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Authors: Bryan Woolley

Wonderful Room

BOOK: Wonderful Room
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Texas Memoir

In 1955, when Bryan Woolley was 17, he said goodbye to his family and went to El Paso to become a newspaper reporter. He attended college too, but it was his education in the Mexican border newsroom of
The El Paso Times
that really prepared him for the rough-and-tumble life he would live and love for 50 years.
The Wonderful Room
is a lively story of the cantankerous, boozy, cynical and somehow heroic characters who once inhabited the newsroom of a great American town.

Woolley is the recipient of numerous honors for his writing, including the PEN West Literary Journalism Award; three Stanley Walker Newspaper Journalism Awards, and one O. Henry Magazine Journalism Award (from the Texas Institute of Letters); four Texas Headliner Journalism Awards; and the Spur Award for Best Historical Novel from the Western Writers of America.

Other Books by Bryan Woolley

Nonfiction

Texas Road Trip
Where I Come From
Mythic Texas
Generations
The Bride Wore Crimson
The Edge of the West
The Time of My Life
Where Texas Meets the Sea
We Be Here when the Morning Comes

Fiction
Sam Bass
November 22
Time and Place
Some Sweet Day

For Children
Home Is Where the Cat Is
Mr. Green‧s Magnificent Machine

The Wonderful Room: The Making of a Texas Newspaperman
© 2010 by Bryan Woolley

The Wonderful Room
first appeared in 2006 in
The Dallas Morning News
. Used by permission.
Illustrations by Dean Hollingsworth
© 2006 by
The Dallas Morning News

First Edition
Print Edition ISBN: 978-0-916727-74-1
ePub ISBN: 978-1-60940-000-2
Kindle ISBN: 978-1-60940-001-9
PDF ISBN: 978-1-60940-002-6

Wings Press
627 E. Guenther • San Antonio, Texas 78210
Phone/fax: (210) 271--7805

On-line catalogue and ordering:
www.wingspress.com
All Wings Press titles are distributed to the trade by
Independent Publishers Group • www.ipgbook.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Woolley, Bryan.
  The wonderful room: the making of a Texas newspaperman / Bryan Woolley. -- 1st ed.
      p. cm.
  “The Wonderful Room first appeared in 2006 in The Dallas Morning News”--T.p. verso.
  ISBN 978-0-916727-74-1 (hardcover: alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-1-60940-000-2 (ePub.) -- ISBN 978-1-60940-001-9 (Kindle) -- ISBN 978-1-60940-002-6 (library pdf.)
1. Woolley, Bryan. 2. Journalists--Texas--Biography. I. Title.
 PN4874.W6933A3 2010
 070.92--dc22
 [B]

2010004347

To the memory of Ed Engledow

INTRODUCTION

O
ne late night
after work in the 1950s, John Moran and I were sitting in the Stag Bar, drinking beer. He was the assistant city editor of
The El Paso Times
and I was its 18-year-old cub reporter. Moran was a fine editor and a lapsed Irish Catholic. Sometimes when he had had a few beers, he would become religious. The more beers, the more religious. One time he led me out of the Stag at closing time, took me home with him, woke up his wife and dragged us to the six o‧clock Mass at the cathedral. A sobering experience for a Baptist kid from the wilderness.

On this night, we were discussing the
Times
and our work there, and Moran said: “Woolley, being a newspaperman is like being a priest. It‧s a holy calling.”

During my nearly 50 years as a newspaperman, I considered my job that way, except in secular terms – finder of truth, fighter for justice, swashbuckler for freedom – rather than priestly ones. Many of the reporters and editors I‧ve known over the years have felt the same way. What we were doing was special and essential.

So I was startled some 25 years after that night at the Stag to hear an editor at
The Dallas Times Herald
speak of the paper as “our product.” It‧s a phrase I would hear more and more often during
the rest of my career as corporations took control of family-owned newspapers and the bottom-line mentality seeped into newsrooms. We weren‧t so much intrepid truth-finders and swashbuckling crusaders anymore. We were “content providers” making a “product” to be marketed like Cheerios or Bud Light, complete with focus groups to tell us what the consumer wanted.

