One’s on the Way

Loretta Lynn, that great voice of working-class values, released a song in 1971 called “One’s on the Way”:

They say to have her hair done, Liz flies all the way to France / And Jackie’s seen in a discotheque, doing a brand-new dance / And the White House social season should be glittering and gay / But here in Topeka the rain is a-fallin’ / The faucet is a-drippin’ and the kids are a-bawlin’ / One of ‘em’s a-toddling and one is a-crawlin’ / And one’s on the way

“One’s on the Way” is a humorous commentary on the inability of working-class people to relate to the lives of the beautiful people. Lynn satirically compared the housewife’s plight to that of Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Onassis and, in the latter verse, Raquel Welch and Debbie Reynolds.

It’s 24 days until the Daytona 500. Here’s what’s going on in NASCAR. Danica Patrick is getting divorced. She is dating the Nationwide champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (naturally, a “Nationwide” champion “gets around”). Banned driver Jeremy Mayfield contacted NASCAR’s CEO, Brian France, about regaining his eligibility. He did this via a call-in radio show. The fan base is presently recovering from speculation on who was and who wasn’t on P. Diddy’s yacht and whether or not Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer settled their simmering feud amidst the revelry there.

Based on speculation, the Daytona 500 is as likely to be decided by romance as horsepower, which, of course, is ridiculous.

Of course, there is other news: a director of competition here, a limited sponsorship there. Starting times have been announced! Racing Electronics is in; Track Scan is out (at ISC tracks).

Not too long ago, the model for “NASCAR on Fox” was “NFL on Fox.” Now it’s “Entertainment Tonight.” Why isn’t Dr. Phil in the booth, or, maybe, on pit road counseling Danica and Ricky?

They’ve distanced themselves from us, just like, come to think of it, everybody else who’s rich, famous and upwardly mobile. It’s probably an inevitable consequence of success. Racing has gotten bigger, and we, well, we’re still the same, struggling to make our house payments and wondering if the next check is in the mail.

Meanwhile, here in Topeka (or Clinton, as the case may be) …

So Those Were the Good Old Days, Huh?

When I was a kid, hardly anyone wore seatbelts. The bed of a pickup truck was often packed with people. People actually sat back to back or sideways in vehicles known as station wagons. A 12-year-old could drive a tractor on the highway if he was going from one field to another.

(I once drove a tractor on the highway to Waco’s, about a mile away, because I needed a bottle of model-car paint.)

House fires were spectator sports. People would hear the fire whistle and go chasing off to see the fire. My father was an avid chaser of fires. I’m grateful that he never took me to see anything much more severe than a grease fire. It would’ve been traumatic to see some poor man, engulfed in flames, staggering off his back porch.

Then again, once there were public hangings. I missed those.

When I was 14, I received a permit that allowed me to drive as much as I wanted as long as I was accompanied by an adult. At about the same time, the State of South Carolina relieved my dad of his driving privileges for six months. I became his chauffeur. I’m pretty sure such an arrangement would be frowned upon today. At 15, when I received a restricted (daytime) license, I’m pretty sure I was one of the more experienced drivers among the 15-year-olds of my time.

My father often allowed me to ride around on the tailgate of his pickup truck. On occasion, when perhaps Daddy thought I was getting a bit big for my britches (still a flaw of mine), he would drive fast across a ditch or a terrace and intentionally pitch me off the tailgate. I never got anything worse than a skinned (skint) knee; my father consistently got a huge laugh out of my misfortune.

“Better hold on next time, Monte boy!”

Being paddled was a common experience at school. Once a math teacher named David J. Martin paddled me so hard that my knees sent his heavy desk sliding across the classroom floor. I think I may have miscalculated a multinomial or something.

A healthy minority of the faculty at Clinton High School smoked, which was obvious any time I walked by the door of the teachers’ lounge. Perhaps that’s the reason there were designated smoking areas for students.

My bicycle, a Western Flyer because it was purchased at Western Auto, had one speed. I rode it everywhere: to and from school, across town, to the movies, occasionally to the next town, which was Laurens in one direction and Joanna in the other. My nephews are grown now, but I don’t think any of them ever rode a bike beyond the boundaries of the farm.

Even when I played football, I had to get up early and feed the livestock. I’m pretty sure the next generation in our family never emptied the trash and I’m almost positive they never washed anything, be they dishes or clothes.

Sometimes I look at old race cars and think to myself, it’s a wonder anyone ever survived driving those things.

