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My Last Field Trip

Daniel P. Beckmann, MSJ ‘02
09.6.02-Washington, DC

Today at 22 years of age, I went on my last field trip…it was down to the local newspaper here, The Washington Post. In 48 hours, I pack up my desk and after 19 years of straight educational indoctrination, I am finally finished-DONE! There will be no fan-fair this Friday, I already dressed up in the costume and walked across the stage with all the people clapping that I didn’t know-they will mail my masters in the scienceof journalism degree to my parents in the mail (They intend to make copies to ensure that if after audit they come into their home in the middle of the night and take it back, I will still have something to hang on my wall in my office).
I can actually remember way back to May of 1985, to what was indeed the period of my first field trip ever. (My cubby where I stored my coat and my Transformers® Lunch Box and Themos ® that year was banana yellow and the carpet beneath it strictly contained speckles of red and orange and pink, not some from of grey which denotes the modern era)


Toledo, OH
There is a reason that I still remember my first field trip and quite a lot of other things too…you see, when I was three I remember asking everyone around me where I came from and what happened before now since I couldn’t remember…it was the first point that I realized that I existed and for some reason I existed in this Toledo, Ohio.

My parent’s responded that I came from Dallas-a real Texan they’d say(what ever that meant…it sounded good to me at least I wasn’t an Ohioan like everybody else I even thought in those days). I asked them if I could go back to Dallas to visit-they said no, it’s too far away right now.

I asked them where my sister Katie came from, they said Cincinnati, Ohio. Hmm, she was from this Ohio, but I was from this Texas. Imagine how confused I was when my parents took us down to Cincinnati on our first weekend trip as a family–she could see where she came from but where I was from was unavailable!(a definitive start to our sibling rivalry)


The Toledo Hospital
At that point, I began to ask everybody I could where they came from and most said that they came from their parents or they were born at the Toledo Hospital®. No body older than me seemed to remember not only what it looked liked hence they originally came, but they also claimed that they couldn’t even remember what it was like to be my age, 3<-like I was right then!!

So I made it a point to try to remember everything that happened to me, ever, starting from that point forward at age three. While I can’t remember every single moment, obviously, that would take 19 more years to explain again, I remember a heck of a lot about being ages 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc….. So thus, my first field trip just before my 5th birthday is somewhat well documented.


Historic Fort Meigs
We went to good ol’ Fort Miegs in suburban Perrysburg, OH and there was a reenactment of the locally famed battle of Michigan and Ohio. {I was always a Michigan fan, go blue as they say…}

You see even in an average middle-market city like Toledo, OH they still have to put names on things as an indication, not only to the people passing through, but also to the life-long residents, that those occupying the present space at one time were not always busy on their ways to the nations’ secondary processing centers and manufacturing facilities, but actually bore witness to events of actual consequential significance enough so that today, markers have been erected for their commemoration.

In Northwestern Ohio, there was of course, General "Mad" Anthony Wayne and his Famous Trail that became a muiti-lane parkway that runs by the Toledo Zoo and the former Value City Department Store®. There was also Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who’s burg was the home to Historic Fort Meigs which we were visiting on our first field trip. But of all of these important people, should you ever try to find out anything about what they actually did you would normally only find one paragraph saying their name, when they were born and when they died-ask any paid knowledge professional like a teacher or local grown-up style authority figure and it might be even worse.


The Kid from The Shining
So who could get angry at a little kid at the age of five with a striking resemblance to the kid from the movie The Shinning of trying to learn about his town’s history? By trying to obtain a more tangible qualification of the people who once resided where I now stood instead of just becoming famous for the highways, byways and suburbs whose names they’ve now been attached too. But in Toledo, who older than five really cares to dig much deeper than this?  

Of course there was much more to these names and it was indeed interesting. It was at the site of the Battle of Fallen Timbers where General Mad Anthony’s Wayne continued to command his army while being carried around by his soldiers after one of his leg had been severed off by the British, or maybe it was the site of the proposed Mall at Fallen Timbers that may soon be built if decades of political considerations can be overcome…

Next, on to the war between Michigan and Ohio, in which most historical accounts claim that there were no shots even fired. President Jackson mediated the dispute saying that if Michigan would leave Toledo for Ohio, than they could claim their upper peninsula-BONUS!

For more information check here: The Toledo War and Statehood, Michigan Historical Museum (I guess the winners get to write the history books–eh?)

But were these events worthy of standing the test of time in the Glass City, a test strong enough in which the town’s inhabitants could finally throw stones at the neighboring Motor City without fear of retaliation? The truth is, probably not. But you had to feed the rank-and-file something, and in the Mid-West the rank-and-file is taken to a new level.

