By John McPhee

“Well, here’s to no more daily deadlines, you lazy bum,”

Dave said as he clinked his beer bottle against mine.

“Daily?” I scoffed. “Try hourly, my friend. Ever since we

put the paper online, practically every story has to be updated constantly throughout the day. “Man, I always hated that part of the job.”

I took a swig of beer and continued. “It’s always ‘get that story online’ and then it’s ‘where’s that update’ like three times a day.

Remember when old George gave me shit that time on my update about a fatal house fire, I wrote that the homeowner was still dead?” 

Dave laughed, almost losing a mouthful of suds, then shook his head. “But I can’t believe you’re leaving us Bucky for Boring Town.”

“It’s Barrington, you ass,” and punched his shoulder at his latest shot.

But it was true, after eight years working at The Guardian, the city’s biggest daily newspaper, I, senior reporter and associate editor Josh Buchanan, was packing it in and moving three hours north to Barrington, a quiet, peaceful small town.

Dave Clement has been my colleague and friend at the paper for almost seven years now. We’ve worked together on feature stories

combining my writing with his photography skills. It was a great partnership, made better by our friendship.

We made a great team – I never had time for a wife and,

well Dave never could keep one. He’s currently working on his third divorce. He always blamed his camera. “It’s a magnet for the ladies,” is his common refrain, but I think it’s his inability to focus on the fact that he’s a married man that keeps landing him in trouble.

Dave had taken me out to dinner, just the two of us, so we could reminisce about the years together, and so he could bitch about my

leaving him alone with “crochety old George,” our ‘beloved’ managing editor.

It was my second ‘good bye and good luck’ dinner of the week. The first was with the rest of the busy newsroom staff.

We used to come to Murphy’s to let off steam and complain about managing editor George Dickerson’s non-stop demands, so it was the appropriate spot to have our last outing.

“So, Bucky, you’ve been the Guardian’s best crime beat reporter for a few years now and you liked covering city hall – why I’ll never

know. So what beat are you going to have at – what’s the town paper called again?”

“The Banner, and I won’t have a beat Dave, I will be the editor, reporter, photographer, and if need be, chief bottle-washer I guess. I will be covering everything from town council meetings, to local sports, to crime ---” “CRIME!” Dave interjected. “What the hell kind of crime would there be up there? What, farmer Joe had his tractor stolen?” He laughed at his own joke and downed the rest of his beer. He waved at the waitress to bring another round.

I sighed at Dave’s repeated downplay of how life will be away from the ‘big city’. It’s true, Barrington is a small town with a population of just around 7,000 and it is surrounded by farmland.

It might not be as active as a city, but I was done with that hectic lifestyle. I reminded him that I was nearing 40 and it was time to

get out of the ‘rat race’ and start enjoying life again. "I need a quieter kind of life," I told him.

 “How many hours did you put in this week Dave,” I asked, knowing full well neither of us ever watched the clock – which could probably also explain our marital status and marital problems.

I explained that The Banner is a weekly community newspaper. “WEEKLY, Dave. That’s one edition a week, not SEVEN! And there’s no online edition to update. It’s a good, old-fashioned town paper.”

“To each his own, I guess,” he shrugged. “But I just know you’ll be back in six months,” he replied. “You'll miss the action.”

“Don’t bet on it, buddy. Maybe if you come up for a visit sometime, you’ll see why. I tell ya Dave, I’m ready to take it slow and quiet now.”

Outside the tavern at the end of the night, we gave each other a hearty hug with several slaps on each other’s back.

“I’m going to miss you Bucky.”

“We’ll stay in touch Dave, it’s only a three-hour drive, I’m not moving to the other side of the country you know.”

And with that I bid farewell to my best friend and a few days later to the city I had called home for more than 20 years, I was truly looking forward to a slower pace of life in Barrington with far less stress, a lot less drama, and a lot more free time.

