Seattle, 1977

If there was a charmed year in my charmed life, it was 1977. Take, for instance, how I got my first full-time job after graduating from college.

Before graduating, I had met a girl who lived in Seattle. After graduating, I had delusions of grandeur that I was going to become a screenwriter. I reasoned that it was just as easy to write a screenplay in Seattle as it was in California, so I headed north, blissfully unaware of things like rain and rent and even romance.

None of that mattered. Bliss rained anyway. I did temp work to support myself, because I’d always been a great typist. Yes, I was a Kelly Girl. The sun set late that far north on the continent, and my girlfriend and I enjoyed by far the best summer of the two we had together.

In September, my parents came to visit, whether to see me or because my father was going on a fishing trip somewhere I don’t remember. But I do remember that they’d stopped in Reno along the way. We were having lunch at a little place in an area adjacent the University of Washington known as the U-District, not far from where I lived. After lunch, I wanted to duck next door to get a taste of this fairly new concoction called frozen yogurt, so my mother reached into her wallet and gave me a silver dollar from her Reno winnings. I never made it to the frozen yogurt shop.

While I was still a senior, I had worked at a small regional magazine in Palo Alto as an editorial assistant. The assistant managing editor, a cheerful and cherubic guy named Skip Berger, was a Washington native. As I dashed out of the restaurant, I literally bumped right into him. Neither of us had had any inkling that the other was in Seattle.

We chatted for a few minutes, and then he said, “Hey, I’m part of a group starting a new magazine. Why don’t you come work for us?” That was it. No interview, no resume, no nothing. I started the following week.

It was a start-up in every sense of the word. The publisher, a dreamer named Bob Citron, lived in one apartment, and he rented the apartment next door for the magazine’s offices. At various times during my first day, I heard screaming outside. I wondered what that portended. Later I realized the apartment building was on a hill above an elementary school, and I’d heard the children at recess.

The magazine focused on adventurous travel – ballooning, mountaineering, river rafting, safaris. Bob basically wanted to create his own National Geographic Society, ignoring the fact – like many a quixotic entrepreneur – that there already was one. But he was not misguided – he started with a low-cost newsletter, branched out into a guidebook (which was basically just write-ups from brochures that trip operators gladly sent us for free), and evolved into the magazine where I was now working: Adventure Travel (see photo). It was a beautiful four-color magazine that won awards competing against much better-funded publications.

We soon moved into a real office building with real offices. Skip had managed to bring together a young group of liberal, liberal arts majors willing to work for three dollars an hour to bootstrap the magazine. Most of us moonlighted to pay the bills. I even quit once, having been offered a job at a local bank until I realized that was a really bad idea. We persevered. We partied. We took ads from tour operators in trade, and to make up for our piteous salaries, Bob let us go on sailing trips in the San Juan Islands or rafting on the Skagit. Some staffers were lucky enough to go to Iceland and other exotic destinations.

Bob’s brother was a Los Angeles lawyer who eventually managed to convince a real estate company down there to invest in the magazine as a tax write-off. After that, we were paid what we then thought were capacious five-figure salaries. I got my first apartment. Over the next three years, our visibility rose; I answered the phone one day only to hear actress Candice Bergen, in the photography phase of her career, ask for Skip regarding a photo spread he wanted her to do. Other celebrities – Robert Redford, Isaac Asimov, and more – eventually had their byline in the magazine. Even a Playboy playmate was photographed with a copy on her nightstand.

My delusions of grandeur about screenwriting had ended long before (as had the relationship that had brought me to Seattle in the first place); now I had delusions of grandeur about going to business school and being a bigwig in publishing. But in the six months between the time I left Adventure Travel and I was booted from Cornell’s MBA program, the real estate firm, no longer in need of a write-off, sold the magazine to Ziff-Davis, which fired almost everyone and moved it to New York. Even if I’d wanted to go back to Seattle, it was no longer there. In the recession of the early 80s, Ziff killed it mercilessly.

These memories are foremost in my mind for a simple reason. For many years now, I’ve wanted to organize a reunion of that dedicated crew. We’re all in our 50s and 60s now – some in our 70s, of course – and on the back side of the careers we were creating then. I’d stayed in touch with Skip over the years, and finally decided to poll him and some others regarding their interest in a reunion.

To my surprise, I wasn’t the only one who’d considered Adventure Travel vividly special. For many – even to some who were on the administrative, rather than the editorial, side – it was a career highlight to work in a place where so many did so much so long into the night for so little compensation.

So on the first weekend of next month, we’re holding a 35-year reunion of Adventure Travel in Seattle, at the home of one of the ad salesmen at the time. Bob Citron, sadly, passed away from cancer earlier this year, but not before he heard of our plans to meet. We’ll lift a glass to toast him and our younger, idealistic selves, and all the things that Adventure Travel led to in our lives.

And in my pocket, I will carry the silver dollar that started me on that amazing journey.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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4 Responses to Seattle, 1977

  1. Kim Salzwedel says:

    Let the countdown begin….

  2. Lindy Chiswick says:

    Howard,
    Thank you for this gift of a stroll down a very special memory lane . As my boys would say, you nailed it!

  3. Pingback: The Reunion | Middle-Age Cranky

  4. Pingback: Whatever We Had Once Was Gone | Middle-Age Cranky

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