The leaves of the maple trees have turned an iridescent gold along the Oregon coast and in the inland woods, suggesting that each leaf shines from an inner glow generated by the sun. Among them in perfect harmony are the deep reds of the amber leaves, adding to the chromatic mix that creates the beauty of nature’s clock, ticking off the days to winter.
It is autumn, after all, and the beauty is but a hesitation between seasons, when the sun glares for a resurrecting spring and when the sky darkens and the rain falls. It was a perfect time for my wife, the distance-loving Cinelli, and I to be driving north out of L.A., pursuing the metaphor of passage that the 2,000-mile road trip allowed.
We were seeking out the keeper of our history in a little oceanfront town called Florence. His name is Gayle Montgomery. He worked as political writer for the old Oakland Tribune in the 1960s and ’70s, when we were a brotherhood of journalists, closer than most, united by our second-place status in the Bay Area, working together, partying together, and caring very much about each other under a legendary city editor named Al Reck, who saw to it that we did care.
When the winds of attrition began to split us up, Montgomery began tracking where we had gone, who was still a working journalist, what we had achieved, who had married, who was ill and eventually who had died—a list that was becoming longer as the autumns came and went, like the ticking of a seasonal clock.
Because we smoked cigarettes and partied hard, cancer, heart attacks and cirrhosis of the liver began to diminish our ranks. As I sat talking to Montgomery, I could see that time had altered him from an energetic young man to one who at 79 was slightly bent, balding and slower. But his mind remained quick and focused. I, at 84, knew he was viewing me the same way, wondering when the lightning stopped, where the thunder went.
We talked about Reck, about the loud and irascible assistant managing editor, Stanley Norton, and about the soft-spoken and endlessly polite Leo Levy who ran the Tribune, all of them now gone. We mentioned staff members Jerry Belcher, Ralph Craib, Billy Stokes, who went on to create BART, Bill Fiset, Lou Grant, Curly Lawrence, Russ Reed, Prentice Brooks, Art Hakel, Hal Risdon, Fred Monteagle, Bob Heisey …
Every one of them gone. Bill Boyarsky, who preceded me to the Los Angeles Times, remains an active part of the city’s political media, and I’m still bumping along, but we are few. Montgomery and I could still laugh over the memories of those wild and crazy days, and be at peace with who we were. I wondered when we left how long our era would last, and then took comfort in the fact that it has existed at all.
The golden leaves were falling as we drove home, scattered among their crimson counterparts, the glory of a moment blowing in the wind. I observed them with realization and sadness as the distance closed and the clock went tick, tick, tick, tick …
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