Ten Bucks to Meet a Writer
He approached the register. “Yes sir,” I said. “Can I help you with anything?”
He said he was borrowing his daughter’s bike for the week and that it was making funny noises and not shifting right. His accent came from his side of the country. The way he wore his glasses and how said “I’ll give ya ten doll-ahs” made me think I was on the set of a Woody Allen movie. I pointed him over to our work station and came out from behind the register.
“See the way it don’t shift,” he said, pointing at his rear wheel’s cassette.
I’d placed his bike on the repair stand. I’d kneeled and looked at his derailure to make sure it wasn’t bent. I flexed his thumb shifters across each gear and found the problem. Slight adjustment needed to the limit screws—a ten-second fix. “See these two, tiny screws?” I said, pointing with a fine tipped screwdriver.
He leaned in. “Uh huh, oh right. Yeah I see ‘em.”
“Just need a slight adjustment, that’s all. Have you on the road in no time,” I said, beginning to turn the screws a quarter turn until I felt his gears fall into the right place. Bike fixed.
“So you must be some kinda racer judgin’ by the size of those calfs,” he pointed at my legs.
“I wish,” I said. “I just commute by bike. Haven’t owned a car in years. Maybe three or four years.”
“It’s betta’ by bike, wouldn’t you say?”
“It is. I love it too.”
“Betta’ for the environment, betta’ for the roads, betta’ for ya health.”
“That’s right, sure is.”
“You know, I always wish I’d done more about the environment. I’m a retired journalist. Always wish I’d of cared a little more. My kids they went to the West coast. Son in L-A, dwoughta here in Portland. I’m trying to get more in touch with my progressive side, I really am. I’m thinking about moving out this way now, seeing as how all the kids they wanted to get the hell off the East coast soon as they could and all.”
“L-A,” I say, nodding.
“Oh yeah, son was living downtown, one of those posh lofts. Paying something crazy. Something like twenny-two hunded doll-ahs for a studio downtown. Says he can’t even ride his bike anywhere. Says it’s getting betta though.”
“Oh I bet. I lived there in downtown before I lived here.”
“Oh so you know! You know what I’m twalkin’ about. What bwought you here then, to Portland I mean?”
“I’m actually here to study writing, actually. Taking some classes, trying to learn the craft. You know.”
“No kiddin’ eh. What kinda writing?”
“Well, I’ve thought about journalism actually, but I’d like to be a fiction writer. I don’t know though. There’s a lot I’d like to do. I’m writing a memoir right now about a bike trip I took actually, from L-A to New York.”
“No kiddin’ again. Hey now, tell me the truth, did ya take it easy, enjoy the ride, or did ya do it up all fast like the young guys.”
“Fast. Too fast actually. I only wish I wouldn’t have wanted to take that job I had lined up, or to be home with that girlfriend I had. I was twenty-three. I was so young.”
“I know it, I know it. I bet you flew that bike across, got home and wanted to get right back out there.”
“That’s right, I did.”
“So you’re here now. You’re a bike man. You’re becoming a writah. Hey let me tell you a couple pieces of advice. This is coming from my journalism perspective okay. Best writers are journalists anyway, you know. Don’t let ‘em tell you different!”
“I bet. Those deadlines. I bet!”
“Tell you a story. The day I wanted to be a writah, you know what I did? I found a newspaper. I found the firm’s address and I walked right in and took the elevatah up to the fourth floor. I walked in and looked the receptionist dead in the eye, I said, ‘Hi, my name is Bud, I’m a writah, and I’m good. I want to speak to your editah right now.’ As luck would have it, the editah’s office door was open and there he was with his feet up on the desk looking at me. He says to the receptionist, ’Send him in!’”
“I’m tellin’ ya, resume’s don’t mean shit in this industry. You send a resume to a magazine, a newspaper or whatever, and you might as well have never tried. Those go to H-R and those folks are only looking for people wantin’ to follow the rules. They want clean-cut, by-the-book individuals who’ll stay in line. They don’t know what a writah is. But they get so many applicants they hardly have time to call anyone. Go straight to the editor, tell him what I did. Tell him you’re good. What the hell do ya have to lose anyway? Get up the courage, get that confidence up, muster it from somewhere, even if you don’t have it. Tell ‘em to give you a shot. Watch what happens.”
“So you just… I mean just get the confidence. Get it and stand in front of the people who know the craft, who know the business. And just tell ‘em.”
“Exactly. Like I say, what do you got to lose? Look, in the writing world it’s hard, and you gotta be brave and sure. You gotta know what you’re saying. The world is reading what you say. You’re the authority. Believe in yourself, kid. Okay, here’s one more thing: find the watering hole. You wanna succeed as a writah? Find the writahs. Go up to the Oregonian building, go right up to the door and then stop and turn around. Look up and down the street and find the bar. Go in the bar and order up a beer and wait. Just wait ’til you see someone. Start asking questions to everyone until you find a writah. When you find him, tell him you’re a writah and that you want to learn from him. And there you have it, you’ve made a contact. Somebody knows you now, a foot in the dwoor. Then email him. Journalists are obligated to respond to every email.”
“Really? Is that right? Every email?”
“Every, damn, email, even if it’s an auto-response that says they’re outta town. It’s their job to respond. Email the one you know. He’ll write you back. Make human contact in this industry and you’ll go far, trust me on this one.”
“Wow, I… I don’t know what to say.”
“Hey, look kid. Name’s Bud.”
“Bud, I’m Aaron. Nice to meet you.”
“Take this ten doll-ahs.”
“No, Bud. No way. Seriously I didn’t do anything, the bike is great.”
“Aaron, look. Don’t insult me. I’m a journalist. I get insulted all the time. Look, take the money, buy yourself a beer. First one’s on me. Go find the writahs. Go find them and in the meantime just keep writing. That’s all you need to do.”