I‘ve been accumulating milestones lately. Within a year, I’ll have had my 35th high school reunion, the 30th anniversary of my arrival in Pittsburgh, my 25th wedding anniversary, the 10th anniversary of the founding of this magazine, and finally, the signing and sending of the final check for my three children’s college tuitions.
During a long Pittsburgh winter, a person has time to contemplate such things and to decide whether they should signify anything beyond the obvious—that time is hurtling by and that, as a friend put it recently, “We’re all on a rocket sled to death.”
Sled or no, life definitely takes us for a ride of its own design. I came to Pittsburgh in the first place, purely by chance. An intern at the old Pittsburgh Press had dropped out, and I arrived July 5, 1985 to replace him. I expected to stay in the city for the 12-week internship and then be off to who knows where. I had pretty good prospects in those days, and when I told my Dad I wanted to win a full-time job as a newspaper reporter, he was crestfallen. “Why would you do that?” he asked. “There’s no money in it.”
It is too bad that when you’re 23, you don’t have the sense to listen to your father.
But the newspaper was exciting—a great way to learn all manner of things. And if you wanted to be a writer, there was no better training ground.
The years piled up, and with my 20th anniversary at the papers looming, it became clear that it was time for a change. The industry’s future was apparent, and I was no longer satisfied. But I had a wife and three children—15, 13 and 11—and bills to pay. What if I made a change and it didn’t work out? Luckily, a simple question rescued me from that line of fearful thinking: Have I become so pathetic that I’m afraid to change?
So I left the paper, walked the plank of uncertainty and started this magazine. This year, we’re celebrating a decade, and Pittsburgh Quarterly has reached its own milestones. It’s been judged best magazine in the region every year in the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania’s Golden Quill Awards. And last fall, for the first time, I entered a contest outside of Pittsburgh—the Folio “Eddie” Awards, the global magazine industry’s biggest contest “for uncompromising journalism.” Lo and behold, our Marcellus Shale coverage was named a finalist against the likes of Time Inc. and others. And while I’m no pessimist, I told writer Seamus McGraw that I didn’t think our chances merited travelling to the Yale Club in New York and paying $350 apiece for the awards breakfast. But I was wrong. We won.
Of all these milestones, however, somehow paying the final tuition check feels like the biggest. Our three kids are raised, educated and on their way. I’m the youngest of five, and in the years after my college graduation, I remember noticing how much younger my parents seemed. The stress was gone, and though they were in their mid-60s, I could see what they must have been like 40 years earlier.
So that’s part of my plan—get younger as I get older. I’m still working on the details. But to me, milestones mean something. It’s as if you’re dribbling the basketball up the court and, for a moment, you glance up at the clock. Sometimes, the play you call depends on how much time is left.