Saturday, June 27, 2009

Column Writing: The Toothbrush School vs. the Nymphomaniac School

I recently applied to write for the Indiana History Examiner. is a sort of online newspaper covering numerous cities throughout the United States. My fellow blogger Kellie Davis writes for the Anchorage Examiner, so I became interested in writing a local history column for the Indianapolis version. After applying, I got a response saying that Examiners are expected to write four to six articles of 200 to 400 words every week. That reminded me of Donald Kaul, onetime columnist for the Des Moines Register, who used to say there were two schools of daily column writing: the toothbrush school and the nymphomaniac school.

The toothbrush school was championed by Sydney J. Harris, who wrote a daily column for the Chicago Daily News and later the Sun-Times, from 1944 to his death in 1986. He compared writing a column to brushing his teeth in the morning. For him, it was a matter of routine.

Kaul then went on to quote another Daily News (later Sun-Times and the Tribune) columnist, Mike Royko, who quipped, "It's like being married to a nymphomaniac." (George Grizzard and Nora Ephron said the same thing--I'm not sure who said it first.) Like Kaul, I'll side with Royko, though not from personal experience.

So I gave a tentative assent to the Examiner offer, but only if I weren't subjected to the four-column minimum. That was a week ago and I haven't heard from the Examiner since. Perhaps the wedding is off.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Where I've Been

I've been out of the blogosphere for a while, thanks to changes in job. On May 30 I worked my last shift at Bloomington-Normal. Until July 6, when one of the South Bend ticket agents retires, I'm working Guaranteed Extra Board, based in South Bend, but also covering Indianapolis. And that's were I've been for most of the intervening time.

Amtrak isn't in the beautiful Romanesque Indianapolis Union Station, which is now part of the Crowne Plaza Hotel complex, but in a ground-level space shared with Greyhound. In the wee hours of the morning, it looks like something out of an Ashcan School painting, with all the gritty urban realism. I couldn't find a picture of the interior, but WikiMedia had a shot of the platform.

Unlike Illinois and Michigan, which have spent serious money on Amtrak service, Indiana is committed to the world of Fly-Drive. I can't even blame Mitch Daniels, the Republican governor, for my state's neglect of rail. The three previous Democratic governors weren't any better. So Indianapolis, with nearly a million people, has only the thrice-weekly Cardinal and the Hoosier State, which runs to and from Chicago on the four days the Chicago-Indy-New York Cardinal doesn't run. The westbound train leaves at 5:30 a.m. (normally 6:30, but while I'm working it's an hour earlier in order to allow for the CSX to work on the track) while the eastbound arrives at 11:50. My shift, starting at 11:00 p.m. and running through 7:00 a.m., covers both trains. I've pretty much adjusted to the hours, though it was tough staying awake the first week.

One more week (maybe two) of living out of a motel (thankfully, at Amtrak's expense), and I expect to be working out of South Bend and really living at home.