I remember it well
I will never forget when my old pal Chris Busby called in the winter of 2004 and said he had something he wanted to discuss with me. Could I meet him for coffee?
Busby was going to start up a paper, an alternative monthly akin to the Casco Bay Weekly. He’d done his homework, and he had a plan. We would start with an online version, build an audience and move to print in a year or two. The launch was scheduled for September 2005.
Would I write a column for it?
At this point in my illustrious career, I’d been out of the column-writing business for three or so years, since the demise of CBW and with it, my column, Outta My Way. I thought I was enjoying the respite from chronicling my every cootie issue and jerk encounter. I deflected those “I miss your column” remarks I’d get around town with a demure, “Well, it was a good run, wasn’t it?” Sigh.
I thought I was on to other (read: bigger and better) things. My husband, John, and I had just bought a house. My first book, Maine & Me, had recently come out. I had a fancy New York agent interested in my work. And the blogosphere was starting to invade the world of first-person prose. Everyone, it seemed, had jumped on the “me, me, me” bandwagon, and it was getting crowded. I’d been happy to hop off.
So, I did what I usually do in these situations: I said, “sure.” The likelihood of Busby’s paper actually getting off the ground seemed iffy. No reflection on Chris, but people dream and scheme out loud all the time about things — stuff like the arm dickie (a detachable sleeve that shields a driver’s left arm from the sun, so one doesn’t have to don an entire shirt), or the Exec-U-Bib (spill protection for the executive on the go who has to eat in his or her car).
(OK, laugh if you want, but these are really, really good inventions that just so happen to be mine and John’s, respectively. We’ve been refining and fine-tuning them for years — e.g., the glove attachment for the arm dickie, and the crumb-tray feature for the bib. We plan to retire on the proceeds someday, so don’t steal these ideas, OK?)
These grand plans usually remain just talk. So, by “agreeing” to write a column, I figured I could get the good-friend points without actually doing anything.
Except that a few months later, Busby contacted me again to inform me all the wheels were turning and we needed to discuss my column. He was calling my bluff!
When we met, I told him I was not interested in doing a repeat of Outta My Way. We talked about food writing and travel. I’d long wanted to cover unloved locations around Maine — mill towns, county seats and off-season spots — and give them the tourist-destination treatment. (My motto: If it’s got a bar, a place to hike and a junk shop, I can have fun there.) But doing so would require me to leave my office. (Eventually, I roused myself and acted on this idea, resulting in the feature Downtown, Maine, several installments of which later appeared in The Bollard.)
What, I wondered, could I write about that would be a little less labor-intensive? (Read: require no work whatsoever.) John and I had just endured the ordeal of shopping for our first home at the height of the Portland housing bubble. I’d kept notes. Plenty of fodder there. I wouldn’t even have to pick up the phone. I figured I’d write a few columns about that just to help Busby get his enterprise off the ground, and then I’d be off the hook.
Well, here we are, five years hence. There are many things I did not anticipate when I agreed to write this column. For example, that nothing would happen with my fancy New York agent. That maintaining one flimsy theme — the process of buying a house — could not be sustained. That once a cranky, carping columnist, always a crank. I did not anticipate how exiled I’d feel living a mere five minutes from the peninsula, and how writing this column would serve as a link to my former downtown life. And I certainly could not have foreseen how, in this year of mourning and remembrance following the loss of my mother, having a place in print would console and sustain me.
All around us, print media is going down in flames. So, I am grateful that Chris Busby has managed to keep our little craft aloft these past five years.
Elizabeth Peavey sends congratulations to her old pal and says, “Keep the ink flowing.”