Yes, my view is romantic and old-fashioned. I know newspapers have always been a business, and sometimes even a rotten one. But always there has been that thing that John Moran called holiness, that First Amendment thing, that holding of the mirror up to the face of government and culture. No other news medium – radio, TV or now the Internet – does that. Often they just shrink and repackage what they get from the newspapers.

Now the daily papers that the country has read for the last 250 years may be fading away, to be replaced with the electronic gadgets and the video screens that most Americans now spend their lives staring into. I‧m afraid our democracy is in big trouble.

This small memoir is a gathering of a few memories of my early days as a kid reporter in the cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on the Rio Grande in the 1950s, when the world and I were young and learning to be a newspaper reporter was the finest adventure I could imagine. It was a rough-and-tumble life, but yes, there was something holy about it. It sent a tingle
through the mind and heart that I fear not many young people get to feel these days.

The book originally was a series that ran in
The Dallas Morning News
during the summer of 2006. My editor, Mike Merschel, had been listening patiently to my old war stories for years. He suggested that I write some of them down and ofer them to our readers as a light summer entertainment. Maybe he thought that once they were in print I would stop inflicting them on him. In any case, I thank him for the opportunity to do the series and for his always careful and excellent editing of it.

I also thank
The Dallas Morning News
for its permission to reprint these words and Dean Hollingsworth‧s illustrations of them, and especially Editor Bob Mong and Deputy Managing Editor Lisa Kresl for their help in obtaining that permission for me.

The stories come entirely from my own memories, so there may be a few factual errors in them. Nearly all the people who could correct me have passed on, and their memory probably wouldn‧t be any better than mine anyway.

I‧m fiercely grateful to that holy El Paso newsroom
gangito
, as some of us called it. They taught me everything.

Bryan Woolley
Dallas
October 2009

SECTION   A
I BEGIN

 

O
ne spring afternoon
in 1953, my sophomore year at Fort Davis High School, I fell into a quarrel with my algebra teacher. She was handing back homework papers she had graded. She didn‧t give me one. I asked why.

“You didn‧t turn it in,” she said.

“Yes I did.”

“No you didn‧t.”

“Yes I did.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” she asked.

“If you‧re saying I didn‧t turn in my homework, you‧re a liar,” I said.

The teacher grabbed my wrist and led me to the office of George Roy Moore, the school superintendent. As we entered, she burst into loud sobs.

“What on earth…?” Mr. Moore asked.

The teacher — a young woman not long out of college -- blubbered incoherently. One sentence, however, rang through like a gong: “He called me a liar.”

Mr. Moore asked no questions. He told the teacher to return to her classroom. She departed, snuffing.

To me, Mr. Moore said, “Shut the door.” Then he said, “Empty your back pockets and bend over the desk.”

I remember the contents. My right rear jeans pocket held my wallet and a white handkerchief, used. The left held a black pocket comb and a folded copy of
Glory to Goldy,
the school play we
were practicing. I situated myself as Mr. Moore had instructed. He took of his belt, doubled it, and whacked my backside with it exactly 20 times. “All right,” he said. When I turned around, Mr. Moore was putting on his belt. Now tears glistened in his eyes, too.

His family and mine had been friends for generations. We were not-too-distant kin. Mr. Moore had gone to school with my mother. My grandmother had been his sixth-grade teacher. Now she was a member of the faculty he led.

I didn‧t mind the whipping much. Tough I had turned in the algebra homework, I had been wrong to call the teacher a liar in front of her class. Whippings were a common punishment for schoolboys in those days. Among a boy‧s buddies, a whipping was even a badge of honor, evidence of badass toughness.

But Mr. Moore‧s tears made me ashamed. I knew they were for my mother and my grandmother, not for me.

“There‧s no point in your going back to class,” he said. “Sit down. Let‧s talk.”

I eased my tingling backside into the hard wooden chair beside his desk. Mr. Moore was a quiet man with calm blue eyes and prematurely gray hair, respected by everyone. He rested his elbows on the edge of the desk and laced his fingers together in here‧s-the-church-and-here‧s-the-steeple fashion. The blue eyes gazed at me for a long time. I remember the slow tick of the pendulum clock on the office
wall. Finally, he said, “You‧re a smart boy, Bryan.”

I silently agreed. In those days, I believed myself a lot smarter than I was, a self-delusion that experience eventually would correct.

“What are you going to do with your life?”

“Sir?”

BOOK: Wonderful Room
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