Then I recall the conditions of my boyhood and I realize it’s a wonder any of us survived, period.

We were tough. We were blissfully ignorant. We had no idea how bad we had it and what peril we were consistently and invariably in.

Harbaughs (Plural)

The Super Bowl is finally Sunday. Well, it was always Sunday. Now it’s this Sunday. Seldom has a football game so boiled itself down to one word: Harbaugh.

Jim coaches the San Francisco 49ers, John the Baltimore Ravens. Vince Lombardi never faced his brother, at least not from one sideline to the other. That, of course, can’t be held against Lombardi, whose father was a butcher. The Harbaughs are sons of another coach. For Harry Lombardi to have begun a dynasty, Vince would’ve had to offer lamb chops.

Jim Harbaugh was once a pro quarterback. John Harbaugh once coached the special teams and secondary at Morehead State. Jim has “quarterback’s cockiness,” which is something that plays well inside a team (or a huddle) but often comes across as arrogance to the outside. He reminds me a bit of Steve Spurrier.

It will be hard for Jim Harbaugh ever to top his decision to replace a proven commodity, Alex Smith, with Colin Kaepernick (undoubtedly I am one of the few who constantly finds himself wanting to call him Nicolaus Copernicus, who died in 1543) at quarterback. In hindsight, it might seem like a no-brainer, but few coaches would’ve had the guts to make that move. Ultimately, it’s probably why the 49ers are in the Super Bowl and in position to follow up the San Francisco Giants’ World Series triumph.

Copernicus revealed that the world revolves around the sun. Kaepernick reveals that the 49ers revolve around Jim Harbaugh. (See? I couldn’t let it go.)

This game will probably be more affected by the performance of Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco than Kaepernick, who, nonetheless, will get his appointed yards. As athletically gifted as Kaepernick is, he’s going to have to deal with a Ravens defense that seems to be consumed in some kind of Ray Lewis Pentecostal frenzy.

Slide, Colin! Slide!

If Flacco is sharp – and he certainly has been – the 49er defense is vulnerable.

Prediction? Don’t be ridiculous. My training is in communicating what already happened, not prognosticating what comes next. As I wish Yogi Berra had said (because I have), “Nostradamus I ain’t!”

The 49ers are favored by 3-4 points. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a toss-up. It’s a toss-up in my head, too. I have no idea which way my sentiments will tilt. Which way I “pull” has little to do with X’s and O’s. I like the 49ers’ uniforms better. I like Baltimore because it’s a good city I’ve enjoyed visiting, and I grew up “pulling” (such an interesting term) for the Colts before they left. I also like visiting San Francisco, which is the American-city equivalent of the Monty Python movie “And Now for Something Completely Different.”

Kaepernick went to Nevada, which is a bit off the beaten quarterback path (or, for the purposes of neutrality “off the quarterback beaten path,” oh, wait, “off the beaten path of quarterbacks”), but Flacco went to Delaware, which, while conveniently near his NFL home, is off the radar (even though it has an Air Force base).

I don’t have a clue. I watch, but I don’t watch closely enough to have a clue. I’m like the great majority of fans who will be watching and not solely for the commercials. I want to see a good game. I want it to be dramatic. I want it to inspire me. I’m tired of imaginary girlfriends.

It’s going to be a long time to the next football game. Let’s hope this game provides something to remember, something to tie us over till the next time a zebra blows his whistle.

The Opposite of Deja Vu

I’m a creature of habit. I suppose everyone is to some extent. Now my habits are changing.

I still feel a little strange on Monday mornings. For 16-1/2 years, I wrote the copy for a syndicated page, “NASCAR This Week,” every Monday morning. Typically, I’d cover a race, leave the press box on Sunday night at 8 or 9, go back to the room, watch a ballgame, go to sleep, get up Monday morning at 6-6:30, write the page copy, and a day-after column, file the stories, pack, check out and hightail it to the airport.

Sometimes it was a drive. Sometimes it was a week off from the track. The race page had no weeks off. It was understood that I never took vacation on Mondays.

Three weeks have passed now, and I still feel a sense of urgency on Monday mornings. I am getting over it, though. Today I packed some copies of The Audacity of Dope to be shipped, paid a stack of bills, dropped by the local office-supply store and then the post office, had a quick stop at the doctor’s office (scheduled), ate lunch out (meaning I’ll have supper in), turned in some books at the local library, did a little research there (for the latest project) and finally came home … to write this blog.

