Exactly half a lifetime ago, I came to Columbus … and stayed.
I’d had no such intention at the time. I was going to put in a few years and then head back to my hometown of Atlanta.
Now, 31 years later, I’m retiring from the same company that brought me here in 1986, although doing it in a different building just down the street from our old digs.
And when you think back to those days, why on earth would I have wanted to stay? Remember downtown in the mid-1980s? There were only a couple of places to eat, and one of them was in a furniture store. You could walk the length of Broadway during lunch hour and maybe see only about a dozen people. And they were window-shopping in wig shops.
And downtown after hours? Once the sun went down, the only commerce taking place downtown was the kind the Chamber doesn’t like to talk about. A service industry, you might say.
There was no Riverwalk, no RiverCenter and no TSYS. Kirven’s was packing up to leave downtown. The Civic Center was a leaky old barn of a place, there was no South Commons and the riverfront was a nasty place to be avoided. Hell, Country’s was still a functioning bus station.
Back then we were still driving across the 14th Street Bridge, because the 13th Street Bridge was still years down the road.
And speaking of those bridges, why would anyone have wanted to use them back then, other than to get to somewhere on the other side of Phenix City? There was no amphitheater, no Phenix City Riverwalk, no waterfront hotel or college campus. Broad Street over there was a smaller and maybe even dingier version of Broadway over here.
But then people of great vision (and influence, of course) stepped up and began a renaissance downtown that is still, three decades later, moving forward.
All through this, I’ve been blessed to be among those who worked downtown, so have witnessed first-hand and even been a small part of this remarkable transformation.
I’ve also been lucky to have been able to work with some really remarkable journalists, not just throughout the years but still to this day. I’m not going to name names because I’d only leave some of them out.
I’ve also gotten to work with more than a few of the kind of benign crazies this business has always attracted. I say “benign” because, although more than a few of them liked to carry guns to work (and this was back before that was so trendy), I can’t recall a single shot being fired in the newsroom. At least not in anger.
And then there were also a couple of genuine psychopathic reprobates, folks who qualified as human beings only in a strictly biological sense. Not that I’m one to bear grudges.
Along the way I’ve met and worked with politicians and public servants at all levels. Again they ran the gamut, from competent custodians of public offices to real dedicated public servants who made the city a better place. Again, no names, because I’d leave too many out.
So yes, I stayed. And why wouldn’t I? Columbus has indeed been good to me. But it’s never been better to this undeserving soul than the day Allison agreed to marry me.
So now, I ride off into the sunset, with her on my arm (and me on her insurance).
Seen something that needs attention? Starting April 24, Ben Wright will be assuming the role of the Inquirer. Contact him at benw@ledger-enquirer or 706-571-8576.