate clerk.” So, I went looking for a job and I had three options, which is three more than most young (or old) journos have today.
Up first was a paper in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, of all places. The phone interview went like this:
Editor: Ya’ll ever been in the deep south?
Me: I’ve been to Florida on spring break.
Editor: Boy, that ain’t the deep south.
Me: Something to think about.
And that was that. OK, I still had two more moves in play. A paper in Alabama that had a good job that paid real money (it would be seven years before I’d actually make what they were offering), and one in Oregon. I held out hope for the Bama job as long as I could, but by Aug. 30 I had all my stuff in boxes, a lease on a dump in Brighton that was about to expire, and no answer. Finally, on Aug. 31 I got the call. I came in second. So, I loaded up my Jeep and set out for the land of fir trees, hippies and rain. Who knows, maybe I’d run into Bill Walton while I was out there.
Only that’s not exactly where I wound up. Oregon is actually two different states, which I definitely should have researched before leaving everyone I knew and driving 3,000 miles away. There’s the Portland/Eugene part, which is cool, and there’s everything else, which is a desert. I wound up in the desert. It was a place called Ontario, and it is known for one thing: a giant mushroom. I’m not kidding. It’s supposedly the world’s largest living organism.
The town had one movie theater and it played Titanic the entire time I was there, and a bar (just one) called Saddles ‘n Spurs, which is where the cowboys hung out. I’ve lived in a lot of places, some of which you wouldn’t want to be caught out in the streets after dark, but I’ve never met a meaner bunch than those cowboys. I dated a girl there whose grandfather had a huge stash of rifles in the closet. You know, in case the commies invaded. I was never sure if he meant the old Soviet Union or our government.
I realized my mistake sometime after I passed through Boise (home of the blue field and the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl), which is about 50 miles east of Ontario. There was nothing but miles upon miles of desert. Ontario is the first town in Oregon you get to after your cross the Snake River, and it was about 300 miles away from Portland. It wasn’t just a world away, it was literally in a different time zone.
Needless to say, I drove out to the Rose City whenever I could and it’s still one of my favorite places in the world. The people there love their Blazers. Because it’s the only thing in town they have a different kind of relationship that east coast cities do with their teams. That’s why they weren’t just mad about the whole Jail Blazers era, they were personally hurt and disappointed that their franchise was the laughing stock of the NBA. And that’s also why they’re so into the current team.
At any rate, I did nine months in Ontario where I actually covered two future NFL players (AJ Feeley and Jordan Gross, the Panthers left tackle) and got the heck out of there. It took eight years for me to get back to Boston, and now the Pats and Sox are premier franchises, the Bruins never lose, the C’s are defending champs, and Tom Curran is a Mr. Big Time NFL reporter, complete with controversial scoops. But I’ll always have a soft spot for Portland. Ontario, not so much, and I still haven’t met Walton.