 When the movers had finished cleaning out my small apartment the following Monday, I gave them the address in Barrington and

promised to meet them there later. I told them it was a pleasant drive, and it was. 

Once you are out of the city and its multi-lane highways, with its crazy Indy 500 drivers, it becomes a nice, leisurely drive through

quaint little villages and hamlets, rolling hillsides, and picturesque scenery.

Sure, the speed limit is about half of what it is on a highway, but it makes the drive that much more pleasant with less traffic. I had enjoyed the drive up to Barrington the previous month when I had gone for the interview. Stu Jones, the owner and publisher and

I had hit it off immediately.

I was eager to start a new life, and he was eager to have a new editor, especially one with the experience I had. He told me he loved living in a small town and knew I would too.

 Half-way along the journey it occurred to me that the trip was a metaphor of my new life. “Yes,” I said to myself, “this is going

to be great.”

Stu greeted me at the office when I arrived and introduced me to the newspaper’s entire staff – both of them. Betty Jackson,

the receptionist, who has been at the paper for 33 years, and Barbara Anderson, sales. Betty was a bit older and quieter while Barbara was outgoing and talkative, a trait that probably was needed in sales, I thought.

“Well Josh, welcome,” Stu said when we were alone in his office. He told me that he had just put the paper “to bed” meaning it was sent

to the printers, so today was a good day to start as I had the whole week before another edition would roll out. He promised to help me over the next couple weeks until I had caught on with the cycle.

Stu had started out as a reporter for the paper nine years ago and eventually bought the publication from the previous owner/editor

when he had wanted “out”.

“How old was he?” I asked with a typical journalist’s curiosity.

“Bob? Oh, he was about 45 I think, but he had been here for a good 12 or 15 years by then though.”

Suddenly the scanner behind Stu’s desk beeped several times before we heard a dispatcher call out the address of a “fire in progress”.

 “Here we go again,” Stu said under his breath. “I think she said it’s on the Eighth Concession near Sideroad 15. Take that camera

over there and get directions from Betty, she knows everything and everyone.”

I went to Betty and she gasped when I told her. “Oh, I hope it’s not Mary and Bob’s place,” she said. “They have such a lovely piece

of property with beautiful gardens, and …”

“That’s all nice and good Betty, but I need to get out there right away.” I explained.

“Oh yes, sorry. So, you head out on Main Street here until you get to Brown’s Line then go north and turn right when you get to the

corner where the McPherson’s used to live.”

“Who? What? Where?” I left out the ‘why’.

“Oops, oh yes, you’re new. Turn right at the Townline, that will take you to Sideroad 15 and then….”

“I’ll look for the smoke in the sky,” I thanked her and


It didn’t take me long to locate the fire, in fact I could have found it by just following the bellows of smoke filling the blue skies.

A firefighter stopped me at the corner of Concession Eight and Sideroad 15. “Sorry sir, but the road’s closed. We have a barn fire.”

“Yes, I can see that,” I gave him my biggest smile. “I’m with The Banner and I’m here to cover the fire and take some pictures.”

The firefighter wasn’t sure what to do so he turned his back and called into his walkie talkie telling the fire chief of my arrival.

“OK, the chief said you can leave your car here and walk down. But don’t get in the way and don’t bother anyone with any questions,” he told me.

I did as I was directed, and walked about 200 yards down the gravel road.

I got some great shots of the shooting flames from the barn and watched as a group of about 10 firefighters – all volunteers I soon

discovered – fought the blaze with dedication.

When I returned to the office Betty let out an “EWWWWIE!”

as soon as I entered. “You can tell I’ve been out at a fire, huh?”

“Yes, and you picked up a traveler too,” she said, pointing to the little pieces of cow dung that were stuck to the bottom of my shoes.

“So, how’d it go?” Stu asked when I went into his office.

“Pretty good. I think I got some nice shots.”

“You didn’t take any of dead animals or live stock did you?” He asked with alarm. “I forgot to tell you, we don’t run photos like that

here, we don’t want to offend the readers.”

