Five years of wandering

I got the sense they were talking about me. I was younger then–just 31, in fact–but I was no dummy. I’d already seen some of the most impressive and disturbing things most people ever encounter. My career in journalism was at a turning point. It was jump or be jumped, and I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do.

All I knew was that I was finally guaranteed three weeks vacation from the local NBC affiliate and I was blowing one of those weeks right out of the box. The year 2005 had barely started and I was taking some time off to do something exciting, something that few people had ever done before, something far away from anybody else I knew.

And now these people were talking about me.

I saw the glances across the conference room. Eyes shifted to me and then back to what was obviously an impromptu meeting. The way things had been going that week–the very first time I ever covered a poker tournament–the conversation could have been as bad as sending me home on the spot or as good as giving me a couple hundred dollars as a bonus for the 20-hour days I was putting in.

Back then, the idea that someone could actually make a living as a traveling poker blogger seemed silly. One magazine was paying one guy (the venerable B.J. Nemeth) to help revolutionize the industry and Pauly was about to break out in a big way. But few big companies were budgeting for writers or live tournament coverage. My little trip to the Bahamas for a big online poker company was, more than anything, an experiment.

Hence, I was on a lark. Ten days later, I planned to go back to my little television station and beg for a ten percent raise so I could get close to making a living wage. And begging would’ve been all it was–that and the laughter that would’ve come when the GM sat back, lit cigars with real journalists’ resumes, and looked for the next set of silicone implants to prop up in front of a camera. If I played my cards right, I might have been able to put in another five or six years before burning out or turning into a hardcore alcoholic, if I was one of the lucky ones.

I look at pictures of myself from that January in 2005. I had tired eyes and the wan smile of a guy who knows he is at a journalists’ Make-A-Wish fantasy camp, a place where you get to play like you have the high life for a week, but then have to go back to covering school board meetings and interstate pile-ups. I looked simultaneously ragged out and exhilarated. The fact that I fell off a giant fake rock and nearly killed myself that week is a testament to the fact that I thought I was probably about to cash it in for better or worse. It was, so I thought, one last hurrah.

But then there were those people who were talking about me. They were people who I now call dear friends. They are the people who changed the direction of my life in a way I still can’t rightly understand. See, those people were talking about creating a job for me at their company. They were talking about giving me a parachute. They were talking about giving me a chance that, to that point, few if any people had ever been given.

Less than three weeks later, I was calling my boss after hours and telling him I was quitting television. I was bailing on him right in the middle of one of the four important TV ratings periods. I was doing it and there was nothing anyone could say to stop me. Oh, and I also needed a few days off, because I was going to Copenhagen in a few days to cover a poker tournament.

I was gone.

I shouldn’t make it sound so confident, because there were a couple of weeks in which I felt like the guy who jumped out of the plane with a chute packed by Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi. I knew I could very well ended up a meat waffle, but I was out and there wasn’t any turning back.

By now, it’s clear that the chute opened. This is the five-year anniversary of that little experiment in the Bahamas, the five-year anniversary of those great people talking about me, and the five-year anniversary of my departure from my career in TV news. Indeed, this is the five-year anniversary of me making a living as a blogger.

It’s been a bumpy ride along the way. If you read here and know how to read in between the lines, you can figure most of it out. It’s not a little experiment anymore. It’s big business with big budgets, corporate policies, and inane buzzwords. Like TV news, it’s a young man’s game and I’m not getting any younger. And some days, I have a hard time defining my place in the industry. Still, I’m proud of what I’ve done so far and I’m curious where I’ll end up next.

In ten hours or so, I’m going to get on a plane to go back to the Bahamas. The first time I did it, it was a paid vacation. Each year since, I’ve gone hoping to do better work (and not fall off a big fake rock). Each year, I have succeeded.

Five years…who would’ve thought?

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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8 Responses

  1. IG says:

    Congrats on the anniversary. I always look forward to seeing BloggerBrad pop up. Looking forward to your recaps from pca.

  2. Drizztdj says:

    Kick some ass out there, and if you need to needle someone, today it was -2 temps here for a HIGH. -15 in the morning is a tad, um, cold.

  3. Doug Ross says:

    Glad to hear its working out for you. I enjoy reading your stories! Good stuff.

  4. otis says:

    Thanks, guys. And Doug, you are probably more aware than just about anybody why I got out of TV when I did. Hope you’re well, friend.

  5. Ten Mile says:

    That was about the same time you wrote a piece about a grave yard somewhere. And to answer the retorical question: A bunch of folks even bothered to write the site and wish you well to your boss.

    They still do.

  6. Pauly says:

    What a ride…

  7. Benjo says:

    Funny that I’m also celebrating my fifth year in the niche a month apart from you. Well done us.

  8. The Wife says:

    Happy Anniversary – it does sound a bit like the kid who wished for a job where he could play video games every day . . . hope you continue to enjoy it more than what you did before.

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