I don’t know much about anything, but I do know a little bit about a few things. I make the point because this is the time of year to look back, reflect on where we have come, and contemplate what we might make out of the promised light of the new year.
In some years I have taken stock of my financial position: Do I have any more money in the bank, any more value in my real estate, any greater reserves in my IRA, and any less principal on my all too many mortgages?
But this year I decided to think about what I know. Am I any wiser this year than last, and do I have any wisdom at all about anything in particular? It’s not a bad question, at any time of year, for journalists in particular. We journalists are often in possession of what used to be called “nickel knowledge” — enough to help us understand a certain subject on a certain day. Real knowledge is another matter.
So am really any wiser this year than last? Probably not. But I do know a little something about a few things:
1.) I decided I know a little bit about traffic on Route 1, since I have been participating in a somewhat scientific sampling of rush hour conditions for the past 20 years or so. That came in handy in a column two weeks ago, commenting on the hospital’s plans to move from downtown Princeton to the FMC site on Route 1 in Plainsboro. Given what I know, I wrote with respect to concerns that ambulances might get caught in Route 1 traffic enroute to the hospital, I would rather take my chances getting to a Route 1 location than to a Witherspoon Street location. No idle comment from a guy with coronary heart disease and two stents.
2.) I also know a little bit about putting out a community newspaper. Since 1984 I have helped produce about 825 issues of U.S. 1 and around 165 issues of the biweekly West Windsor-Plainsboro News. I have developed, for example, a bit of a feel for how many pages a certain issue should contain, given the advertising and editorial content.
But none of this approaches wisdom. On more than one occasion my staff and I have left the office on a Friday night with, say, a 56-page paper planned for the next weekend. On Monday morning the staff comes back to discover a 60-page paper waiting to be completed. Why didn’t you tell us Friday, some people have demanding in what might be considered an indignant tone. And they don’t like the answer: Because I spent a few hours over the weekend, reading the stories scheduled for that issue, evaluating which ones could be cut or postponed, and then dumping the rest into the 56-page format to see if they all fit. Give up a little of your weekend and you, too, can look like a genius on Monday morning.
3.) And finally, I decided in this orgy of year-end reflection, I know a little bit about what’s going on around town.
Once a year I conduct an in-depth examination of what’s happening, and every week I take a refresher course. The refresher comes when I edit the upcoming week’s events that appear in the paper’s Preview section. The in-depth exam comes when I sift through the events in our database for the upcoming year (nearly 3,400 already booked for 2007), and select the nearly 1,000 of them that get squeezed into the daily blocks of our U.S. 1 calendar.
That yearly exam just keeps getting tougher. If you haven’t noticed there is substantially more going on around town than back in 1991, when we produced the first of these calendars. We limited ourselves to five lines of copy for pre-printed events, and left the rest of the space blank for you to fill in with the really important events: mother-in-law’s birthday, kid’s dentist appointment, etc.
In the beginning we seldom used all five of our lines; this past year — or I should say this coming year — we used up our space on all too many days, including some in the second half of the year when many organizations have not yet settled on specific dates. On some days I cheated by combining two events on one line: NJ Folk Festival; Shad Fest, for example, on April 28. Organizations that used to get every one of its events listed now find just opening and ending dates listed. This year sometimes only the first game of a home stand for the Trenton Thunder minor league baseball team gets listed.
Even though I end up attending only a handful of these events during the year, I find the process of listing them rewarding in another way: It helps me slow down the passage of time.
Earlier this year I remarked casually to someone that I had just a certain number or years and months until one of those onerous mortgage obligations was paid off. “I’ll bet you can’t wait until that day,” they said. A few years ago my response would have been that I couldn’t wait. But this year, approaching my 60th birthday, the answer was different: I can wait and I am not eager for any period of my life, no matter how challenging, to rush by.
So with this issue we at U.S. 1 are sending our 2007 calendar to your office. Our hope is that every one of the 365 days gets crossed off slowly, and only after you have made the most of it. And if you are reading this and did not get a calendar, stop by the office and tell them Rich set one aside for you for free. While our supply lasts it will be my way of saying thanks for a great 2006.
And even though I don’t know much about anything, I do know that a writer should thank his readers at every opportunity. Thank you, each and everyone.