Monday, September 10, 2012

And then I went and called a grown man "Rhett Butler"

"Want to cover the Buzzards tonight?"

Words I'd been waiting for all my journalistic life.

Banished to the El Paso Times library stacks as the newspaper's researcher and librarian, I was housed in the back of the building right next to the sports desk and I worshiped those guys. The ones who'd roll in at 2 p.m. because they'd been out covering college football all night, sunglasses covering their heavily-lined, under-sleeped eyes. In my mind they were up late waxing poetic about conversions, triple threats, line drives, power plays and other words I didn't understand but used anyway. (My first few high school football games, I actually copied the stats off the new radio guy's sheet next to me. I was that lost.) These guys were rock stars to my nerdy, research-heavy self.

I'd volunteered as a high school football stringer for an entire season and loved it. My first taste at being allowed into those funny looking, non-air conditioned announcer's booths at the top of high school stadiums was addicting and I wanted more...more press badges, more press boxes, more shots at pretending I was a big wig sports writer when in fact, I was the peon who had to be up at the crack of dawn and back at my customer-service duties a good five or six hours before the real sports writers had to be in the office. I didn't care. I was hooked.

And then the late afternoon when the entire sports desk was sick or hungover or on assignment and the local pro hockey team had a home game in a few short hours.

"You up for a Buzzards game?"

Was he kidding me? I jumped at the chance and the deal was sweetened when he handed me the archaic dinosaur of a lap top they used to remotely file stories with. I was in! I was official! I HAD THE LAPTOP, YA'LL!

I called my dad first and let him know the good news.

"Megan," he said seriously after I'd stopped talking long enough. "What do you know about hockey?"

My pause lasted only a nanosecond.

"Nothing!" I gushed. "That's why you're coming with me!"

(Fast forward about ten years and this is the exact same conversation I had with my husband when I told him about my gig writing about the Houston Texans. Ha!)

My dad's such a good sport. He went with me, sat next to me, and explained every foreign concept thrown my way that night. And they were all foreign, unfortunately. At least with high school football, I'd spent my formative teenage years at football games--never mind the fact that I'd used those hours to walk around scouting for my latest crush or laughing at the cheerleaders. At least I knew what a football was and the point of the actual game. I'd grown up in El Paso and ice, let alone ice hockey, was from another planet.

With my dad's help, I'd typed out a short game recap and as I sat waiting for it to transfer over to the newspaper, the computer died. I'm not talking battery dead, I'm talking the thing had a small internal explosion (with smoke, y'all...) and DIED.

I panicked and raced back to the newsroom to file my story before the midnight deadline. My dad had to go home and get some sleep before work so I was on my own.

I tried to remember all the terms my dad had used and the players who'd managed to execute them.

"There was a guy named Rhett, right?" I asked the assistant editor in my rush.

"Yeah, Dudley. Defenseman." He answered.

Seconds before the clock struck midnight, I'd filed my story and went home, happy and exhausted and with a head the size of Texas. Yeah, I was proud of myself and initiation into the "real sports writers" club.

Proud of myself until I made it to work the next morning with a copy of the sports section on my desk. There was my story on the front page. There was my headline, that the copy editors hadn't changed too much (a feather in any reporter's cap) and there was a passage underlined with a note. Was it from the editor? Was he impressed with me?

I leaned in, saw what was underlined and felt the color drain from my face. My stomach dropped to my knees and I had to sit down.

Poor Rhett Dudley. I'd decided in my fog of stress and sleepiness, that he'd really make a better Southern novel hero and I'd called him Rhett Butler throughout the entire damn article. The editor actually thought it was funny and scribbled "Where's Scarlet?" in red sharpie in the margin.

I recovered eventually and still wrote for sports whenever I could. I even covered the U.S. Paralympic Rugby Team when they traveled through Anchorage a few years ago. But every time someone mentions "Gone With the Wind" or hockey, I remember I'm always one mistake away from Rhett Butler and the El Paso Buzzards.


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