Do you remember dancing in September?
September 1 is a pretty eventful day for me, so says Facebook.
On this day 15 years ago, I started my first real journalism job. And most importantly, 17 years ago, I met Aimee.
Let’s reminisce …
“Golden dreams were shiny days”
I spent the summer of 2000 interning at the AJC, writing, writing, writing for every section, hoping to land a job. I’d put all my proverbial eggs in that one basket. And I had awesome people like Keith Graham and Barb Senftleber lobbying for me.
But summer ended, September came and then-editor-in-chief Julia Wallace called me into her office and said I should look elsewhere — a smaller paper. “In my experience,” she said, “whenever someone starts off at a big paper like the AJC for their first job, they lose their fire, their drive.”
Instead, she said, I could stay on, past the internship, as a part-timer while I landed someplace else. That was September 1, 2001.
Eleven days later, America changed. As did the course of my journalism career. When the attacks happened, I worked for 73 hours straight, sleeping on the office couch, eating Snickers bars. At a time when very few media outlets had made inroads into the Muslim and immigrant community, I was someone who was part of both. This was my chance, I thought, not just to prove myself — but to meaningfully contribute.
I did whatever I was asked to do, and some of them were really hare-brained assignments. One was to go to high-rise buildings and ask office-goers if they were nervous about working there. Me, a brown guy, walking up to the security guards in building lobbies with a notepad and asking, “Excuse, how many floors does this building have?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Oh, just for a story.”
The other was an assignment to document 24 hours in the life of the Atlanta international airport. Three reporters, eight hours each. Because the attacks had prompted cities to limit access to terminal gates to passengers only, I was told to buy a ticket for a flight leaving for Miami, talk to travelers waiting to board, and — right before the flight — leave.
“How much do you want to bet I’ll get arrested?” I asked my editor.
“Nah, you’ll be ok,” he replied.
Sure enough, I was pulled aside, taken to a room where two agents said they “just wanted to talk.” They were nice enough to leave the door slightly ajar so, you know, I didn’t FREAK THE EFF OUT! They asked me what I was doing (“Oh, interesting concept for an interesting”), why I was doing it (“Oh, you’re a journalist?), whether I had an ID or a business card (“Oh, you don’t because you’re not a full-timer yet? Hmm.”)
It all worked out. I still have no arrests in my record.
The attacks happened Tuesday. On Sunday night — the day before I was to leave for my first interview, at the Lexington Herald-Leader — I got a call from metro editor Cindy Gorley: How would I like to come on board full time?
The next morning, there was an email waiting for me from Julia Wallace: “Welcome to the AJC. Now, prove me wrong.”
“Love was changing the minds of pretenders”
I went to Morehouse, an all-male school, Sure, there was the all-female Spelman College right next door. But my roommate at the time, Kelven, came back with tales of this wondrous place just a few MARTA stops away called Agnes Scott, full of hot college girls who were tired of dating Tech guys. “You need to explore that,” he said. (I’m paraphrasing. He put it way more crudely.)
At the time, I was the editor of the campus newspaper. And I figured the easiest ‘in’ was to reach out to the editor of the Agnes Scott campus paper. And so I did — a certain someone named Aimee. She was super friendly — but I needed a reason to make the trip there. So, I was glad when the conversation turned to the sexy topic of securing ads for the paper.
“The first thing you need is to print out some rate cards,” I said confidently, while actually parroting what I’d heard the business manager of the paper say one time. “I have some. I can bring them over so you can take a look.”
“That would be great,” she replied. Or something like that. I was too busy high-fiving myself for thinking up such an ingenious excuse to actually pay attention.
Off I went. It was either the following day or the day after. But before I left, I called a second time to confirm and she answered, “Hang on, let me tell the kids to quiet down.” KIDS??? Turns out, she was baby sitting.
Super nice. ✔
Good with kids. ✔
And — as I learned when I met her — beautiful hazel eyes, long brown hair, diarming smile. ✔
A few nights later, she invited me to a comedy show by Tommy Davidson, where we sat sandwiched in the audience with our legs touching. The show ended and it was time to say goodbye. “This is it, Saeed,” I was thinking. “The goodnight kiss!!”
But no! Some stupid RA in her stupid dorm called some stupid meeting that she had to run off to. Oof.
That’s ok though.
I got to kiss her one night shortly afterward. And every night since then.