A Winters tale: Changing pace from Los Angeles to Winters

“Forty five years ago, I wrote a regular column for a little known publication called The Viking Views. It was my high school paper in Phoenix, Arizona, and I was the Editor-In-Chief, which meant I could pretty much do whatever I wanted, including naming myself the chief columnist.”

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By Bill Lagattuta Columnist

Being asked to write a column for the Winters Express is a great honor, though not entirely a new experience. Forty five years ago, I wrote a regular column for a little known publication called The Viking Views. It was my high school paper in Phoenix, Arizona, and I was the Editor-In-Chief, which meant I could pretty much do whatever I wanted, including naming myself the chief columnist.

I think the school administrators thought I’d write about the Pom Pom Girls’ new uniforms, or the winner of the science fair (a paper mache’ volcano which exploded when vinegar was added to the baking soda inside). Instead, I used the platform to analyze school policies and politics, which got me into a heap of trouble with the principal. He was a tall, pale humorless bureaucrat, with a name to match—-Kenneth Coffin. Many were the afternoons I spent in Mr. Coffin’s office, as he decried my journalistic exposés.

“Bill,” he would sigh, head in hands, “Why do we have to air our dirty laundry in public?”

Well, those were heady times for newspapermen, even teenage ones like me. It was the Watergate era, and as it turned out, there really was a need to hang out a bit of dirty laundry. My first real newspaper job was at the Phoenix Gazette, the city’s big afternoon daily (remember those?). But what I really wanted was to work in television.

Working hard (and lying about my age), I got a foot in the door at a local station, and thus began a 35-year career in TV news as a reporter, anchorman and network correspondent. I traveled the world. For the last decade of my news career, I appeared on CBS’s 48Hours, where I spent most of my time interviewing cops, lawyers, crime victims and serial killers. For the record, sociopaths make great interviews. You just want to take a shower afterward.

In the end, though, I valued my own creativity more than breaking news. Ten years ago, I teamed up with my wife Judy to make documentary films, commercials, and photographs. We think our films and photos tell great stories.

Around that time, we also decided that we needed to escape Los Angeles.

We embarked on a decade long search—-California, New Mexico, Texas, Europe. We just could not find what we wanted: a small town immersed in nature, with friendly inhabitants, not far from a big airport should we need to fly off on assignment, or if a relative were to die.

Winters, of course fit the bill, though we had never heard of the place. Only upon showing up one day last June, to film a profile of a young farmer, would we discover our new hometown.

We put our LA house on the market, and moved our entire world to Winters. Our small home here occupies a few acres. The land is home to a graceful giant Blue Oak, rabbits, wild turkeys, and nightly wind gusts aimed directly at us down the Berryessa Gap.

The previous owner was not liked by the neighbors. He would sit in his hot tub each evening listening to loud music. I sold the hot tub on craigslist the first month.

But the most rewarding part of our move was getting to know new people. It began almost right away, on our street, in town, and out in the country. In short order, we could count as friends farmers, local business people, military veterans, a city manager, a former agriculture secretary, and a publisher emeritus (whatever that means).

Words cannot describe how satisfying it is to see stars in the sky at night. Sunrises here are pretty great too, so these days I sleep a lot less. I’m also fond of air that it actually breathable.

But back to the column: I’m not a newsman anymore. But those skills never go away. I’m ever curious, always looking for a new discovery, and I love a good story with compelling characters. Winters has quite a few characters, and no serial killers among them. At least we can hope.

I’ll be holding a mirror to our town, reflecting back the wonders of this place, from a new perspective, a truly appreciative one. I think we all know there are challenging times ahead. Let’s enjoy them together.

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