I came of age during the Civil Rights movement and Watergate. It was a time when journalists gloried in their role as the Fourth Estate, reshaping America for the better. One of my college roommates, Steve Marquez, exemplified the traits of an admirable reporter. Courageous, dogged, widely read, cultured, and thoughtful, he rocketed to journalistic success, only to be shot down by AIDS before the age of 30.
Inspiring though I found him, I was far too shy and timid to pick up where he left off. Looking back, it’s astonishing (and more than a little unfair) that I would be the one to end up reporting for the Associated Press, UPI, National Public Radio, and Bloomberg News. I piddled around for years, occasionally doing freelance reporting about harmless topics. (I recall “breaking” a story about the rise of community gardens in Philadelphia.)
My childhood love of science had led me to minor in it in college, and eventually I stumbled into a job reporting on science, engineering, and economics for the University of Pennsylvania News Bureau. What a sweet job. But still, I yearned to do “real” journalism.
At the time, I was in what I thought was a term-limited relationship with Rumiko Handa, a Japanese grad student earning a master’s in architecture. She had been quite clear about her plan to return to Tokyo and the firm she’d taken leave from after graduation. I certainly had no plans to move to Japan, so that was that. Except that our feelings for each other deepened, and Rumiko decided that she wanted to earn a doctorate and become a professor of architecture. Long story short: I visited Japan during the winter break of 1985-86 and was deeply smitten by the culture, her family, and Tokyo. Oh, how I yearned to live and work in Tokyo.
For the next year, I did everything I could to prepare for that possibility. Meantime, Rumiko, having been accepted into Penn’s doctoral program, was chugging uphill toward her Ph.D. We made several mutual decisions. First and foremost was to get married. Second and super-consequential was to move to Tokyo for two years, during which I’d pursue journalism (and other writing), and she’d begin work on her thesis. Third was (eventually) to have children, a choice that represented a turnabout for me -- but one I’ve never regretted.
My chance finally came: I got a freelance deal with … brace yourselves … American Banker Newspaper. I quit my job at Penn’s News Bureau and prepared to move to Japan. My coworkers were shocked but kind. They threw a farewell party and showered me with joke gifts, including the world’s worst “press hat” and a book on why experts are so often wrong.
Scientific American: Trouble in Antarctica
Earth Magazine Cover Story: Return of the Dust Bowl
Earth Magazine: A Geology Field Trip Better Than Reality TV
More to come.
More to come.