Llewellyn King: Writing books vs. newswriting; the unsheltered; of theater and food

-- Photo by Benjamin Brock

-- Photo by Benjamin Brock


As opportunities in journalism have tightened, many of my colleagues have tuned to writing books. I admire them. Actually, I more than admire them: I'm astounded by them.

Among them is my friend Richard Whittle, a former Pentagon correspondent for The Dallas Morning News, who has written two first-rate books. His first was about the V-22 Osprey vertical takeoff aircraft and his second was about drones.

Whittle is hard at it on a third. He tells me that he loves his second career – and, as an elegant writer and an impeccable reporter, he's doing well.

I'm frequently asked why I don’t take this path and write books about the subjects I know something about or, to be exact, subjects about which I’m supposed to know something. The answer is simple: fear. Not fear about my ability, but fear of boredom. Fear of waking up every day and having to take up where I left off the day before.

The peripatetic journalistic life suits me; maybe too well. I love the idea that each day could bring something new, unexpected and thrilling, just because it's new.

Like many newspapermen, I answer phones with alacrity because the next call might, as it says in “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” could “in a trice life’s leaden metal into gold transmute.”

The poet was referring to liquor, and it might be why liquor and newspapering have been so indelibly linked. Certainly, the drinking by newpapermen -- and I've worked on newspapers in colonial Africa, London, New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. -- was endemic and awesome.

Less now, I gather. The venerable National Press Club in Washington used to support two bars and, at lunch and in the evening, drinkers crowded them 15-deep. Now the only bar is sadly empty most of the time.

Once I ran into a colleague at the end of the day at the Paris Air Show. “How are you?” I asked. “I’m cold, I’m wet, my feet hurt and I haven’t found a story,” he said. I knew why he was miserable: Life's leaden metal hadn’t been transmuted into gold nuggets of news.

The book writers, if they’re any good, unearth many stories, but the thrill of publication isn’t daily. It can take a year or longer. Not for me.

News writing, like drinking, produces its thrills predictably, and I’m for the early gratification. More power to my colleagues who are undaunted by the long haul.

Why Are the Bus Riders Left Out in the Cold?

Rhode Island, where I live, is, as I have found, a kindly place: people look out for one another. So why, I wonder, are there so few bus shelters and even benches?

I find the public transportation users (I’m one) standing forlornly, in all kinds of weather, waiting for a bus. Recently, in the heavy rains, they were especially bedraggled. This must negatively affect ridership. Since I have difficulty standing for long periods, I don’t take the buses in Providence and its surrounding communities. But I'd take them if I could sit down while waiting.

In Washington, D.C., where I’m often, I take the buses a lot. There are seats in shelters that don’t keep you warm but do keep you dry.

It's cruel to leave those who ride buses without shelter or seating.

Sleeping Rough in a Place of Learning

I travel to Cambridge, Mass., quite a bit. But recently, in this self-regarding gyre of great ideas, I’ve noticed more homeless people than ever sleeping on the streets. One wonders, wandering the streets so close to the Great Minds, whether some of them haven’t thought of a solution? Is it a step too far from the ivory towers to the hard pavement where the luckless sleep?

Second Story To Add Restaurant, Lose One Stage

I went to Warren, R.I., to see “Art” at 2nd Story Theatre. At the end Ed Shea, the dominant force there – by turns actor, director and manager -- came on stage to announce that the building, which now includes two small theaters and a very pleasant bar, is to be refurbished, and that the first-story theater will be transformed into a restaurant.

I wish them well, but it's unclear how this will work. Will the restaurant be complimentary or competitive? If I'm going to eat and go to the theater, I favor supper after rather than dinner before. Going to a good restaurant is, in itself, a theatrical experience and competes with theater for entertainment hours.

One of the joys of Rhode Island is its profusion of really good places to eat. Warren is no exception. New Orleans has the reputation, but Rhode Island has the vittles.

Second story will lose a stage, but Shea still plans to cook up some imaginative theater on the remaining one.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His e-mail is llewellynking1@kingpublishing.com.