Thoughts at the end of the road: Bill bids farewell to his career as a T-U columnist

·4 min read
Shorelines — and Bill's column — made a debut on Aug. 19, 1992.
Shorelines — and Bill's column — made a debut on Aug. 19, 1992.

My writing career began with the Jacksonville Track Club newsletter circa 1981.

I wrote a few short articles and had a longer one about a 40-mile race/run from St. Augustine to Downtown Jacksonville. By the way, my best finish was third in the five events.

My articles spurred a kind gentleman to tell Bill Dryden, owner/publisher of The Beaches Leader, to call and ask if I would write a weekly column on running. Sadly, I have long forgotten the name of the guy who referred me.

In 1982, my first of a long weekly series of columns began. My editor, Fred DeSapio, would allow me to explore further at times. I once rode my bicycle with two bike patrolmen when Jacksonville Beach started their bike program. It made the front page, much to my delight.

My interviews were with a nice variety of Beaches’ runners and I wrote stories on what is now the Gate River Run every year from 1983 to 1992 for the Leader and into 2016 for Shorelines. A broken bone in my foot kept me from number 40. —

A 40-Mile Run shirt circa 1982. A story on this event in a running newsletter lead to Bill's introduction to The Beaches Leader.
A 40-Mile Run shirt circa 1982. A story on this event in a running newsletter lead to Bill's introduction to The Beaches Leader.

In early August 1992, I was invited to write for Shorelines thanks to T-U writer Matt Soergel and others who lived at the beach. My first of maybe six editors over the years was Lamar Thames. During that first meeting he said that there was no guarantee of how long the section would last.

On Aug. 19, 1992, my first weekly column appeared on page two of a 22-page edition. I would write a weekly column until the first big newspaper crisis happened in July 2008. I went twice a month, then once a month, and finally back to twice a month.

It has always been my goal to entertain and hopefully educate my readers by presenting interviews with interesting beach people. Only about six people have declined -- or dodged me -- over the years, while hundreds have been generous with their time and stories. Unknown fact until now: Just two were smokers!

I have had the privilege of choosing my own subjects in probably 95 percent of my stories. BillLabs was invented in the ‘80s as part of my running columns. It was a partially tongue-in-cheek idea that took off nicely. Over almost 40 years, the tested items have ranged from socks to a car.

I wore the only free item ever provided for testing for more than 20 years. CoolMax fiber, created in the mid-1980s, was said to wick moisture (sweat) off the skin and allow it to evaporate.

Bill's first column for Shorelines
Bill's first column for Shorelines

I was skeptical when REI sent me a white biking jersey. I did indeed try it out and found it worked well. I called to ask the guy what I should do with it, now that I had tried it and written it up.

I asked him if I should send it back.

“No one has ever asked me that before,” he said. “Do what you’d like to do with it.”

I wish the car had been free!

I have been able to talk to some famous people, like the runners’ cardiologist and writer Dr. George Sheehan. His books sang the praises of just getting your body moving. Almost all of the rest of my stories have been about “regular” people who do interesting work or have fascinating hobbies.

Bill's favorite type of beach photo.
Bill's favorite type of beach photo.

A trip to a working titanium mine just south of Orange Park became a two-part series about its work and our Ponte Vedra mining history. I watched two piers get built and spoke with the people involved. Beach renourishment has been a topic and late in the 1990s we had red tide affliction. A testing station was set up at the lifeguard headquarters in Jacksonville Beach.

My greatest pleasure has been meeting readers all over the beach. Twice, I enjoyed being asked to speak at club meetings. Their kind comments make me so very happy. I have always told people I want to interview that my stories are not “gotcha” exposes, like on “60 Minutes.” My approach has been to give readers a break from the constant drone of bad news.

It has continued to be an honor seeing my stories in print. Almost 40 years ago it all began in the Beaches Leader. Now, it ends after nearly 30 years with Shorelines. I was in the first edition and this is the last. I am aware that I am leaving out important material.

We outlived those first predictions by almost 30 years. A sad time for sure. Thank you, dear readers.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: WAVELENGTHS: Thoughts at the end of the road