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.

The ties have it

In the immortal words of ZZ Top, “every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.”

What those gentlemen lack in grammar, they more than make up for in wisdom. And beards. But mostly the wisdom thing.

Unlike the fine, well-whiskered fellows of ZZ Top, however, I am anything but a sharp-dressed man.

That’s not to say the concept of dressing up is entirely foreign to me. I used to wear a suit to church every Sunday, and I actually enjoyed getting all dolled up for high school dances and the like.

My adult life, though, has been a different story.

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ZZ Top: Our logo looks like it was designed to cut sheet metal and it’s STILL not as sharp as our band members are dressed!

At the tender age of 25, I am the proud owner of eight dress shirts.

I’m not understating the amount for dramatic effect, either. I just went and counted.

(Actually, there were two in my closet that I had forgotten about.)

Now, given my abject hatred for shopping, I maintain that I’m doing PRET-ty well for myself in the dress clothes department.

Considering I have to wear a dress shirt every day for work, though, it’s clear I don’t have much of a margin for error.

For the better part of the last two years I’ve worn virtually the same five dress shirts on a loop. In fact, I have found myself even wearing the shirts in the same order week in and week out.

I don’t know if any of my coworkers have noticed, but certainly no one has lavished praise on my fashion savvy.

That’s changed recently, though. I’ve had five different coworkers compliment me on my shirts in the last two work weeks alone.

Now keep in mind: These same coworkers have seen me wear the exact same selection of outfits for months. I mean, dozens of times they’ve seen me in one of only a handful of dress shirts. What’s changed?

The difference, my friends, is the good ole Windsor Knot.

Everyone’s favorite neck irritant/spill hazard is apparently enough to make praiseworthy even the most well-worn of shirts.

It seems silly, I know. But here’s proof:

No tie

Look at this sorry sap — neck exposed like some kind of chump. No wonder no one will ever respect him. Or love him. Forget that promotion, and wave buh-bye to life as it passes you and your bare neck by. Never before have I seen …

Tie

Oooooooooh.

Now THIS is a neck that commands deference. This is a neck that can walk into a fine restaurant and get a table sans réserve-ation as the French from France would say. That neck is going places, my friends.

Now, I’m about to blow your mind. They’re both my neck.

Pause for dramatic effect.

I know, right? How could the slovenly simpleton in the first picture be even marginally associated with the go-getter in the second?

But it’s true, I promise. And you can trust me, because I’m wearing a tie right now.

So, remember everyone: A tie can elevate any wardrobe, from a three-piece suit to a swimsuit. Give it a try, and bask in the universal love and respect that comes with it.

And now for something marginally different.

This isn’t the first time in my life that I’ve come face-to-face with the shortcomings of my wardrobe. It used to be a topic of great interest among my friends in college, a group I affectionately referred to as the “Wildcat Women.”

They were my co-workers at The Daily Wildcat at the University of Arizona, and at times seemed to police my wardrobe as closely as they did the paper’s copy.

It was their tireless efforts that finally broke my habit of wearing socks with sandals — a practice that, though comfortable, brought me nothing but grief.

At one point in my college life, I only had two pairs of shorts. Both were plaid and green. I wore them on alternating days.

A few years later, I fondly brought up this threadbare period of my life, much to the shock of my then-girlfriend who had worked with me at The Daily Wildcat.

“Wait, you only had two pairs of shorts?” she asked.

“Yeah. Didn’t you ever notice that I wore the same ones all the time?” I responded.

“Well, yeah, but I thought you owned like five pairs of the same shorts,” she responded.

Blink, blink, blink.

“Why would I own multiple pairs of the same shorts?” I responded.

And now for something completely different.

I started my job at The Signal more than three years ago.

Not coincidentally, it’s been just about as long since I published my last blog post. I guess when you sit at a computer and write all the day the last thing you want to do when you get home is … sit at a computer and write some more.

Well, I’ve finally decided it’s time to stop doing my best George R.R. Martin impression and get the creative juices flowing again. I know not where this road may lead, but one thing’s for certain: Bad puns are coming.

Until next time: Take care and be good, everyone.

DAYS SINCE LAST BLOG POST: 1,294 0

Archives fully updated

After a long and arduous process of thinking, linking, rethinking and drinking … lots of coffee, I now have links up for every article I have ever had published at the Arizona Daily StarArizona Daily Wildcat and the Tombstone Epitaph. My articles from the Star also have their PDF versions uploaded, which I hope to do for the Epitaph ones soon. I also have fixed the weird formatting on my Wildcat page, which has been a problem since I launched the site.

I will be tinkering throughout the next couple of days to revamp the look of the site. Please feel free to give me feedback on how I can make it more visually appealing and easier to use. If you happen to notice any links that are broken or not accurate, shoot me a message via email or on Twitter.

My first foray into role playing (no, not like that)

I remember then first time I ever saw a Scantron sheet. It was third grade and, being a student in Arizona, I was taking a test that would prepare for me for the vigorous testing I would subject myself to in order to prove that I was learning.

Pictured: Learning.

