"Life is one big transition."
The alley between the newspaper and the church holds many memories.
That nondescript stretch of concrete connecting Erwin and Elm streets has been a familiar passageway for decades of journalists, salespeople, pressmen and the others who use the side entrance, gathering each day rain or shine, holiday or not, to put out the daily newspaper.
In the alley, I interviewed for this job 20-plus years ago. Sitting awkwardly on the shaded concrete ledge extending from the church foundation, I recited my life's work — the ups, downs and sideslips — as Executive Editor Jim Giametta puffed a cigarette.
The alley was and is the smokers' break room. Banned from inside the newspaper, they congregate there still … but in far fewer numbers these days.
Inside, alighting on the second floor from the old Otis elevator, habit urges you left, into the traditional newsroom of the past half century — metal desks and files piled high with paper and assorted debris, squared away in much the same formation as they have been for decades, bare fluorescent bulbs overhead, sports through the doors in back, photo down the hall.
But today — behind the double glass doors that still say Newsroom — that space is dark and empty … awaiting remodeling and repurposing in the new year. To find those who chase the stories, shoot the photos, build the pages and load the web pages, apps and social media … you take a right and a right and a right. Down that central passageway is the new media center, a modern newsroom designed to transition Tyler journalism into the future.
My morning walk also has been one of those familiar passages. For years, the Toll 49 right-of-way that cut through a few hundred yards west of my home was my walking trail. First, in the loose dirt and rock shared with earthmovers and graders, I scrambled in hiking boots. As the base took shape, packed hard and awaiting a final layer of asphalt, I wore out a pair of running shoes on its sandpaper surface. When the final topping went on and concrete bridges spanned creeks and county roads, my walks stretched as far as my stamina allowed.
Visitors were rare on "Berry's trail." Staying out of the way of dump trucks and construction vehicles, I was tolerated by the crews and was only asked to leave once. The road was smooth, straight and promising, but because the far end was undone and several key bridges unfinished, my stretch of road — striped and ready — remained closed for many months.
Walking the center stripe in those not-so-distant days, I thought of cars one day zipping along in straight, high-speed transit to the Interstate, never thinking of the dips and curves of the earth beneath, the tons of earth moved or removed to make that possible.
Walking under the tollgate and smiling for the camera as the lights flashed, I thought of travelers in the future who would pay their toll without thinking and in the same way never see the tracks of deer and coyotes in the wet mud of the ditches — telling their story of pursuit, evasion and survival.
They won't know how often the roadbed was rebuilt after downpours, understand what it took to mold the Tyler rose into the abutments of each bridge or remember the shady solitude of what had been stands of oak, pine, locust and holly that fell to the bulldozer's blade – all but the dozen or so rescued and growing tall in my yard.
This week, I walked Dean Road, my traditional route since Toll 49 opened. Where it jogs alongside the now-bustling highway, I clambered over the steel ranch gate and lounged for a bit on the slanted concrete base in the shade of the long bridge spanning a marshy creek that bears no name. I listened for a while to the steady chunk-chunk, chunk-chunk of vehicles bounding over the expansion joints and marveled that the wetlands beneath — once choked with red mud — has been reclaimed by reeds, cattails and water birds.
Instead of returning to the blacktop, I remained awhile on the right-of-way, climbing the cutaway hill that frames the roadbed. Well away from traffic below, I counted 16 cars and trucks in the space between the second and third bridge and wondered how we could have so badly underestimated the success of this road. Through the grass reclaiming the top of the slope, I made my way to the blacktop, crossed the guardrail and continued my walk past Hayden's pasture before turning once again for home.
I love passages. They are a common theme in my photography. Dublin's Temple Bar Alley in the rain, the ancient stair taking you to the River Boyne at Trim Castle, the shadow and light pattern of the western edge of The Quad at Stanford University, the trail along the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains, the path to the windmill at the farm, the cool confines of the footpath that reaches deep inside Big Bend's Santa Elena Canyon … each of these passages means something special.
Passages spawn memories and trigger imaginings of times and events unseen. They can transport you on a journey or transition you from one place to another.
The alley beside the newspaper office is just an alley — nothing special, certainly nothing to paint or memorialize. It is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago when I sat amid a smoky haze and won the managing editor's job.
I've walked that alley many times — with head down hunched against an icy north wind, with eyes fixed on orange-tinted clouds at sunset and with mouth agape looking up into the eye of a hurricane. I've walked past those ironclad windows that encase the pressroom, humming as it produces the product I worked all day to produce. I've walked out on election nights after midnight to a near-empty parking lot, satisfied with the day's efforts, made more enjoyable by the scent of baking bread from the nearby Flowers Bakery.
I did the math. Ten trips a week, 50 weeks a year, 20 years … 10,000 trips up and down that alley. And that's not counting horizon breaks — where I go to focus past the walls of the Newsroom; sanity breaks — where I pace the length of the alley searching for answers or solutions; and coffee breaks — where I perch on the concrete ledge with my mug and Snickers bar, red-lining copy and greeting smokers.
Through the years, the inside of the newspaper office has seen amazing change. Hundreds of people have come and gone. The old presses were modernized and computerized. Coverage procedures and processes were upgraded. The internet and digital age changed much about how stories are covered and reported.
Journalism has been in rapid transition, but the alley remained constant and unchanging. It has been a passage from one end of my career in Tyler to the other. Today, on my last day as editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph, I'll transition from editor to retiree and walk the alley one more time.
The 30-second walk to my Jeep in the parking lot across Elm Street is not enough time to reflect on all the friends I've made and the many stories I've have been privileged to help tell. Starting tomorrow, there will be plenty of time for reflection and storytelling.
Dave Berry retires today as editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. He will continue to write his Focal Point column, which runs each Wednesday in the My Generation section. Next week, he'll fulfill a promise made months ago and write about his first solo flight – on the tractor.