E. Thomas McClanahan

Wait, how did two years stretch into 28?

Updated: 2013-06-03T14:34:44Z

By E. THOMAS McCLANAHAN

The Kansas City Star

I looked down. It was a shovel — not a toy shovel, not a little garden trowel, but a full-sized spade. The security guard at The Star said a guy from Independence dropped it off earlier that morning.

This was the Wednesday after Election Day, 1996.

A note tied to the shovel with a purple ribbon said that since I had spent so much time shoveling a certain barnyard material into the paper, maybe it was time I shoveled some out.

Along with the note was a column I wrote earlier that year, laying out the scenario for a Bob Dole victory over Bill Clinton. At the time, it seemed possible. Really.

The clouds had parted. The planets had realigned themselves. We would reach the sunlit upland plains .…

Man, that was a dumb column. My wife, Judy, still mentions it whenever I make predictions about politics.

But I was floored by the Independence guy, who had gone to a great deal of trouble to have a bit of fun at my expense. I think that’s one of the things I’ll miss most about this job, because my shoveling days are coming to an end with retirement. This is the last column I’ll write as a staffer at The Star.

Sometimes people ask me what it’s like, working with “all those liberals.” The question always embarrassed me. As colleagues go, mine have been among the most congenial in my experience.

Sure, we’ve had our moments. It’s inevitable when you don’t see eye-to-eye on many things.

But disputes over politics never festered into feuds over personalities, and I learned that the occasional clash is actually a benefit. You have a better idea where the points of disagreement lie, and that helps when you sit down to write.

Besides, none of us is under the illusion that we’re writing on stone tablets here. Playful needling is part of the program. You have to be able to laugh.

I came to The Star 28 years ago, seeking a lifeboat from a foundering United Press International. I was one of many who arrived in the mid-1980s and thought, well, a couple of years and then off to some place better.

But I never got around to looking for that better place. I knew there were worse places. I’d worked in a couple of them. This one had turned out pretty well.

Three years after I was hired, the late Jim Scott brought me onto the editorial page. After a time I was allowed to write a bi-weekly column, and then weekly.

I learned the truth of Voltaire’s dictum, that the “necessity of saying something, the perplexity of having nothing to say, and a desire of being witty, are three circumstances which alone are capable of making even the greatest writer ridiculous.”

And whether you stumble or write a bell-ringer, readers will let you know.

That connection with an audience is one of the best things about the job.

When I was in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do.

In the space for major, I put “journalism” because my Dad worked at The Denver Post, on the business side.

I found I could do the work and enjoyed it, and after that I had no thought of doing anything else. I was able to make my living putting one word after another.

To those who came to this space every week, whether you agreed or not with what you found, thanks for reading. You made it fun.

To reach E. Thomas McClanahan, call 816-234-4480 or send email to mcclanahan@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/ETomKCStar. Coming next Sunday: a column by longtime Johnson County columnist Steve Rose.

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