Taking the next step

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Goodbye, old friend.

It was a warm summer day in September 2012 when I first stepped inside The Santa Clarita Valley Signal offices in Valencia.

I was wearing a faded pair of blue jeans and a red/pink button-down shirt — college friends probably know exactly the one I’m talking about — which counted as dressing up for me in those days.

My grandmother and I had driven in that morning, steering her gold-colored Dodge Caravan down a series of five freeways from Lake Elsinore to Santa Clarita.

It was the first time I had ever driven on California’s infamous freeways so, needless to say, I was already a bit shaken by the time I dropped her off at the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall so I could go to my “interview.”

I say “interview” because it wasn’t your typical “sit down and get to know you” affair.

Lila Littlejohn, then the paper’s city editor, handed me a copy of the paper, on which she had circled two events with pink marker.

My “interview” was to go cover those two events, return to the office and file a story on each.

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Yes, I still have a copy of that paper.

It was a scary proposition — the journalism equivalent of learning to swim by having someone throw you in the deep end of the pool.

I wasn’t unprepared, though. Like any journalist worth his salt, I had an inside source who had told me this was coming.

Still, I was driving an unfamiliar vehicle in an unfamiliar place to cover unfamiliar events to the satisfaction of unfamiliar editors.

In the balance was my first post-college journalism job. No pressure.

I first learned of the job opening at The Signal from my friend Misha — the same person who had first hired me at the University of Arizona’s student newspaper, The Daily Wildcat, and who had inspired me to give journalism a try to begin with.

The first question that came to mind, though, was a simple one: Where in the heck was Santa Clarita?

A quick Google search revealed I had been there already. Several times, in fact.

To the uninitiated, Santa Clarita is more commonly known as “the town next to Six Flags Magic Mountain,” a theme park I have visited often with my family. Many times before I had squirmed impatiently in the backseat until the familiar skyline of the rollercoasters appeared off Interstate 5.

What I found out quickly, though, was that Santa Clarita was far more than just the “Thrill Capital of the World.”

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I got to cover the opening of a roller coaster. It was awesome. 

(Fun fact: Six Flags isn’t actually even in the city of Santa Clarita, it’s on unincorporated county land. OK, maybe “fun” is overselling that tidbit a tad, but I find it interesting.)

My first two assignments were both in Newhall. What’s Newhall? It’s one of four communities that came together in 1987 to form the city of Santa Clarita, along with Canyon Country, Saugus and Valencia.

Of course, I didn’t know that back in September 2012. I was just trying not to get lost.

I ended up covering an “end of summer” book sale at the Newhall Library — the old library, I was told, as a new one would open later that month — and a “Cheer Spirit Day” at a local high school.

Returning to the newsroom, I hammered out my stories, said goodbye to Lila and then-Executive Editor Jason Schaff, picked up my grandma at the mall and drove back to Lake Elsinore.

The next morning, I pulled up a copy of The Signal’s e-edition to see if my stories had ended up running.

Both were on the front page.

“Well,” I told my grandparents over breakfast, “that’s a good sign.”

That one day led to almost three and a half years of work at The Signal.

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Some of the more than 50 notebooks I filled while at The Signal.

During that time, I covered controversy and comedy. Tragedy and exhilaration. The routine and the wacky.

There was the time the local congressman told a protester, “If you touch me again, I’ll drop your ass,” or when a then-City Council member called a resident “poison” and “toxic.” The same council member would later clash with one of his colleagues over an old city advertising campaign called “Mayor Dude.”

Yup. “Mayor Dude.”

I wrote about a contentious back and forth between a judge and a local developer and spoke with people from as far away as Alabama, Illinois and Texas to examine a proposed new balloting system for Santa Clarita’s city elections.

The job could also be unsavory at times.

Once, I had to call a woman on Christmas Day to ask how her husband, seriously injured in a crash the day before, was doing. I had to call a man to see if a woman who had died in a car crash earlier that day was his daughter.

All told, I wrote more than 2,000 stories while at The Signal. I would joking tell people that I was assigned the “potpourri” beat because I covered a little bit of everything.

Now, after more than three years of work, I am leaving The Signal for a position with the Daily Pilot in Orange County.

Even now, almost a week after my last day at The Signal, it’s difficult to think that the ride is over.

But man, what a ride it was.

I had both the opportunity to write some interesting stories and the pleasure of working with some of the finest journalists I’ve ever met.

I have also made some of the greatest friends ever.

Though I look back on my time at The Signal fondly, I know in my heart it’s time to tackle a new challenge and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for me.

The past few months have seen a lot of changes in my life, both professionally and personally. I enter the next chapter of my life confident, though, because of what I’ve learned from the great people I’ve met, worked alongside and spent too many nights at Big Wangs with.

Thank you, everyone. Here’s to the future.

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