Part One: CEP
The Career Experience Program. CEP. It had the ring of 1980s progressive rock, something Jeff Lynn would produce. What it was, was an opportunity to get three weeks “off” in Grade 10 and go to work for some supportive, unsuspecting employer in our small town.According to my written CEP profile test, I was best suited to crew a commercial fishing vessel. And while Vernon BC is surrounded by water (Okanagan, Kalamalka and Swan Lakes) the fact is, there wasn’t much demand for toxic clams, carp, sturgeon, or milfoil-eating shrimp. Still isn’t as far as I know. Although when the committee that introduced the weed-consuming crustaceans learned the aggressive little bastards destroyed every other living thing down there like Australia-decimating rabbits, there was a brief uptick in demand for a shrimping boat. But that came later. So I made the next logical career move one takes if unable to crew a trawler or seiner, which of course is to become a sports journalist. In fact the Vernon Daily News was one of perhaps, oh I don’t know, two employers in town to get cajoled and/or strong-armed into babysitting a young teen for the better part of a month.
I showed up for my first day promptly at eight a.m. in neatly pressed acrylic trousers (taupe), brown hush puppy knockoffs and long sleeve collared shirt in roughly matching ecru. It would be a few more years before we titans of industry sported suspenders and powerful yellow ties. My new boss was Mr. Freddie Shultz. For privacy I’ve changed Shultzy’s name. (It was actually Eddie Shultz.) I walked into the newspaper’s empty reception area and stood, waiting, awkwardly. Mind you, most things I did then I did awkwardly.
Mr. Shultz emerged from somewhere, nursing a stoneware cup of coffee, visibly surprised to see a scrawny, uncertain youth adorned in tan polyester and acne.
“Whoa, you’re up early! You must be Bill.”
I confirmed his suspicion. Awkwardly.
“Uh. Well. Right. I guess, let’s get started.”
Showing the greatest amount of respect, I thanked him for the opportunity.
“Hey, Mr. Shultz is my dad! Call me Freddie!”
Making me like Freddie immediately. The fact my only other boss prior to this was my dad added a neat circularity, and I hoped when I returned to work for dad I could call him Freddie too.
Freddie was the paper’s sports editor. He wrote most of the section’s articles, reporting on local games and piecing together AP stories along with major league results and standings. Occasionally there’d be a story of a local making a name for themselves in bigger arenas. Like most small Canadian towns it usually involved hockey.
He led me down a hall through a series of small offices and cubicles to the sports department – his desk. I admit I felt for the man as we stood there, him scratching his head, then his arm, then his head, looking like Lou Grant figuring out what to do with Mary, wondering if it was too early to crack the scotch drawer.
There was an audible bing as he invented something to keep me busy.
“Here,” he said. “You sit at my desk. Here’s a box of file photos – athletes and stuff. Sort through these. Get ’em organized.”
Then he vanished, a heavyset magician in a smoke-bomb cloud, leaving me to my first assignment as a sportswriter.
(To be continued …)