A Blizzard, a Pipe & a Friend
Sorry, folks! I’ve been away for several weeks and neglected my blog and website. Truthfully? I was being lazy.
Anyway, winter, old age, insomnia, or whatever it was, got me thinking about the great snowstorms I’ve experienced. In particular, the January, 1967 one. I was a freshman at Northwood Institute, (now Northwood University) in Midland, Michigan and the news editor of our college paper. A paper so important and critical to the 1,000-member student body that it was published every 3 weeks. Obviously, we covered breaking news.
Other than to get away from home, my goal in going to college was to get an associates degree in journalism and become a famous photo-journalist who traveled the world covering real breaking news and events. I think my fellow student-journalist, Robert/Bob, the sports editor and features writer, had a similar goal, but without the photo aspect. Robert/Bob was short, a little pudgy, with sandy-brown hair that refused to lay smooth, and his round face gave him the appearance of a cartoon character I can no longer name.
I say Robert/Bob because he was going through an identity crisis. His adoptive parents and hometown friends called him Bob, but at college he used Robert as his byline for the sports and features he wrote. It sounded more mature. Sometimes, if called Bob, he would intone, “Please call me Robert,” as he blew cigarette smoke in your face. He was a heavy smoker, a real chimney. Journalists in the ‘60’s were smokers and Robert/Bob had the look down. The slight sneer. And his glare through the smoke curling out of his nostrils as the cigarette dangled from his lips was usually accompanied by a sarcastic, “Yeah. Really?” Conversing with him involved lots of sarcasm and breathing in second hand smoke, close up.
As for me? Well, I was afraid to inhale, which I later realized held me back from other fun experiences involving inhalation. So, I puffed on a pipe and tried to look intellectual in my black rimmed glasses. I used the name Will as my byline, or tried to, but discovered it was hard to smoke a pipe, type stories, interview people, take pictures and remember to write my name or ask people to call me Will. College freshman have/had such identity issues!
The snow. Oh, yes, that’s where I was going.
There was a state-wide college newspaper conference at Michigan State University and Robert/Bob and I were assigned to represent our Northwood Times and learn from the big guys. It was snowing when we left. So what? It’s usually snowing in Michigan in January (even though we were coming off a huge thaw). We took off in Robert/Bob’s 1959 Chevy sedan, the seat pulled close to accommodate his short legs which meant my knees were under my chin. The roads got worse the further we drove. What was ordinarily a 1 & 1/2-hour drive turned into 3, plus another hour to find a parking spot on the MSU campus which, with 40,000 students, was a large city to us small town boys. During that last hour, I remember pushing the car as much as I rode in it. That, and helping shove other cars out of the way. Pushing, shoveling, swearing, laughing, everybody in the same boat, or actually, in the big snow—24 inches fell in 2 days.
I remember little, in fact nothing, about the conference, not even where we slept. Many of my high school friends went to MSU, so I’m sure I saw some of them. If there were parties, I don’t recall any—I didn’t drink at the time so might have been bored anyway. I do recall the storm was severe enough that we couldn’t leave as planned and stayed over another night before getting the car dug out.
One of the things I do remember though, is I learned more about Robert/Bob. Finally realized what was behind his sarcastic demeanor, the shell he kept front and center, his sense of toughness and attitude that he didn’t give a damn about what people thought of him. He had few friends. Oh, lots of kids buddied up to him on the Fridays he was going home and slipped him some cash. Robert/Bob lived in Ohio, just over the Michigan line where the drinking age was 18 for 3.2 beer. So, he did the ‘60’s version of rum running; only it was cheap 3.2 beer covered in blankets. Robert/Bob loved the thrill of secretively passing out the beer behind the dumpsters or in the darkest corners of the parking lot.
Robert/Bob was adopted, an only child. I got the impression his older shy parents weren’t quite sure what to do with a child. I think he wondered why they wanted one in the first place. Oh, they took good care of him, gave him decent things, never abused him, but I don’t think he ever felt secure and loved like most kids did, even adopted ones. He said he didn’t feel his accomplishments were acceptable to them. It didn’t appear they set the bar too high and expected too much from him. No, I figured they simply didn’t know what to expect of a child. Even more, what should they praise and accept and what they should encourage him to do better in? He was a talented writer, very creative, and he could smell the bull shit when he was being told an untruth.
I discovered the mask, his tough persona, the sarcasm he wrapped himself in was a shield to cover his uncertainty, his insecurity, his need for reinforcement and direction. Robert/Bob was lonely and afraid and didn’t know how to let others in. At least that’s what I came to realize after those 4 days with him. I’m not sure I could have articulated it as well back then. At 18, I was still trying to juggle a pipe, a typewriter and a camera, plus work my way through a private college.
Robert/Bob and I remained friends, a bit closer, the rest of our freshman year. But he did not return our sophomore year and I never heard from him again. I quit smoking a pipe, kept my byline to Bill and started drinking beer. Though burned out on news writing, I remained in college to avoid Viet Nam and still earned an associates degree in Journalism, another one in Advertising and a Bachelors in Business Management, then received a high number in the draft lottery. Believe it or not, those degrees and courses came in handy when I ended up working for nonprofits my entire life. Every organization needs accounting, budgeting, marketing, news releases and management. I even used my love of photography to produce slide shows as well as publicity shots for the newsletters and brochures I wrote.
Now retired, I write long wordy blogs based on brief memories of wicked blizzards.