I had been hired on a part-time basis as a reporter, my first professional writing opportunity.
As explained to me during my interview, my responsibilities included working a full day Saturday in the newsroom (working on the weekend was part of paying your dues), answering the phone and calling local police stations and area hospitals to inquire about any new arrests, accidents or other such pleasant events.
The remainder of my weekly hours were to be spent working in the entertainment section (as it was called then), doing whatever editor Don Lechman and Joe Bensoua (who is still working at the Breeze) told me to do. Over time, an added benefit to this assignment was getting to attend and write reviews for several great concerts at the Roxy Theatre: Tower of Power, a young Steve Martin (when he wore a white suit, played the banjo and had an arrow through his head), and Chuck Mangione, the best -- and only -- fluegelhorn player I've ever heard.
Having been told I would be alone at the city desk on Saturday mornings, I was very surprised to walk in on my first day and see Jim Box, the Daily Breeze editor, juggling the phones and coordinating a busy newsroom.
He quickly explained to me that an oil tanker, the Sansinena, had exploded while docked in Los Angeles Harbor several hours earlier. It was a major local disaster. The only knowledge of the incident at this point was a phone call telling him, "We had a helluva explosion in the harbor."
By this time, he had already dispatched an experienced reporter to the scene, and told me that it was my responsibility to transcribe her notes as she phoned in updates and pull together the article for Sunday's morning edition.
So here I am, all of two hours into my first day of work, writing a lead story under deadline, with my editor (somewhat) patiently waiting to review my draft. "Wow," I thought, "so this is what working for a daily newspaper is all about."
Even with my inexperience, and with lots of suggestions, reviews and edits, it somehow came together. An amazing first day of work.
When I woke up Sunday morning and went outside to get the Breeze, there it was: a front-page byline with my name! For a reporter, there is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing your name in print, especially on Page 1. It's something you strive for every day, and due to timing and circumstances, it enabled me to achieve it on my first day as a reporter.
I left the Breeze a few years later when I was offered a job in corporate communication, which was considered treason by dedicated newspaper reporters. The sole reason: a salary increase of $20 a week. I thought I was living large. As it turned out, my transportation costs from Lomita to LAX (even though I drove a Volkswagen bus) more than offset what I thought was my new financial windfall.
After that short stint in Los Angeles, my career took me to Seattle, Chicago and Houston. But now I'm back to my roots, the place where I grew up and where I started my professional life as a writer.
One of the biggest pluses about being home: I've been able to write an occasional column for the newspaper where it all began. After all these years, as a former reporter, there's nothing quite like seeing my name in print again in the Daily Breeze. Even if it is on Page 2.
Steve Gray grew up in Redondo Beach and was a staff writer for the Daily Breeze from 1976 to 1979. He now lives in Old Torrance.
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