I’ve still got to cancel a bunch of hotel reservations I made late last year when I still thought I’d be heading here, there and yonder with the NASCAR circus. In principle, I’ll be glad to be rid of the grind, but I was a gypsy for 20 years. I’m not sure I’ll miss it. I’ll feel the opposite of déjà vu. I’ll be cognizant of my surroundings not being familiar.

For 20 years, half of February was Speedweeks at Daytona Beach (there actually isn’t a city known as Daytona, or a county, only a race track). I even covered the Rolex 24 three of those years. Daytona Beach is the NASCAR city that is most familiar because I’ve had such a wide array of experiences there. For three years, I sat on the back row of the press box because I was representing the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Ever since I moved to the Gaston Gazette, my spot has been three seats left of the middle on the second row. Now I’m unaligned. I don’t have a spot. I don’t need one. I’ve got this easy chair and a nice, high-definition TV.

I really think I’ll miss the uniqueness of Daytona Beach in general more than the uniqueness of all those events – Shootout, pole qualifying, ARCA, twins, Nationwide, Trucks, 500 – that I’ve been describing for 20 years.

I’m going to miss playing music in Palm Coast and St. Augustine Beach.

I’m going to miss Those Guys, not the ones in the press box but the band of that name that has given me tons of enjoyment over the years. I’ll miss visiting Walt and Jill, son Jake and daughter Jess. I’ll miss Aaron. I’ll miss taking a tram over to the back stretch to watch Those Guys perform on Daytona 500 morning.

I’ll miss Halibut Night at Alfie’s. I’ll miss hanging out with John and James at the condo. I’ll miss watching an afternoon movie with a busload of senior citizens sitting around.

Some of the old activities have already fallen by the wayside. I don’t play golf anymore. It’s been years since I’ve been to the short-track races in Barberville or a Stetson basketball game in DeLand. I can’t remember the last time I ate at the Chart House, which used to be a staple of Speedweeks, or Julian’s, where past generations of the France family were wont to entertain. Lots of the people with whom I had the most fun fell by the wayside long before I.

I’m starting to be a resident of Clinton, S.C., again, not just in theory. I mentioned that I’ve been going to the library. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if I showed up at the remaining Presbyterian College home basketball games. I’m still going to be traveling, but now it’s going to be promoting myself, my books and my music.

I’ll still be watching events in Daytona Beach with interest. I’ll write about them when it strikes my fancy. Now it’s different. The goal is for it gradually to become better.

Nothing Ain’t Worth Nothing, But It’s Free

Maybe it’s a wee bit similar to the tongue-in-cheek lines of the old Statler Brothers song “Flowers on the Wall”:

Smokin’ cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo / Now don’t tell me / I’ve nothing to do

My current activities are a bit more substantial than that. I’ve finished the third and, I hope, final draft of a second novel, The Intangibles. I’m six chapters into a first draft of a third novel, Crazy by Natural Causes. I’m about ready to perform a new song, “Scuppernongs and Muscadines.” (It’s actually a fairly sad song, linked ironically to a certain merriment to which the title and chorus allude.) I’m trying to make this web site viable and will soon publish, release, and/or unveil a much more ambitious version of www.montedutton.com that incorporates this blog. My “concierge” – I have such a hard time adapting to that word – is working to schedule promotional appearances and publicity for my books and songs. Since I wrote the main character’s songs in The Audacity of Dope – along with everything else, I can promote my music and fiction in tandem. I’ve sold more copies of Audacity with my songs than my words, and I think it’s slightly unique to be able to combine them.

I’m so grateful for all the understanding words of encouragement, as well as the expressions of sympathy and offers of support, from my friends who gradually learned that my job of 16-1/2 years had been eliminated by my employer, Halifax Media Group. I’ve tried not to be bitter. I’ve tried to bury myself in work to fix the situation, and I’ve managed successfully, at least internally, to rationalize that the loss of my job is forcing me to do what I already wanted to do. I was reluctant to take a leap of faith, but now it’s a leap of necessity that leaves little choice but to jump. The plan is to land on my feet, but I won’t really know whether it’s going to work until the crop either ripens or dies on the vine.

So far, things are a little ahead of schedule, but it’s a long, hard road to which I have committed. I haven’t even started yet on one of my goals, which is to see if I can create interest in my songwriting.

I’ll continue to stay interested in NASCAR, and when something occurs to me, I’ll write about it. This should make the quality better because instead of just cranking out daily information because it is my job, I’ll be writing about topics that interest me and which perhaps don’t occur to my former colleagues. I’m hoping the distance will benefit my writing and lead to it being more original, if not as extensive. I hope that my NASCAR readers will stick with me and that perhaps my ruminations on other subjects will stimulate their interest, as well.