Needless to say, the first time I ever sat down to one of these formidable forms, the only thing blanker than the sheet in front of me was my expression when I thought about how I had to fill it out.

Pictured: Freaking the eff out.

However, even more than a decade after that initial testing trepidation, I have yet to come even close to replicating that initial, sinking feeling.

Until yesterday, when I sat down to fill out a character sheet in Dungeons & Dragons.

Oh ... oh god.

Of course, this monstrous sheet was step two in the initial role playing process. First, I had to come up with a character, its background, personal and family histories, religious affiliation, nature, class, race, and how I fit into the larger campaign as determined by the Dungeonmaster. And that was all before I even looked at the character creation sheet.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover how you have to equip weapons and armor, buy items (including things ranging from horses to quill pens) and “buff,” or strengthen those aforementioned weapons and armor … yeah, it’s kind of a lot to take in.

Pictured: My feelings on the process up to that point.

Of course, then we started to play.

The best thing I can say about my brief experience with Dungeons & Dragons is that, for how downright bureaucratic they can be, they are incredibly freeing. The idea that you can do virtually anything, though undeniably intimidating because of its lack of direction, allows you to integrate yourself into both your character and the game. If that sounds nerdy, well, it’s because it kind of is.

But it’s the best kind of nerdy, the kind where you can get caught up on all of the most recent sci-fi shows without watching a single one of them. The kind where you do about 1 minute of actual, meaningful role-playing to 10 minutes of game time. The kind where you drink mead and don’t have to worry about being a total n00b, or any pwnage thereof.

Granted, I may be coloring myself as a tremendous dork (which, for anyone who knows me at all isn’t that big of a stretch) but I thoroughly enjoyed my first gaming session and look forward to more in the future.

Top 25 Favorite Songs of All Time (10-1)

It’s been about two months since I first embarked on this endeavor of musical self-discovery, and about a month since the last entry into that aforementioned endeavor. When I first started this, it was supposed to be an activity to keep me occupied over Winter Break, a distraction from the doldrums of vacation.

What it turned into, however, was an undertaking.

It’s hard to describe what makes a song good. Oh sure, it’s easy to single out songs you like, songs you dislike, and to judge songs against others. But to sit down and hash out what actually makes a song good, let alone what makes it a favorite, was far more difficult than I could have imagined. I started out with 50 candidates to this list and all the confidence in the world that I could trim it down into 25. But as I trimmed, more candidates appeared. Even as I released installments in the countdown, more candidates came to mind. And as I approached the final 10 that I would label as my favorite of all time, I began to realize just how difficult this whole shindig was turning out to be.

After all, music isn’t just something you can tap a foot along to or belt out in the shower. It’s a mood, it’s a tone. It’s something that is constantly evolving and effecting people in an array of different ways. Many of the songs on my list are on here specifically because they evoke some sort of powerful memory or emotional response. Does that make them the best songs ever? Certainly not, but it does make them something special to me, a criterion I hadn’t even considered when starting out.

But here they are, a top 10 list that I can say with 95 percent certainty is accurate, at least at this current juncture. I’m sure in a month or so I’ll look back and wish I could’ve changed some things, maybe reordered a few or added some others. But one thing I know is that if I only had 10 songs to listen to for the rest of my life, this would be them. So as to not besmirch the moment (or give myself additional work) here are my top 10 favorite songs of all time:

10. “Let Her Cry” by Hootie and the Blowfish

 

9. “Hammering in My Head” by Garbage

8. “Welcome to Bucketheadland” by Buckethead

7. “Americana” by The Offspring

6. “To the Moon and Back” by Savage Garden

5. “Black Friday Rule” by Flogging Molly 

4. “Tribulations” by LCD Soundsystem

3. “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” by Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip 

2. “Born of a Broken Man” by Rage Against the Machine

And my favorite song of all time is… 

1. “All I Really Want” by Alanis Morisette

 

25 Favorite Songs of All Time (25-21)

Let’s start off the first installment of my top 25 favorite songs of all time by spotlighting a few that didn’t quite make the cut:

Honorable mentions:

Dreaming of You” by The Coral 
I don’t really know what it is about this song, but I find it undeniably catchy. Maybe it’s the pronounced bass riff at the beginning, the subtle, yet effective organ background, or the fact that the music video involves a shimmying army official and a bear playing the trumpet …

Seriously.

It’s bubbly, infectious and good for laughs, but just not quite good enough to make the countdown.

“The Science of Selling Yourself Short” by Less Than Jake

I’m a huge ska fan, and this song is one of my favorites. Though I don’t have quite as much experience with Less Than Jake as I do with, say, Streetlight Manifesto, this song is one of the finest ska offerings I’ve heard. While some ska songs fall into a trap of repetition (play horns, play horns fast, end after four minutes) this one slows down the tempo. Plus you can actually understand what the singer is saying, imagine that!

