The guy's name was Johnny Parsons.
He was an IndyCar driver who raced 13 times in the Indianapolis 500 and was the son of a 500 winner (Johnnie Parsons, 1950), and one day in 1986 he was in Fort Wayne because he was going to race in the Rumble in Fort Wayne, the annual midget car show at Memorial Coliseum.
The reporter who interviewed him for The Journal Gazette that day was me. It was my first day on the job at the JG after 10 years in Anderson, where I worked at the dear departed Daily Bulletin.
I say this because, all these years later, I'm hanging it up as a daily sportswriter today. The obligatory farewell column is here.
What's not in there is how much ground a man can cover in 38 years. When I walked into the Daily Bulletin newsroom for the first time, I was 21 years old and fresh out of Ball State. I'm 59 now and will be 60 inside of six months. That's a lot of games, matches and meets, to be sure, but mostly it's a lot of gratitude.
How lucky does a guy have to be in his work life than to have covered Super Bowls and major golf tournaments and the NBA Finals and half a dozen Final Fours? Not to say an ALCS and 28 or 29 Indianapolis 500s and the U.S. Clay Courts back when Martina and Chrissie and Jimmy Connors were playing in it?
In 38 years, I got to spend time with John Wooden and Arthur Ashe and Chuck Yeager. I was witness to Notre Dame's last national title in football, and to Bob Knight's rise and fall. And I saw changes in our industry -- some good, some bad -- that altered it in ways that green kid in Anderson could never have imagined because the capacity to imagine it simply didn't exist.
When I started this gig, we were still winding tape off the old Associated Press ticker and using typewriters. You can find the former in a museum somewhere now. You can barely find the latter outside of one.
What came after were primitive computers and then less primitive computers and finally the internet, and everything else. Readers get their news on their phones now, instantaneously. The news cycle is 24/7/365 -- a reality with which print journalism continues to struggle with varying degrees of success.
It's chic these days to say the written word, if not obsolete, has at least been reduced to a mere afterthought. The "print" in "print journalism," some people will tell you, has become almost as obsolete as the "carburetion" in Carburetion Day at Indianapolis every May.
I don't happen to buy that. Technology may be stunting our ability to interact as human beings, but it's also transforming us into a society that communicates by the written word more than ever before -- even if it's only 140 characters at a time, or through the shorthand of OMG and LMAO.
And so, as a writer, I'll continue to write, because that's what I do. And people will continue to read. If that weren't so, Kindle and Nook would have gone out of business by now, and Amazon would be the electronic equivalent of a ghost town, with metaphorical curtains blowing forlornly in metaphorical empty windows.
That ain't happenin'. And I find that a comfort on my last day as a daily sportswriter, if not my last day as a professional writer.
So long, everybody. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, I'll see ya when I see ya.