I don’t think I’m harboring delusions of grandeur. I think I’ve thought this through realistically.

Freedom, as Kris Kristofferson (and not Janis Joplin) originally wrote, is “just another word for nothing left to lose,” but in it lies the hope of mankind, not just me.

An Old, Old Man Trying to Live While He Can*

Stereotypes have some validity in a “big picture” sense, but it’s wrong to apply them on an individual basis. People often defy them. Exceptions are more interesting than rules.

My mother works weekends at a motel out on I-26, not much more than a mile from my house. I often get up on Saturday and Sunday mornings, make myself presentable and spend some time with her, sipping coffee and perusing USA Today.

Just before I left her this morning, an elderly man, probably at least 70 years old, walked in. His gray hair was fashioned in a crew cut, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he he’s had it that way for 40-50 years. He wore a black leather jacket. I walked past him to use the bathroom right before I left to run some errands. I noticed the elderly woman in the car, waiting for what was apparently her husband and sitting behind the wheel of a black Mustang with racing stripes.

While I was, uh, relieving myself, I thought about how that couple was probably the last I’d expect to be driving a black Mustang. They looked like the kind of people whose Ford would be a Crown Vic. Maybe a Taurus. I thought, well, maybe it’s a loaner. Maybe the Crown Vic, or the Buick LaCrosse, is in the shop. But when I walked back through the lobby, the man was telling my mother about his Mustang.

“… You wouldn’t believe the kind of gas mileage that thing gets …” he was saying.

Many years ago I took my niece on a trip to San Francisco. We had been sight-seeing in the Marin Headlands and boarded a ferry at Larkspur to cross the bay. After parking the rental car, we marveled at all the expensive cars tooling by. A man who looked quite a bit like Cary Grant in his later years – it definitely wasn’t Grant since he was already quite dead – glided by in a white Porsche Boxster.

“It’s disgusting for a car like that to be driven by an old man,” Ella sniffed. Were I as old then as I am now, I might’ve sniffed right back. Or I might not. I’m still young at heart, just like, apparently, the man with the crew cut in the lobby of the Days Inn.

Good for him. I hope he and his old lady go cruising on a Main Street every Saturday night.

I write novels. The first one made me feel young again, and there’s some of that “living vicariously through a younger character” mentality in the next one. (The Intangibles should be out late this year.) I write songs. I sing them sometimes in honky tonks.

“I like beer. It makes me a jolly good fellow.” – Tom T. Hall.

Who am I to talk?

If this “on my own” thing works out, maybe I’ll buy a Mustang. But mine will be Petty Blue.

*Title based on the name of a great Lefty Frizzell song.

Truth, Fiction, and How They’re Connected

So you wonder what possessed me to become a novelist?

As Charley Pride used to say onstage in the late 1960s, “It’s a little unique, I’d have to admit …” Another issue, of course, at the time.

When I tell people I love to write fiction, it often draws an incredulous response. People would understand it if I said I loved to tweet, or drink beer or chase women, for that matter. The idea of sitting behind a laptop for hours on end – and not just writing, but looking up facts and going back to make sure a Chevy in one chapter isn’t a Honda in another – is alien to the existence of many folks, the same ones who, as soon as they got their senior research paper on Mark Twain completed, promptly vowed they would never write anything remotely as taxing again.

Here’s a secret. Part of my love of writing fiction is a mystery even to me. Part of it is just my nature. Some people like whittling or sewing or restoring automobiles. I like writing. When I was in college, I foolishly tried to escape it. I think it was something I was simply destined to do. I taught myself to type by writing a daily diary of football practice when I was in the ninth grade. I was editor of the school paper in the 11th grade, and it was only partly because no one else wanted the job. I always hated multiple choice and true/false but loved essay questions.

I’m mad as a hatter. Crazy as a loon. Happy as a clam.

I also love journalism, but to a lesser extent. Perhaps it’s because I did it too long. Perhaps it’s because journalism isn’t really, narrowly put, about telling the truth. It’s about getting as close as possible to the truth based on what people say the truth is. That can be a long way from the truth.

A long time ago, it occurred to me that, if a man (or a woman) really wants to tell the truth, he has to write fiction. Perhaps that’s the consuming irony of my life. Once, in a legal proceeding, a lawyer tried to take that view out of context, and when I explained what I meant, the lawyer was so disappointed.