This song could easily place in my top 40, maybe even my top 30, but it wasn’t quite suited for the top 25. Speaking of which…

25. “Surrender” by Dropkick Murphys

I may be a fan of ska, but I absolutely love Irish pop music, and the Dropkick Murphys are one of my all time favorites in the genre. (Genre? Subgenre? Not Important.) I love how the song opens, building gradually to the full instrumental accompaniment before dying down right as the vocals come in. The Murphys have always had a knack of making their music match their harsh, Bostonian candor, and, to be frank, they can sure write the hell out of a song. This song would be on the list for its lyrics alone.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this work is that, out of the the veritable ton of songs that are titled “Surrender,” this is the one that truly stands out.

I still haven't forgiven Cheap Trick for Guitar Hero II.

A great band, a great song, and a well-earned spot in the top 25.

24. “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits


This is Mark Knopfler.

See above.

See, the interesting thing about Mark Knopfler is that, in addition to being the frontman for Dire Straits, he is also a guitar god.

Like this, but less Zeusy.

Knopfler has long been one of my favorite guitarists, so much so that I seriously considered by tickets to see him play in Phoenix … for $200. Yeah. You can bet if I’d picked a career with a sound fiscal future I would have been all over that.

While Dire Straits has several other good songs, “Walk of Life” and “Money for Nothing” both spring to mind, this is the one that has always hit home for me. It’s more laid back and reserved than many of their other songs, and I’ve almost always preferred songs that are more mellow. But what really makes this song shine is the guitar. Knopfler has always been a tactician of the instrument, eschewing power chords and raw, guttural thrashing in favor of a cleaner sound, and nowhere is that more clear than here. The song’s main riff is constantly changing with every lyric, giving the song a dynamic feel that is so often lost in guitar rock.

And then there’s the solo.

No, not that one.

This solo exemplifies the song. It’s impressive without being overwrought, overbearing or overwhelming. It is, without hyperbole, one of the best guitar solos ever. That would be enough to make it memorable, but it’s everything else that makes it a favorite.

23. “Sad But True” by Metallica

One of the hardest things about this list was narrowing down my favorite songs by my favorite artists, and this was one of the most difficult decisions. While none of Metallica’s work has made a large enough impact to justify a higher position on the list, there were several songs that could have represented the band’s sole entry. “Master of Puppets,” “Fade to Black,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls” … the list goes on. But in the end, “Sad But True” rises above the rest because … well, I can’t really explain why. I know that sounds like a cop out, but this is one of those songs that I love, just because of what it is. There’s really nothing else to say. It’s Metallica. It rocks. I like it.

22. “Family Affair” by Mary J. Blige

If you’re looking for a pattern in my list so far, this one probably leaves you scratching your head. Let me spare you the effort, I just have incredibly bipolar taste in music. But let’s be honest, how can you not like this song?

That was rhetorical.

To me, this song represents everything that was great about R&B. The hook is amazing, the vocals sultry and complementary. Granted, from a lyrical standpoint it is … unimpressive to say the least, and Mary J. Blige changes hairstyles more often than Kim Kardashian changes husbands, but this is one of the few songs where I am not only willing to buy the “I only like it for the beat” argument, but wholeheartedly embrace it. Believe me, the beat is that good. You should all just feel lucky that I spare you from having to watch me dance to it. Speaking of dancing…

21. “Obsession” by Animotion 

How could I not include the song that inspired the White Guy Shuffle, my greatest, and heretofore only patented dance move. White Man’s Overbite notwithstanding.

Get...down?

This song is just so ’80s. The outfits, the hair, the…Aladdin shoe that the drummer is purportedly wearing. It’s all awesome. Another thing I love about this song is it’s so easy to miss what it’s actually about. The entire song is about asking someone what they have to do in order to sleep with someone. That’s about as subtle as Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” but the whole song is just so goofy that it’s hard to imagine anything that insidious lurking within the lyrics.

Bottom line, listen to this song. But fair warning, listen to it within earshot and I might just subject you to my aforementioned horrible dancing.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment of my top 25 favorite songs of all time.


Upcoming: My Top 25 Favorite Songs of All Time

It began innocently enough.

I was hitching a ride with my roommate up to Phoenix, one leg of my trip home for winter break, when the song “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind came on his iPod.

“This is probably one of my top 25 favorite songs,” he said.

“Huh,” I wondered aloud. “I wonder what my top 25 would be? We should come up with a list over break and compare when we get back to Tucson!”

The suggestion was innocuous enough, perhaps it would distract me during some of my holiday downtime. But over the course of the last few weeks, this self-imposed curiosity has turned into full-fledged obsession. I have notebook pages full of potential candidates, crossed out, rewritten, re-crossed out. But after much thought, I finally have it. My top 25 favorite songs ever. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be posting the list in blocks of five songs, with a few honorable mentions thrown in here and there since believe me, diluting a lifetime’s worth of musical experiences to only 25 songs was a next to impossible task.

Something to keep in mind as you read is that this is not meant to be a list of the best 25 songs ever. In fact, given my penchant for admittedly bad music, I can freely admit that there are songs that, for a variety of reasons, may be better. But these are my favorites, they, for all intents and purposes, constitute the playlist of my life.

So feel free to follow along with the countdown, and feel free to let me know what you think. The first segment will be up tonight.