You tend to keep eyes more or less front when youre using the facilities in a crowded mens room, so I heard the guy next to me before I saw him.
It was halftime of the UCLA-Oklahoma State semifinal at the 1995 Final Four in Seattle Carolina would meet Arkansas in the second game, the one I was assigned to cover and the bathroom serving the vast Seattle Superdome press room was a crush of reporters, statisticians, arena staff and others with access passes.
Without prelude, the man standing beside me suddenly spoke.
They look like crap, he said, only he used a cruder word than that.
The voice was familiar. It took a moment for it to register. No way, I thought.
I looked to my right. Those eyebrows. I was peeing next to Jack Nicholson.
There are higher aspirations, I know. Ive even entertained one or two of those over the years myself.
But at that moment, all I could think was, I love this job.
And for most of my 24 years at this newspaper, I have. Ive loved working alongside so many smart and talented colleagues, and learning from such wise and generous mentors not least the indefatigable Mark Schultz, who is as dedicated a journalist as I have ever known.
Ive loved being able to play at least a small part in the goings-on of this extraordinary place not directly, but by serving on occasion as the eyes and ears for those who couldnt be at this or that meeting or gathering or event in person, and by every now and again offering what I hope has been an intermittently useful, or at least mildly entertaining, perspective on those goings-on.
Most of all, Ive loved getting to know the many, many exceptional people in this community that its been my pleasure and my privilege to talk with, write about, and on occasion come to call friends.
But all things must pass, and with this edition of The Chapel Hill News Ill be hanging up my press pass. Not to retire someday, God willing but to take on a new opportunity writing for Duke Medicine Communications.
You do something for two dozen years, and it becomes a part of you. Its going to take some time, I expect, to get used to not calling myself a journalist.
Im excited about my new job, but it is of course impossible to leave this place, which has in so many ways shaped me, without a great many mixed feelings.
Journalism is supposed to make you cynical. For me, its done the opposite. Ive met more amazing, creative, courageous, soulful, selfless people in this job than I can possibly count. You all are a profound inspiration.
It is an astonishing act of trust to open yourself to a stranger with a pen and notebook, and I have always tried to give that trust the care and respect it deserves. Along the way, Ive been moved to tears many times over and, happily, been moved to laughter more often than that.
Few newspapers in the country are fortunate enough to have as intelligent, engaged and active a readership as this one. The last four years have been hard on news organizations, this one included.
But Mark and the rest of the staff are committed to keeping the community informed, to making this paper as good as it can be, and to maintaining and nurturing its role as a forum for public discussion and debate. Community involvement is the lifes blood of this paper, so if you ever feel moved by something youve read or by whats going on in town, please take the time to write a letter or a guest column, post on Facebook, respond to the blog or Tweet.
You can bet Ill be doing that from time to time myself now that Im a civilian again. Maybe Ill bump into you at Weaver Street sometime; I hope so. In the meantime, thanks for reading.