Golden oldies: friends, that is
We love meeting new people on the road, and we’re also able to reconnect with longtime friends who’ve moved away from Arizona.
In August, we rolled into Spokane to visit Gary Crooks, who we first met at the University of Arizona. Gary and his wife, Laura (Plachecki), were fellow journalists in Arizona, before moving to Washington to work at The Spokesman-Review. Laura died in 2006 of a heart failure that doctors cannot fully explain, leaving behind her young family, including son, Calvin, and daughter, Carly.
Tom and Gary, basketball and poker buddies, worked together at the Mesa Tribune and Phoenix Gazette, and all four of us worked at The Arizona Republic.
Laura became a legend in the bloodletting of the 1997 layoffs at The Republic, when so pregnant she was nearly in labor, she was told to pack her things and leave. She asked if Gary was being laid off. The management wouldn’t tell her. She told them she had carpooled with Gary. They offered to call her a cab. Laura stood her pregnant self up, refusing to leave until she spoke with Gary. They relented, called him, told him he was not being laid off, and let him drive her home. It remains one of the most heartless, tone-deaf, and poorly thought out management moves I’ve ever seen.
Shortly thereafter, Gary and Laura moved to Washington, where they both worked for The Spokesman-Review, Laura pursuing a new passion for food writing, and Gary soon moving from the copy desk to the editorial page.
We arrived in Spokane in a blanket of smoke rolling in from the fires burning across the state, looking for the post office, planning to meet Gary and the kids at home that evening. We circled the block searching for a parking spot and when we got out, Gary surprised us on the sidewalk. He had recognized The Epic Van from his office window and raced down to welcome us.
He showed us the newsroom, an eerie feeling as we passed the empty desks and spaces emblematic of the shrinking of staffs across the country.
We spent two days, eating pizza, drinking beer, catching up on life and regaling Calvin and Carly with crazy, naughty pre-corporate-newsroom stories. Calvin, a towering math and physics whiz, is heading off to his freshman year at the University of Washington, where he will study engineering. Carly, a willowy voracious reader and creative writer, like her mother (and father), is entering high school, where she will be on the dance team.
We talked about Laura as we strolled through Manito Park and Botanical Gardens. I asked Gary how he had managed to push through the grief and raise two bright, high-achieving children, a feat that seems miraculous to me, having felt overwhelmed at times with one child and two of us to parent.
“I have good kids,” he said, smiling, adding that counseling helped, as well as support from co-workers, family and friends.
On our last evening, we sat on the front porch, with cheese, more beer, and more reminiscing. We made plans to visit again over the holidays, when they come to Arizona to see family.
Old friends, they’re gold.