I was surprised at that. I thought news was news, but I didn’t see any, so it didn’t matter.

I apologized if I smelled, but Stu waved me off. “Oh, did Betty say something? Don’t mind her. You’ll get used to it.”

I wasn’t sure if he meant Betty, or the smell.

Stu took me over to a long table with several piles of old newspapers. “I thought it would be best if you went through some recent editions first to get a feel for the town, the people, and the issues.”

I looked at the clock, it was later than I realized. “Um, I’ve got to meet the movers, can I do this tomorrow?” I asked.

“Tomorrow? Stu raised an eyebrow. It’s only 2 o’clock.

You can come back later tonight to go through them. But speaking of that, I’ve got a tee time for 3 so I better get going soon. We’ll see you tomorrow, Josh.”

It was only a 10-minute drive to my new home. ‘Home’ what a wonderful word that is, I thought. After living my whole adult life in

high-rise apartment buildings – no one could afford buying or even renting a house in the city – I was finally going to own a piece of land, my own yard, my own gardens, my own castle!

The movers had been waiting for me for about an hour but didn’t seem to be too upset. They only sniffed, sniffed, a few times. I guess

they got used to it.

I was happily moving boxes around to their various rooms when I realized two things – first, I was starving, and second, I was supposed to go back to the office to look at some old papers. But it was after 5 now and no one had given me a key.

I drove back into town, saw the office was closed, and doors locked so I decided to grab a burger and went back home to continue unpacking. I should have time to do that tomorrow, I said to no one in particular.

Betty greeted me with a big smile the following morning, happy that I had showered no doubt. I went over to the papers and started going through them, one by one. I had almost finished the second edition when Stu arrived.

“Oh, you’re still here,” he said. “I thought you would be at the meeting by now.”

“What meeting’s that?” I asked.

“The hospital board meeting. They meet once a month on Tuesday mornings at 10. I left you a note on your desk yesterday.”

I explained to him that I had yet to get a key and couldn’t get back into the office last night.

“Betty, could you please give this man a key to the

office!” He sounded upset.

I got the key and directions to the hospital but when I arrived, it turned out to a closed-door meeting.

“They’re just going over some personnel issues,” a secretary informed me. “It should only take an hour or so.”

“Should I leave and come back?” I asked her.

“Well, that’s hard to say, sometimes they’re only in-camera for five or ten minutes. I would wait if I were you.”

So, I waited. Forty-five minutes later the doors opened and I was allowed to enter. Just in time for a coffee break.

Eventually the official board meeting started and it was beyond boring.

Back at the office after lunch, Stu told me he wanted to see the stories of yesterday’s fire and today’s board meeting by the end of the day.

I managed to get contacts to make calls for follow ups. I was quite pleased to have both stories filed by 4:30.

“These are good, Josh,” Stu said. Then reminded me to look over previous editions to get “a feel of things”.

I promised I would after dinner.

I finally made it home around 9:30 p.m. to a house full of unpacked boxes, and furniture that needed moved to their proper rooms.

Wednesday and Thursday brought with them more meetings

and another fire call out in the country, but after finding the address, I discovered it was a false alarm.

“No biggie,” Fire Chief Dan Mapleton told me. “We usually get about two or three every couple of weeks, especially this early in summer.”

On Friday Stu gave me a list of photo assignments for the weekend with three on Saturday and two on Sunday. “It’s Strawberry Social

time,” he smiled. “Get lots of photos, people love seeing pictures of other people at events they don’t attend.”

I promised I would. He also reminded me to be in early on Monday as we had to put next week’s edition “to bed”.

At least I had some time over the weekend to finish unpacking and I even went to a local hardware store to buy a lawn mower. My

very first lawn mower!

But it was raining when I got back, so cutting the lawn would have to wait.

