Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

April 16, 2012

When everything’s OK, it’s time to watch out for the next bad thing

— s I drove to the office on Easter Sunday before starting to write this column, I started thinking that things were going pretty good for the moment. I spent some quality time in fellowship during lunch with my mother-in-law and my wife. I had stories to write for the paper. Eddie McQuail called to give me a news tidbit for my “Our Towns” column and not to request a correction for an earlier story. And to top it off, my Buick was running smoothly.

The thought was no more than out of my mind than my car just stopped running. The tachometer needle dropped to zero, and the idiot lights in the dash console came on. Of course, growing up with cars I knew that I just had to punch it into neutral and start the engine again. I did, and the car started running again, but within a matter of seconds, I was thinking about all the challenges I would have to face if my car didn’t restart that time.

My 1967 Corvair restoration project remains a long way — months at best, perhaps another year or more — from being even remotely considered road worthy. My Buick Regal is simply too good of a car to trade in, but it has cut-out on me several times during the past few months. Since everything else works so well, I think it has to be something fairly simple, but the problem seems to be too evasive to get picked up on the automotive version of Spock’s tricorder used at local garages.

Of course, my response to persistently troubling developments remains the same as it has always been — to exercise additional caution and work toward a permanent solution. But in truth, even minor challenges can often become catastrophic. In times like these, my mind starts trying to figure how much time and money it will take to get the Corvair on the road, and I try to compare the difference between the time and expense of getting a real old car in running condition or whether I need to start looking at a new cycle of car payments. My wife doesn’t think that another car payment is in the mix.

All that got me to thinking about my pal and my colleague, the late Jim Terry. Jim was a distinguished member of the Fourth Estate, and as such, he knew he had to accept a life where just about everyone can and will pick a bone with darn near everything you write, and he came to accept the fact that newspapering isn’t one of those high-paying jobs people dream about having. This just in: A new CareerCast’s list of Best and Worst Jobs making the rounds these days ranks newspaper reporting as fourth from the worst or 196th out of 200 of the top 200 jobs. Broadcast journalists are at 190th.

Jim wore a suit and tie to work every day, but he usually drove to work in a rather modest vehicle. Through many of the years we worked together, he had an old red Chevy sub-compact. He had a brother-in-law in the used car business, so his vehicles changed from time to time, but they were mostly vehicles with a lot of character and a lot of previous owners. Jim often said that his idea of detailing his vehicles was to take the hubcap out of the back seat and throw it in the trunk.

One evening, I had gone to cover a Human Rights Commission meeting at Bluefield City Hall. When I arrived, I spoke with Rabbi Elbert “Bert” Sapinsley, who mentioned that Jim Terry had covered a previous meeting of the commission, and wondered if Jim was OK. I told him he was fine, and that I was just covering the story that evening. Then Rabbi Sapinsley mentioned that he saw Jim when he arrived at the earlier meeting, and mentioned that he was driving an old car, and the old car looked like a wreck.

In the years to come, Jim and I frequently laughed about the Rabbi’s observation. Jim often said that his old beat-up car was just a prop to assert his humble side, but in truth, it was the car he drove. Rabbi Sapinsley appeared surprised that a person of Jim Terry’s stature and position in the community along with his extraordinary command of the written word would be driving such an ordinary car. Jim and I both reckoned the Rabbi must have thought it was Jim’s prop car. His other car was a Mercedes Benz or a Cadillac.

One of these days I’ll figure out what is causing my car to cut-out when I least expect it. With all the electronic gizmos, power steering, power brakes and other accouterments of modern driving, I hope it doesn’t cut-out at a critical time. My 2000 Buick isn’t a prop, just like its predecessor, my 1995 Taurus. When I was searching for a possible replacement for the Taraus, I mentioned to Lang Hurley that I was looking for a new used car, but it didn’t have to be a luxury car like the Taurus.

“You’re my kind of guy,” Lang responded. “You think that a 1995 Taurus is a luxury car.”

I thought everyone did.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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