I can tell you specifically what was one of the most terrifying moments in my life. It was 2002 and I had just dropped my uncle off at Logan Airport in Boston.

See, we had just finished an epic journey that had taken us from mid-Missouri to mid-Maine. And now I had a long drive back to my new home, Augusta, a place I knew little about and where I knew even fewer people.

But I did have a job as a newspaper intern (that at the time I didn’t know would later become a full-blown job in Portland).

As comforting as newspaper work can be (it can warm you on those cold nights), it didn’t change the fact that I was alone and out of my depth in a place completely foreign to me. It wasn’t China, but the accents proved to be as much of a hurdle.

That was truly one of the most scary and uncertain moments in my life.

At least it was until a few weeks ago, when I decided to leave this newspaper.

As some of you already know, the Portland Press Herald is going through a few cutbacks and I decided to take a “voluntary separation,” which in relationship terms means “break-up you’re OK with.” Since my last day at Press Herald Plaza is Wednesday that makes this my final column.

Why is this terrifying? For starters, have you looked at the job market lately, let alone the widening pool of former journalists?

But more importantly, it’s frightening because it means saying goodbye to everything I’ve done over the last seven years here.

Things like staying up 24 hours to create a comic book (and write about it), spending tense evenings and joyful afternoons in Kennedy Park, riding shotgun in a drift car, chatting with derby girls, skateboarders and homeless teens, going backstage with DJs, bass players and drummers, talking money with debt-ridden college students, harassing bar owners and causing agitation for editors from time to time.

Now who’s gonna help answer those letters for Santa or advocate the powers and joys of bacon?

And, oh yeah, there was that one time I got to cover a PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION.

Leaving also means saying goodbye to a newspaper that helped turn me into who I am today, from a 22-year-old who’d get lost all too frequently in the wilds of the Lakes Region to a guy who’s not afraid to call state officials at all hours of the night.

And worse, all of this means taking off my reporter hat at a time when journalists are threatening to enter the endangered species list. How much of a jerk does it take to walk away from a newspaper when reporters are needed most?

The truth is, it’s probably time for me to move on (be happy I didn’t say spread my wings). At a career counseling session I attended the other day (you gotta do these things when you’re parting ways with a regular paycheck), the counselor said most companies these days expect to have employees for 18 months to two years. Tops. that measure, I’m at retirement age.

It’s not time to move on because I’ve had it with journalism, the newspaper or all of you (be happy I didn’t say we should see other people), but because change sometimes is good. And thanks to timing — and market forces — my number just got called.

I’ll turn 30 in less than three weeks, and odds are, there are plenty of 30-somethings lost in transitions at the moment. There’s a point where you look at your watch and say, “I’m supposed to be somewhere, I’m just not sure where it is just yet.”

It could be an engagement. Maybe it’s a baby. Or it could be that first mortgage.

Or it be could taking a chance and trying something new.

For more than four years I’ve written about “the young people” in this space (remember when it was on the back of the B section?) and on occasion I’ve managed to slip in a few stories about myself among tales of graffiti artists, ticked-off voters and business owners under the age of 30.

And even now, on the occasion of my last — and arguably biggest — story, I’m struck by one thing: I never figured my stories amounted to much compared to all of yours. Sappy? Maybe. But true.

Part of the reason I got into this business was to write, but the other was to tell other people’s stories. Like most reporters, I’ll end most interviews with a thank you. Customary, but for me it’s sincere. Why?

Here’s a little inside secret about the news business: If no one ever agreed to an interview, all of us journalists would be up the river.

So, for one last time, let me say thank you.

Thanks to anyone who’s picked up a random phone call. Thanks to anyone who was tapped on the shoulder by a strange tall guy with a notebook. Thanks to anyone who answered an e-mail that started with “I’m working on a story.” Thanks to the people who e-mailed a story they wanted to tell. And, yes, even thanks to the people who e-mailed and didn’t have anything nice to say at all (you get points for at least reading).

Thanks to anyone who waited a few minutes on a reporter running late. Thanks to the business owners who took me behind the scenes. Thanks to anyone who put up with a last question even when they had to run. Thanks to the many, many high school and college classes that put up with a rambling talk about journalism. Thanks to friends and family who tolerated the late deadlines and busted plans. Thanks to the nerds, geeks, dorks, dudes, chicks, CEOs, senators, councilors and parents.

Thanks for just picking up a paper and taking the time.

As a writer more talented than me once wrote: “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

 

Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380. See his blog at:

www.pressherald.com.