“How do y’all think you say that?” drawls our raggedy-bearded, rotund bus driver, gesturing toward the glowing Wakulla Inn & Suites sign. It’s of Indian origin, he declares, but the locals apparently developed their own pronunciation. “Weaaaahhhlll killlll yuhhh!” he bellows, cracking up before the last of the “uhhhs” can escape his throat. Decidedly amused by the joke, he allows for a few more chuckles before following us up into the bus. The doors swoosh shut, and he wheels us into the darkness.
With one foot on the Panhandle and the other scraping the edge of some muted oblivion, Wakulla rests 24 lonely miles from Tallahassee, lost between a Jason Isbell song and Rust Cohle’s mind. Battalions of thin, greyish trees pull upward and then burst into a horizon-defining, earthy green blanket that stretches on for ages. Midnight-black spells of unwinding back road find light in the bright reflection of high beams and the sporadic promises of Dollar Expresses and Savannah’s Country Buffet’s elusive $2 breakfast. Passing through under the cover of night, “Weaaaahhhlll killlll yuhhh!” feels empty and overwhelming, sprawling and consuming.
It’s exactly what I wanted.
Throwing a mind-numbing quote from a coach at the end of your story is almost always the easy way out. It’s the frilly bow, the dangling escape rope left to save you from the torturous process of digging in one last time to pull it all together with biting wit or lasting insight. After writing columns every week for the last two semesters, it’s tempting to say, “Hey this was great, thanks for everything, see you around.” The thought of that felt just like copping out of the finale of a story, though. A coach can tell you that they played hard and they’ll be ready for the next game, but there’s gotta something better, something deeper than that.
I left my penultimate newspaper production last Wednesday night feeling utterly tortured, my stomach pitted. Testing every inch of my pillow and staring at the ceiling for hours on end, apprehension of this final column wracked and rattled my head—what the hell do you write if you can’t figure out how you feel? Even if I wanted to tie that metaphorical bow on the last year of my life, I didn’t know where to find it. So, I stopped trying to write and started hoping one more road trip, one more adventure with our Photo Editor, Emily, would help me figure it out.
Ever since I lied to everyone and promised to dial down the weirdness in that first column back in December, being Sports Editor has reigned supreme over every other aspect of my life. It brought me to points of elation and exhaustion, took me to the Heisman Ceremony and tossed me head first out of a Web Apps class. I covered Shreveport and Philly, Johnny Gaudreau and Tyler Murphy, and lost hours of sleep grappling with layout and putting our Managing Editor, Joseph, and Layout Editor, Maggie, in fits on the wrong side of our 2 a.m. deadline. Jerry York awed me, Steve Addazio electrified and floored me, and the unending stream of scores, tweets, stories, and edits barred me from the Plex for months. I made wonderful friends I’ll never forget, and lost a few along the way. A year later, I don’t know whether or not I truly loved this job. But I do know I needed it.
Banking away from the falling sun, the plane’s windows revealed the glare of a Tallahassee sky turned golden hour dreamscape—like scoops of ice cream piled from the ground up into the sky, layers of navy piled on cerulean, which in turn crushed baby blue, leaving a light yellow tint melted into a hazy infinity on the horizon. Sometimes acknowledging the surrealism of a moment in time just increases its potency. An hour earlier, a bespectacled Addazio made his way throughout the plane, stopping to speak with each row. “Oh, you got a cookie there!?” He half-yelled to a girl six or seven rows in front of me. “That’s good for you.” It was weird, but it was sincere. It was candid—it just felt right.
These are the tiny, perfect moments that will stick with me forever. Growing up, I inhaled adventure books—Harry Potter, Eragon, Pendragon, Narnia, The Hobbit, Artemis Fowl, Ender’s Game—and a sort of hopeless romanticism, an adventurous idealism, grew within me and never quite died. Life is about the journey (so goes the saying, at least), but somewhere along the line, just the simple idea of taking the next journey became enough to keep me going in the crappiest of times. I don’t read too many adventure books these days, but writing these columns and stories gives me the same sense of solace as diving into a book from Borders and returning it two days later, pages dog-eared but the return desk staff none the wiser. Writing is an escape, a way to check out and to lock in, to absorb the moment but also to remove myself from it. After a night of reflection in the middle of somewhere, I realize The Heights gave me adventure after adventure, an endless stream of journeys to look forward to—and I am forever grateful for that.
It’s 1 a.m., this hotel room is sweltering, and in 13 hours or so, Boston College plays Florida State University in the biggest game I’ve ever covered. By the time this is online and in print, we’ll know who won, but right now, I feel at peace with whatever happens. Finishing a great book always used to make me sad. Over and over again, endings left me crushed, face first on the pillow, hoping the story would keep going. I never learned, though, and I always picked up another story. My journey as your Sports Editor is over. Assuming I make it out of “Weaaaahhhlll Killlll Yuhhh!” alive, it’s been a helluva run. I want to sincerely thank you for sharing it with me, and for staying with me no matter how weird it (I) got.
It’s time for the next adventure.
Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff