Sunday, May 06, 2001

When the Winston-Salem Journal hired me to cover Davidson County in the summer of 1987, I was filled with a kind of naive confidence. Some of my colleagues had their doubts.

A veteran reporter who lived in Tyro, just west of Lexington, went home and told his wife that he was afraid that the top editors had really blown it. “They’ve hired a woman for the Lexington bureau,” he said.

“What’s wrong with that?” she asked, indignantly.

“She’s from New York.”

“Oh,” she said, beginning to understand the potential problems.

“And she’s Jewish.”

Until I moved to Lexington, I had no idea what it meant to be regarded as an outsider. But I soon learned that I talked too fast and that my brusque manner, which worked well in New York, didn’t get me very far at the county courthouse. I won’t even go into my problems with driving after a lifetime in cities taking the subway and the bus.

I made a lot of mistakes. I let the door to the courtroom slam. I neglected to ask after people’s families. I wore a floppy straw hat, more suited for the garden than for work. But after enough of these blunders, I learned to say “Yes, sir,” and “No, ma’am,” and things got a lot better.

A place that’s home

Good manners don’t make a journalist, but they did soften the differences. I survived that first year in Lexington and found a job that I love in a place that has become my home.

Journalists spend their lives as outsiders. We learn as much as we can by listening and watching, but we are rarely a part of the events we write about. I know that. But I no longer think of myself as the outsider I once was.

I got the superficial things straight first. I have a favorite barbecue place and a taste for greens. The important things that tie me here came later, with the birth of my children and all the other events of adult life. Not quite a native, I agree, but more so than many of the people I meet Saturday mornings on the sidelines at my daughter’s soccer games.

I don’t plan on filling this space with stories about myself. But since I’ve spent the past 14 years asking people personal questions, I’ll go ahead and answer a few of the basic ones.

I turned 41 on Thursday. I am divorced. I have an 8-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, who will join his sister next year at Brunson Elementary School. My mother lives in the Hudson River valley, my brother in New York City. My father died five years ago this July. I own a house in the West End with a big front porch, a yellow living room and an overgrown yard.

No lecturing

A news column lies somewhere between an editorial and a news story. I don’t plan on a lot of lecturing here. And I don’t take lightly the freedom I have to express my views; I have a reporter’s skepticism of opinion – even my own. I expect to approach these columns as I do any other story – with curiosity, an eye for detail and an open mind.

I think of this as the beginning of a lively conversation about the region and the forces that shape our lives here. The Winston-Salem that was here when I arrived all those years ago has changed in monumental and incremental ways. I will look for small stories that reveal the larger truths about where our community is going. I hope to find ways to speak directly of things that people whisper about, and to translate the euphemisms that people use to avoid conflict or embarrassment.

But conversations need more than one speaker. I’d like to hear from you when you agree with me, and also when you disagree.

Most important, I hope that what I write has enough interest and amusement to keep you reading.