There is a real history of Toledo and how it managed to keep on truckin’ all these years after its purpose should have run out long ago after fur tradin’ collapsed and you won’t see the names of those real historical figures on any Interstates, nor will their battles be reenacted on any field trip.

The stories of the squashbuckling, howankin’, carpet bagging swagglers can’t be found anywhere. They were the ones that put Toledo on the map during those "Roaring Twenties" with the introduction of the fabled Blind Pigs(Only one of which the remains can still be located today near the University and by rumor it is a trend-o coffee shop with outdoor seating in the winter). Then managed to keep the town chugging along and their pockets lined during what most refer to as The Great Depression but we all know as the dark ages post prohibition. They were the ones behind Toledo’s economical shift away from entertainment towards industry. They convinced people to work in factories for a living, doing repetitive work making products of poor quality at high prices that the auto industry keeps buying for some reason that defies all logic, while the managers and owners live in high-priced houses and continue to inbreed with the same faces generation after generation.There’s a simple reason why Toledo’s Real Heroes won’t look up from the hells (Arizonas) below to see their names on bridges and that because those who really know of those days aren’t talkin’ and those who have aren’t breathin’. Genuine Civic Pride® is about more than who really kept the show running, but about what sounds nice on the side of a bridge for generations to savor.

You see, at the foundation of the conservative Midwest is truly deep-rooted denial. The whole regions built on dishonesty and I’ll tell you why.

The Midwest is a culture of end-line consumers, not designers. They manufacture what they are told to manufacture and they do so to exact specifications hailed down from some place else. These people buy brand name products by the truck loads which they are told to purchase every night on network television so that they may maintain affiliation with their most comfortably agreed upon caste. Original ideas are sent in from elsewhere and the Midwest’s job is to purchase them and manufacture them without asking any questions and they pride themselves on doing that job well.


Sue & John, Appleebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill(R)
A for instance, when you go out to eat at a midwestern Applebees Neighborhill Bar and Grill ® family restaurants, the waitress will actually apologize before taking your order for actually wanting to take your order. The customer will later apologize before asking for ketch-up for his burger and the waitress will apologize for not bringing it out in the first place and then the customer will apologize for the waitress’s apology.

Many probably view this as midwestern friendliness, but it’s not that at all. It symbolizes that the expectation in the Midwest is to take what you are handed, do what you’re told and don’t make no fuss about it–that’s why it is considered impolite in the midwestern culture to actually ask for what you want-that is unless you are from the outside. Although outsiders to the region may be a little vilified for coming in and asking for what they actually want, in the end it is accepted as just one of the parts of the system’s constructs.

The riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the heart of the Midwest, the nation’s primary center of middlemen and transfers serves as a great example of how you are encouraged to do what your told or you may be beaten for it otherwise…Field trips help indoctrinate the Midwestern caste at an early age, in this case 5.

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Benjamin C. Bradlee, The Washington Post
So, there I was at the Washington Post. This field trip wasn’t as cool as you might think. We didn’t go down to the printing press or anything and act like we were yelling at them to stop them…naw, we were too good for the really cool stuff you see-we were adults now;) We instead piled into a luxurious conference room with the obligatory picture of famous editor Ben Bradlee’s picture on one of the walls looking off into the distance, the pioneer that he was…books lined most of the others and hey, maybe people do come into the conference room to read things and then to store their books?<- it could happen.

The point of the trip was to have a recruiter speak to us graduate students about the Washington Post. She spoke of the long and time honored tradition of the Post-home to Woodward & Bernstein(and no she would not reveal the identity of "deep throat" he-he-he)…she said as if they were trying to beat it out of her, that the Post was the most important paper throughout the land….she spoke to a crowd of young journalists, stars in their eyes over the possibility that they may indeed one day work for the Washington Post and maybe for Mr. Bradlee too-he could even yell at them in his office and slam the door in their face, that’d be great. Here they would be told the inside edge on getting in you see.

What they offered was an application for a low paying summer internship program. Only 20 people get in and the interns are a crucial part of the paper during the August recess when all of the Washington reporters are on vacation and then shortly after the actual reporters return, the interns are sent out to pasture.

Then they told us the real inside scoop—the best chance you had of getting into that paper, and mind you, it is competitive and most never do, is to work your way up by going to smaller papers and then proving yourself to the Washington Post by having one of your articles at the little paper somehow be important enough for them to read it even though they aren’t looking it. Then if you luck out and get a job at the Post they force you to live in Washington to get to know the paper and how best to work within it….The Washington Post doesn’t like to hire people who haven’t worked at the paper in Washington. They have done it in the past and it just doesn’t work out…

Its been 19 years since my first field trip…yet a lot seems to have remained the same…

The Washington Post revealed some issues to me that I thought I might share. To start out with, a paper that wants good journalists should be more concerned with how a reporter interfaces with the rest of the world, not primarily how the reporter interfaces with their internal bureaucracy.

