Monday, October 26, 2020

Day 231 Nat'l Emergency: My Fling with Gastonia

 I had another six degrees of separation moment Sunday morning as I lay in bed reading The New York Times online.


In an effort to explain Donald Trump’s desperate rush to hold rallies in suburban locales, The Times featured his trip to Gastonia, NC, the county seat of Gaston County, a suburb about 25 miles southwest of Charlotte.


Gastonia “has become a blue speck in a red county, with a majority Democratic City Council for the first time in recent history. And some said they saw new cracks here in the president’s support,” The Times reported (https://nyti.ms/35unAN3).


Forty-four years ago I was offered a job as a reporter on the Gastonia Gazette. Gastonia could hardly qualify back then as a blue speck on any electoral map.


How different my life would have been had I accepted that invitation.


After four years as a reporter on The New Haven Register, the last two as one of the paper’s six suburban bureau chiefs, I left to work as a press secretary for a congressional candidate. 


He lost. Badly. No one was surprised. Not that Michael Adanti, the mayor of Ansonia and a dean of Southern Connecticut State University, was a bad candidate. It was just that incumbent Ron Sarasin was an effective two-term congressman. 


With no job after election day, I was fortunate that Gilda was working as a newborn intensive care nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She was willing to relocate anywhere, except back to New York. 


The first paper to invite me for a tryout was the Gastonia Gazette (now called the Gaston Gazette). I flew into Charlotte on a Sunday, drove a rental car down I-85 and, for the first time, took a room in a Motel 6. For the next five days I “enjoyed” the South’s love affair with fast food restaurants. 


At one time a thriving community, Gastonia had suffered with the demise of textile manufacturing. Back in 1976 it had not yet attained status as an attractive suburb of Charlotte which had not yet experienced its growth as a financial industry center. 


To a Brooklyn boy like me, Gaston County was “different.” Miles and miles of two lane stretches with the occasional wooden shack set back from the roadway. It was easy to understand why several of my trial stories involved coverage of automobile accidents. Nothing too memorable or newsworthy happened during my week in Gastonia.


I must have made a favorable impression or the editor was desperate as he offered me a job on Friday. $200 a week. I told him I had left The Register because it paid just $200. He countered that the cost of living in Gastonia was lower than in New Haven. But college expenses for our not yet born children would still be unaffordable, said I. 


He really wanted me so he upped the offer to $250 and membership in a country club (I don’t think he knew I was Jewish, though to be fair, Jews have lived in Gastonia since 1892). There was one catch, however. Instead of the two reporters he hoped to hire, for $250 a week he expected me to do the work of two staffers. I resisted the call of the South.


A few months later, after also passing up a $200 a week salary from the Annapolis Capital Gazette, I answered an ad for a publication in the one city Gilda did not want to relocate to—New York. I got the job, Gilda agreed we could move to Westchester, and the rest, as they say, is history. 


About 25 years ago we traveled to Charlotte to attend a cousin’s wedding. We took a side trip to Gastonia to visualize what might have been. We had no regrets about our decision to come back to New York State.


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