It's really hard to write about yourself, but I have to admit, it does have its advantages. So, without further ado, meet Jim.
As you have probably realized by now, this is not a current picture of me. It's from like 10 years ago. The subsequent years have been rough on me, and this is how I currently look:
I'm not kidding. That's really me. Sigh. Needless to say, I was unable to keep possession of my lunch money on any day until I got to college. But, as you can see from the most recent photo of me, I've managed to find plenty of places to spend my lunch money -- and breakfast money and dinner money -- over the past 20 years. More on that later...
A little background on me: I've been a journalist my entire professional life. I started as a part-time sportswriter at The Washington Post in 1987, when I was a sophomore at American University. I stayed in that role for the better part of eight years before I heard the call of the Web, and joined The Post's digital division in 1995. I was part of the team that launched The Post on a thankfully short-lived proprietary platform called Interchange.
After we scrapped this effort, we sprinted to the web and launched washingtonpost.com on June 19, 1996. This, coincidentally, was also the first day a reporter at the paper complained about the home page play of their story.
I stayed at post.com until 1999, when I left to chase my fortune at America Online. I didn't find that financial fortune, but found personal fortune when I met Joan, who was heading up the Research & Analysis division there. We discovered that, although we both worked way out in the boonies in Dulles, we lived only about 200 yards from each other in McLean Gardens in D.C. We started hanging out, though Joan was quick to tell me at every opportunity that she didn't date at the office. But, like a bad case of poison ivy, she found it hard to ignore me, and eventually, she caved.
From a professional standpoint, I learned a tremendous amount about the non-editorial pieces of running a Web site at AOL. It was after I left in 2003 that Joan and I decided to hit the road for Fred Takes America.
I got incredibly lucky to get hired back by The Post in late 2004 as executive editor of washingtonpost.com, and had the best years of my career in that job. I resigned back in December, largely because the structural changes that come with newsroom integration were going to make my job less interesting and challenging. Of course, the road was also calling again.
When we first decided to travel in 2003, it really was something Joan, Fred and I just wanted to experience alone. I had no intention of writing about it. But, a few weeks before we left, I decided to dust off the writing skills that had atrophied while serving in management. Joan's reaction was simple and clear: "That's a stupid idea." She forbade me from putting any of her friends and family on the list for my daily e-mail. And, for a while, she was right. It took a week or so to find the voice, but eventually, it caught on and I was adding between 20-25 people to the distro every day. By the time the trip ended, about 1,500 were getting the daily report, and that didn't include the pass-alongs to family and friends. Joan's resistance lasted only a week or so, until her friends and family inquired about why they were not receiving these updates as well.
My major roles on the last trip -- which will be reprised for Fred & Hank Mark America -- were planning and driving. I do all the driving for two major reasons:
1) I'm very relaxed when I'm driving, and it gives me all sorts of time to think about stuff, such as what I want to do professionally when this journey is over.
2) I'm not relaxed when Joan is driving.
The differences in our driving styles cannot be understated. I drive like I'm already 10 minutes late to wherever I'm going (and I usually am). Joan drives with the urgency of Perry Como on downers. So I will be behind the wheel for almost all of our trip.
The goal this time is no speeding tickets. I got two on the last trip, one in eastern Oregon (a photo of that stop is one of the photos featured in the Joan profile) and one -- lucky me -- in my home state of Virginia. I hoped and prayed that Oregon didn't have reciprocity with Virginia, but of course, it did. So, upon my return, I was required to go take a test to show that I understood basic traffic rules. It was the easiest test I've ever taken, largely because knowledge of driving rules was never the issue. I was just driving too goddamn fast.
On this trip, however, I'd really prefer to stay clean, as I have not received a speeding ticket since 2003. I just have to keep telling myself that cruise control is my friend, and not a tool used by people who hate variety in life.
The other major goal for me is a serious one: I have to lose weight on this trip. I've never been svelte, but I put on a lot of beef over the past few years, and I'm now weighing in at 248 pounds. My goal is to drop 15 pounds on this trip. That won't get me where I need to be, but it'll get me halfway. I plan on reporting in here on what I'm eating (and my nutritionist is getting this e-mails) and I'll weigh in every few days.
Now, Joan -- being the sweetheart she is -- has decided that everyone else on the trip should report their weight as a show of support. Now, a cynical person -- thankfully, I'm not one -- might think Joan is being this open because, well, she's thin. But I think it's a nice gesture, so here's the current weight of the trip:
- Jim: 248 pounds
- Joan: 142 pounds (she's aiming for a return weight of 134)
- Fred: 33.5 pounds
- Hank: 26.1 pounds
Now, off to pack the car, and get on the road. I'm auto-publishing the traveler profile of the car later this afternoon.
Next: The Car