Traffic World: A Personal Reminiscence

Traffic World: A Personal Reminiscence

Copyright 2007, Traffic World, Inc.

It seems strange to me to be "the old guy" at Traffic World, to whom others turn for tales of days bygone.

But mine is now the only name from 1964, when I was hired on as a young "assistant editor" (writer), which still appears in the magazine, and it''s been so for two decades and more now.

E. F. "Pete" Hamm Jr. was the publisher back then. I think his family had started the magazine, and except for a brief stint as executive director of the old Interstate Commerce Commission by presidential request, he spent his life with it.

Joe Scheleen was editor. He''d held that job for years before I arrived, and continued on until his retirement in the early ''80s. His name, like Pete''s, was legend in the industry.

The managing editor and my immediate boss was Delton Pattie, also long-term. He took over editorship for a few years after Joe left, about six (or is it seven?) editors ago.

Then there was Lew Britten, a kindly curmudgeon in his 60s even then, as executive editor. I thought Lew would die in harness, but he ultimately retired - and went on to earn his bachelor''s degree, his masters, and finally a doctorate when he was well past 80!

The magazine was a lot different then. It came in two sections. Part I was general news, a broad what''s-going-on in the industry. Part II was the "hard stuff": rulings of the various regulatory agencies (ICC, Civil Aeronautics Board, Federal Maritime Commission and occasionally the Maritime Administration) and the courts.

It was into the maelstrom of the very technical Part II that I, a fledgling reporter looking for a pay raise from miserly United Press International (where I''d done mainly sports writing), was thrust.

For a time I, predictably, floundered. More experienced others did the major stories while I was relegated to the squibs and the tedious catalogs of numerous routine activities at the ICC which appeared in the magazine in very tiny print. And, just as predictably, at first my humdrum assignment bored me silly.

In fact, I left the magazine briefly for what I thought would be greener pastures. But I discovered the true meaning of boredom in trying my hand at public relations, and when I realized I hadn''t known when I was well off, they were willing to have me back.

This time around I decided that since I was writing about this stuff it might be more interesting if I learned something about it. And when I did I found it, underneath the technical jargon, fascinating.

Indeed, in 1968 I parlayed my rather haphazardly acquired knowledge into admission to the ICC bar, ranking first in a national competitive exam for the privilege. The magazine, which in those days was focused on a "team" approach and didn''t much care to spotlight individual reporters, duly published the report, but I had to write it myself.

It was that credential that led to my current role writing the Q&A column. Harry Gay, who''d done the column for some years, died suddenly in 1972. I''d left the magazine for good by then, but there was no one on staff capable of answering the far-flung questions that kept coming in, and when I offered to take it on as an outside contributor Pete and Joe agreed.

True to the magazine''s spirit, though, I was given no byline. And I was required to write using the editorial "we" - "we think," "in our opinion," and so on, as if the entire staff collaborated in the answers even though I alone prepared them then, as now.

It''s a different world today than when I was first there. In the 1960s there was no such thing as desktop publishing; as a junior editor I got to spend my Thursdays, beginning at, I believe, 5 a.m. sharp, as "editorial coordinator" at the printing plant that put the week''s edition together.

Part II, of course, is no more; the advent of deregulation did it in.

We used to have quarterly "special editions," with feature-type editorial matter built around a theme, to support pushes by the advertising sales staff. One of us junior editors was responsible for the added content; I loved taking my turn. They too are mostly gone.

I remember the old covers, too - except for the specials, black-and-white typeset synopses of the week''s five or six big stories instead of the full-color artwork you see today.

Even Q&A has changed. The old questions revolved around fine points of the law and regulation, often requiring detailed research. Today''s questions tend to be broader, of more general interest. And I write in the first person, not hiding behind editorial skirts.

The writing is different, too. The dry, dessicated language of the 1960s magazine, long quotes and citations from legal decisions and "news releases," has been supplanted by a much livelier, punchier style.

It''s for the better. Back then the magazine, including some of my own youthful efforts, could put you to sleep at night for all its important content.

Even so, sometimes I miss those old days, and Pete, Joe, Delton, Lew, Harry and the others who were my generous mentors when I arrived. Especially do I miss being "the young guy," new kid on the block, not the reminiscing senior.

But then, don''t we all? Or won''t we, someday?