My first novel, The Audacity of Dope, has been out about a year. My second, The Intangibles, is in the editing/design process, and I hope it will be out sometime this year. My third, Crazy by Natural Causes, is under way.

In regard to The Audacity of Dope, I’m often asked if the main character, Riley Mansfield, is based on me. That’s because some people naturally assume that authors aren’t really making it up. That’s kind of an insult, but, as noted previously, it’s hard for people who don’t write to relate to those who do. I could answer in one word: Duh. But I want these very same people to buy the novel, so I, uh, elaborate. Riley is younger, more handsome, more talented and more courageous than I, and he has a significantly better love life. I can barely relate to Riley. In other words … duh. To some extent, every writer of fiction is Walter Mitty.

Here’s where I really have to elaborate. Riley wasn’t based on me. When I wrote about him, I was based on him. Creating a character means coming to grips with him: knowing how he thinks, what he does, and how he reacts. I didn’t live through Riley; I wrote through him. The same was true of other characters: Melissa Franklin, Adam Rhine, Jed Langston, Priscilla Hay, and even the imaginary President of the United States, Sam Harmon.

How could I relate to Riley? I wrote a non-fiction book called True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed, and it was based on my interactions with singer-songwriters. I got to the point where I thought I had some modest knowledge of what made them tick. Riley smokes pot. Lots of my book subjects did. I read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in order to familiarize myself with what it might be like for Riley to have a psychedelic experience. I know a guy who had trouble shaking a painkiller addiction. That experience contributed to the character Adam Rhine.

Still, Audacity was Riley’s story.

The next novel is more complicated. It’s made up of a range of characters, each similarly important and crucial to the story. The Intangibles is going to be slightly more Russian as novels go, even though it’s centered in an imaginary but familiar South Carolina town known as Fairmont.

By the wondrous miracle of having my job eliminated, I now have the opportunity to concentrate on writing fiction, not to mention songwriting, another love. I’m not going to stop offering my observations on NASCAR, or other sports, or to borrow a Dan Jenkins title, Life Its Ownself. This blog will be a regular means of communicating what happens to butter my grits at the time.

I’m going to hit the road to sell my book and sing my songs. I won’t be holed up in this cave all the time. I’ve got to get out so that I can maintain touch with the world about which I aspire to write.

It’s a challenge. I’m going to give it a shot. It’s the Riley coming out in me.

The Harry Gant Rule

Back in the 1990s, I wrote about what I call the Harry Gant Rule. Few wanted to talk about it at the time. For a sport that is so obsessed with and concentrated on technology and engineering, people sure do love to ignore facts in NASCAR.

The Harry Gant Rule goes something like this: If you’re going to drive race cars well into your 40s, you’d better stay active. The decline in performance of most drivers occurs when they stop racing much. Gant and Bobby Allison never slowed down. Gant won eight Cup (then Winston, now Sprint) races in his 50s. He won his final Busch (now Nationwide) race at 54. In his final season, 1994, Gant ran 30 Cup and 17 Busch races. He then walked away, secure in the knowledge that, when he stepped aside, he was competitive with the very best.

Though Allison’s career was cut short by injury, the 1983 Winston Cup champion won the Daytona 500 at age 50. He didn’t run as often in Busch Series as Gant, but Allison was a barnstormer. When he wasn’t competing at the Cup level, he might show up anywhere.

The modern equivalent of Gant is Mark Martin. The modern equivalent of Allison is Tony Stewart.

The decline of most modern drivers isn’t solely attributable to age. It’s correlated to racing less. The Harry Gant Rule applies negatively to almost everyone: both Labonte brothers, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and, yes, even Dale Earnhardt.

The elder Earnhardt never ran a Busch race after 1994. Only 13 of his 76 Cup victories occurred over the remaining six full seasons of his career.

Drivers cut back for an array of practical reasons: concentrating on the Cup effort, outside business activities, risk of injury, less money, etc.

They pay for it in terms of success. The numbers don’t lie.

Most drivers, right up to the last time they climb out of a race car, steadfastly maintain that they’re as good as ever. The common cliché is, “(Insert name) didn’t forget how to drive.”

Then, talk to a driver two or three years later, and invariably, he says that, in hindsight, he held on too long. All too often, a career lasts as long as there is sponsorship and an owner to keep it going.

A young driver doesn’t need to stay active. His skills are keen though his experience may be lacking. It’s the young buck, though, who hops into a race car every time the gates swing open at a track.