I will never forget the night before the 2000 Presidential Debate(sic) at Washington University when I got a call as General Manager of Washington University Television from an elder reporter from the Washington Post. She had heard somewhere that Washington University was an extremely liberal campus. Well, from the perspective of your average St. Louisan, that might be the case-they always thought our redbrick buildings were for communism, but in general most people in the world look towards the right when they look towards STL, so we were actually in the middle of the road politically for most peoples standards. This is a school where for example, the student-run newspaper the past year had run a series of articles and editorials against the school’s lenient drinking policy and there was no muterance of a backlash against "ad-wizards" behind that one. At WU, you’re generally not considered liberal unless you are referring to the amount of J. Crew packages you received in the mail last month.


Smilowitz
No, she had apparently been talking to good ol’ Smilowitz–face person for the newly resurfaced, just-in-time-for-the-debates Campus Democrats®.

That happens all the time in the District. People tell you oh, Max Baucus, the senator from Montana, is in a shaky election back home when the only people saying that are those that come up with that shit in the district-apparently they don’t like him. No one in Big Sky country has any doubt the mighty max el pull one out another one this November, despite the fact that nobody really likes him in Montana either! But that’s the perspective from inside DC, and the walls of the Washington Post where they hire people that fit in well there, not out in the country that they are covering. You see its easy to figure out how to bring down a president on the count of scandal…its apparently a lot harder to figure out how to bring one down because of his obviously horrible policies and speeches.

Maybe if they took a new strategy of only hiring people that knew what they were writing about, then maybe since everyone in DC reads The Post they too wouldn’t be as oblivious to what’s really goin’ on in our country. You see nothing really happens in the snooty 1/3 of DC where the government and Post live it just smells bad there…the other 2/3 were written off along time ago-those people aren’t represented you see…they don’t count. Everything that’s actually going on, not the procedural fart between the idea and the actual action, only occur primarily in the states that are actually represented.

Oh, and the truth is, sure, it’s a good line to tell everybody that you have to start small and pay your dues and maybe, just maybe you will have your lucky shot and get your big break, I mean that’s the American Dream!…of course the American Dream is always an options..always.

But if you were to audit situation and ask questions of everyone at The Post like a five year-old on a field trip at a war reenactment of a war that never actually took place…ask them Why they‘re there , Where they came from , and What it tis’ that they actually do there while maybe shocking them sporadically with non-damaging neuro-electrical shocks, you would find that a lot of people got to work at the Washington Post a lot of different ways.


“The Illustrious Back Door”
Of the group of snabby people that grew up in the big city their whole lives or had ties to it or bought the big city when they sold the farm, you will find that somehow they got a job working at the paper when they got out of college. Most of them knew somebody or figured out some sort of way to stay in the big town and prove themselves some other way other than having to go the dreaded small where they don’t even do brunches-ICKK! Yes, there is always that back door they don’t want to tell you about, because the security there is lax and of course if everyone knew about the back door, it would soon be labeled the front.

If you don’t happen to be born next to someone who conveniently knows someone or is someone who worked at the Post and you never worked in the big city either, you must have proven somehow that are good enough from a distance at which they can see you, but not where they can’t under some mossy rock in Little Rock. Its really hard for them to see you because the odds really are not in your favor. Do you think they’ve got time to read every paper in the country, or even the ones that you send special delivery to run across their desks when they don’t have enough time to read enough to know about what they are reporting about? I mean most of these people do have families for cryin’ out loud!

Then there’s the final, smallest category in that you just plain lucked out and for some reason they had to hire you or you just happened to be there at a time when they needed someone of your girth to hire-this of course does happen, but they won’t tell you that one either because they don’t want you standing around and bothering them, waiting for that moment to come. You need to be there when they need someone there and at no moment sooner.

But the crazy question all the kids were asking themselves is this: If I know what I want to do and where I want to do it what’s the sense in me having to run away in the opposite direction it in order to get to it?

At the end of the hour they gave us these nice business card holders and Post pens that I may be using one day when I work someplace else-if I work there, I won’t be as so heinous as to self promote myself or their paper in such a fashion-I wouldn’t have to self promote, I would have made it-right?

I have always liked field trips, you see, because then that day is a special. While this was my last official field trip, I always thought that since all of the adults where outside of school and all of the field trips were outside of school that adults were on field trips permanently-I mean they do get eat lunch at McDonalds®.

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