Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Twenty Years!

As she handed me my check stub on May 2, 2008, Ann Kerenyi, BWD's comptroller offered me her congratulations.

"For what?" I asked.

"Yesterday was your 20-year anniversary of working for Bird Watcher's Digest!"

Dang. That's right.

It was back in May 1988 that I left a stressful but increasingly lucrative job in the advertising/PR biz in New York City to join the family business (BWD) in a newly opened Baltimore office. BWD's editor at the time, Mary Beacom Bowers, had moved to Baltimore, Maryland a few years prior and I joined her as an associate editor. We worked out of a single room in her apartment building. It was a new career direction for me and I knew nobody in Baltimore except Mary, but I was fulfilling a longtime dream to do something involving birds. And being able to work for my parents (who were in the Marietta, Ohio office) but live in Baltimore seemed like a good compromise.

The first issue in which my name appears in the masthead is the September/October 1988 issue featuring a cover painting of a great horned owl by Roger Tory Peterson. With that issue BWD was celebrating its 1oth anniversary!

BWD's September/October 1988 issue.

Looking at the other names on the masthead, I am shocked to see how many of my colleagues have died and how few remain. My mom, Elsa, now holds the title for longest tenure among all BWD employees—she's been here since Day 1 in 1978. My dad retired from BWD in 1998. Chuck Bernstein, Lola Oberman, and Pete Dunne are still contributing editors to the magazine. Peter Holt is still one of our European editors. Steve and Dave Maslowski are still contributing photographers (their father Karl died a year ago). And Helen Neuberger still works here at the BWD offices, answering the phones as well as bird questions from our subscribers.

The S/O 88 masthead page.


In January 1995, after a few years a managing editor, I became the editor of the magazine. This coming September (2008) we'll kick off our 30th anniversary.

What a long, strange trip it's been!

* # * # * # *

While thinking about my past, I stumbled upon this old photograph of a birding trip I took out West in 1985. I was eight months out of college and freshly convinced that a career as a full-time musician was not going to work out, when a friend's mom offered me some money and a return plane ticket from anywhere to drive her daughter out to Flagstaff, Arizona.

Along the way Erika and I stopped to see one of my college friends in Albuquerque, New Mexico. On a whim we went on a birding road trip down to Bosque del Apache NWR in southern NM. Someone snapped this photo of me standing along a chain-link fence near the refuge. I remember being amazed that there would be an RV park specifically aimed at bird watchers! Remember, these were the days when birding still was mostly considered a social abnormality.
BT3 (BOTB) near Bosque del Apache NWR, January 1985.

Note the field marks of the 1980s bird watcher:

Swift 7x35 binoculars suspended from a narrow, pain-inducing neck strap.
Greek fisherman's hat with Big Hair sticking out in front
Guerilla Birding Team T-shirt from the World Series of Birding (it's a little-known fact that BWD was that event's first corporate team sponsor).
Field guide pouch with National Audubon Society patch and an Peterson Western Guide inside.

Back when there was a lot more "nesting material" on the top of my head.

I dropped Erika off in Flagstaff a few days after the Bosque trip, and hitch-hiked farther west, eventually making it out to L.A. That was a memorable, formative trip and holds some great stories for another day.

Now here we are in 2008.
Birding is not only socially acceptable, it's trendy.
There are thousands of places and events and companies catering to bird watchers.
A new bird field guide comes out every 17 hours.
And I'm lucky enough to [still] be editing a magazine on a subject I'm passionate about.


Twenty years...
Time flies, man—just like a bird.

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