Gant instinctively knew when it was time to step aside, which is a rare gift in NASCAR and one of many such gifts Gant exuded. He was a remarkable man, much overlooked today, who never competed in more than five Cup races in a single season until he was 39 years old. The first two of his 18 Cup victories occurred at age 42. He won five races, four of them in a row, at age 51.

Since “The Bandit’s Last Ride,” his 1994 farewell season, I probably haven’t talked to Harry Gant more than five times. He did just what he said he’d do, which was make himself scarce. He knew when to say when.

From a Distance

Missing the NASCAR Media Tour isn’t so bad. What I miss the most, I think, is what I complained about.

At least for me, it wasn’t ever a carefree week of schmoozing. In 1993, when I attended it for the first time – by the way, back then there was some gentle hazing of newbies – most of the attendees had to file stories on a daily basis while, at the same time, storing away information for our preseason NASCAR sections. At that time, the Tour included representatives from far-flung locales, but also from the daily newspapers in Raleigh, Durham, Asheville, Greenville (S.C.), Spartanburg, Columbia, Florence, Charleston, Atlanta (Ga.), Athens, Nashville (Tenn.), Knoxville, Chattanooga, Richmond (Va.), Newport News, Roanoke, Birmingham (Ala.), Daytona Beach (Fla.), Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami, not to mention radio and TV stations from those cities. Most of those places no longer send representatives, nor do their media outlets cover races away from their immediate areas. The Tour’s size has been sustained by a new army of people who work for or have their own web sites, not to mention radio/TV/web representatives of outlets that are formally related to NASCAR and its corporate partners.

Most of us wrote columns, notebooks and breaking news stories every day, and we often typed them on little Radio Shack TRS-80s while riding on buses. Then we’d return to the room and file the stories (which often had to be killed out because they used up all the TRS-80’s memory) so we could go to the hospitality room, where we drank and played poker. We went to bed at 2 and got up at 6 because we were men, and those who weren’t were women made of stuff just as stern.

I haven’t written on a bus in 10 years and very seldom on planes. In airports? Yes.

Now there isn’t that much travel. Many events happen either at the hotel or nearby. “Writing time” is more reliably allotted. My former colleagues on this year’s Tour work hard, thanks to the instantaneous demands of the Internet and social media. A few tweet like maniacs, but that’s almost all they do in terms of day-to-day coverage. A lot of time is spent transcribing interviews and storing them away for stories to be cranked out next week.

It was always hectic. In recent years, it hasn’t been much fun. What I mainly miss is the hectic nature. I had deadline pressure in the middle of the afternoon. Doing a creditable job in a tight fissure of time provides a unique brand of satisfaction. For the past few years, I’ve gotten off the bus, gone to the room and typed nonstop until the last minute before I’d have to go get back on a bus or attend another function. I would literally write to the deadline and file, then not have time to say “whew” till I was sitting on the bus or in a chair in a banquet hall. In lieu of substance, I would try to be satirical. My notebooks were often a progression of one-liners.

That’s what I mean. What I most complained about, I now miss the most.

Over the years, my approach evolved. I got to the point where I didn’t jostle for position or try to outshout my colleagues in getting my questions answered. I didn’t like to share. My standard strategy involved just hanging back and chitchatting, then waiting for the mob to subside. Then I’d saunter over to Tony Stewart or Carl Edwards and try to glide down an avenue, hoping others missed the turn. I didn’t worry about the scoop as much as the insight. I could count on transcripts of the formal stuff arriving via email.

Besides, in the age of social media, scoops are a rare and precious thing.

I don’t literally know what’s going on up there. I think I’ve got a pretty good idea because I attended 20 of them and I doubt this one has evolved that much. Five years from now, I won’t have any business writing this.

I’ve gotten several messages along the lines of “where in the hell are you?” Almost everyone knows that my job was eliminated on Jan. 4. Some don’t. I was content just to let the news trickle out on its own, not wanting to be bothered while I was busy mapping out a new way to make a living.

Some appear to be aghast that I’m not willing to go up to Concord and pay my own way. Plenty of those are up there nowadays. It’s a damn fine tax deduction, not to mention the fact that “it looks good on your resume.”

At this point in my life, to borrow one of my late father’s clichés (he would’ve been 76 on Monday), I don’t play that shit.

Besides, it’s not a big deal. Every time an old dinosaur like me disappears into the ooze, some bright young Roman candle from the Texas Panhandle (apologies to Jimmy Buffett) pops right up to take his place.