Back in 1991, February 7th fell on a Thursday. That morning, the phone rang in my tiny studio apartment in Lakeview. I likely snatched the receiver before the second ring. In that halcyon age, freelance writing assignments were dispensed by phone.
The voice on the other end of the line announced itself as that of Judy Hevrdejs, then editor of the Chicago Tribune's Tempo Northwest section. Would I be interested in writing an article about an upscale billiards parlor newly opened in Schaumburg?
It'd be my very first gig for the World's Greatest Newspaper, even if it were for a regional section read only in the Northwest 'burbs. I asked Judy to forward details asap. Why recall in February 2021 the moments leading up to that assignment 30 years ago this month?
It was the last time I was without work.
In a business notorious for feast-or-famine cycles, I've since always had at least one assignment, and more often a baker's dozen. So, you're asking, how does a guy of very average intelligence and talent – okay, okay, below average – manage to stay consistently employed for three decades in one of earth's most difficult professional fields? Answer: Fairly early on, I stumbled over a few keys to success. I share them with you here.
That's about all on this 30th anniversary of my last morning that dawned gig-free. But, you ask, what of that very first article that saw me lurking around a pool hall? Click here. Not a very auspicious beginning, I admit. But even Minnesota Fats had to start somewhere.
- Jeff Steele
Photo: Jeff Steele with legendary Chicago photographer Art Shay,
American Writers Museum, Fall 2017. (Photo credit: Laura Stigler).
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