 Over the next few weeks, I learned that if there wasn’t a meeting to cover that night, there were usually photos to take of one thing or another – an award being handed out here, a check presentation there, and so on.

But I was enjoying the independence and freedom that came with rural living.


“Good afternoon The Banner,” I said into the phone one day.

“Geez, you weren’t kidding about the bottle-washer thing were you?”

It was Dave on the line. “Well, Betty, the receptionist is at lunch Dave, and Barb, our advertising rep, is out on a call, so that leaves me. How ya doing old buddy?”

Dave had called me early in the first month and asked if he could come up for a visit. But I explained that being new on the job, there

were just too many things to do, plus getting the house, yard and gardens in order was taking longer than I had expected. It wasn’t a good time for me.

“Just wondering if you’ve had enough of ‘escape to the

country’ and are ready to rejoin the human race.”

I laughed. “Dave, I love it here. I pass more cows than cars on the way to work now.”

“I was wondering now that you’re all settled in if I could come up this weekend?”

I glanced at my weekend schedule and it was packed with

summer activities to cover. “Sorry Dave, I’ve got a ton of stuff on, I’ll give you a call in a week or so, we’ll get together then, OK?”

After the call, I realized that I really missed hanging out with Dave.

I quickly shrugged off the melancholy – there were meetings to cover, stories to write, and photos to take, and, of course, laying

out and paginating of the next week’s edition.

But it was still fun!

As summer was coming to an end, I realized that I didn’t see much of it. My yard was a mess with overgrown grass and overgrown weeds in my gardens. It seemed the few times I was at home, it was raining. But when I was at a meeting or working late, it was a beautiful, sunny day.

A couple weeks later, after we had just put to bed a really big edition, I commented to Stu that things were a lot busier in a small

town than I had ever expected.

“Busy?” Stu said, making it sound too much like a question. “That was summer, things always slow down in the summer. Fall is just

around the corner, that’s when things really pick up,” he told me.

That night at home I phoned Dave.

“Hey Bucky how’s it going?”

“Dave, I gotta get out of here!” I exclaimed. “Ask George if he’s filled my old position yet. Tell him I want to come back.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” I repeated. “I’ve got to have a quieter kind of life!”

June 07, 2024 21:10

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Alexis Araneta
02:41 Jun 11, 2024

Oh gosh ! As a dyed-in-the-wool city girl with a myriad of skyline photos on her phone and whose interests are still very cosmopolitan despite four years in a smaller city, I kind of found myself agreeing with Dave at Josh's decision. Hahahaha ! Turns out the rural life is exhausting for him, after all. Great pacing here ! Lovely job !


John McPhee
13:30 Jun 11, 2024

Thanks very much Alexis. I've lived in both and it's fair to say they both have their pros and cons of living there. Thanks for reading the story.


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Trudy Jas
21:17 Jun 10, 2024

What fun! Escape to and from Mayberry! Had the feeling the Stu was taking advantage of Josh. (you need to come back, but I have a Tee time.) A great ramble.


John McPhee
21:33 Jun 10, 2024

Ha ha! Thanks Trudy. Art imitating life :( Thanks for the read and comments.


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Kristi Gott
18:38 Jun 10, 2024

I felt immersed right away in the main character's new life at the rural newspaper. I have often lived in rural towns and I could relate to the setting. The story's pace kept me moving along while I read it. The authenticity rang true! Very well written!


John McPhee
18:50 Jun 10, 2024

Thanks Kristi! Yes, there are more than a few real-life experiences for me in this one. Thanks for your comments.


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John McPhee
17:03 Jun 10, 2024

Thanks very much Jim - and I from you! I don't know what happened with the format of the submission though, it appears there are a lot of hard returns where there should not be any.


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Jim LaFleur
16:59 Jun 10, 2024

Fantastic work, John! Your storytelling is a breath of fresh air, and it’s a pleasure to follow Josh’s pursuit of a quieter kind of life. Looking forward to reading more from you!


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