Heather is breaking up the band. After seven years, maybe eight — time flies when you’re having fun and bemoaning lengthy city meetings together — education expert and reporting whiz Heather Murtagh is saying sayonara to the daily news grind and moving on to other pastures. Or, to quote another coworker who might be considered the bass player of the ragtag Daily Journal garage crew, she is breaking up the band.
You can’t toil away with somebody in close proximity for so many years and not think of them as something other than a co-worker. Even before you dance at their wedding or play the “I got this one, don’t worry about it” game over coffee runs, you learn the little quirks and routines that only come with spending a hefty amount of time together.
A dislike of cheesecake? Really? But who am I to judge? She is the one always quick to offer fruit around the news room with the caveat that she’d certainly pass the plate to my corner but, as they are my abhorred strawberries, it kind of defeats the purpose.
On Heather’s computer, now stripped bare of photos and notes in preparation for her replacement, she once had a headline snipped from a landscaping article — “Heather adds cheer — in moderation.” But for the Heather who held court over school funding and Tom the Tree debacles with equal aplomb, the cheer went far beyond moderation. To paraphrase one of our common sources in the community, Heather is the princess of happiness and light to balance out my queen of darkness, cynicism and black-tinged heart.
When Heather told me of her likely leaving, my response was quick. Would you still pick me up doorside at the paper for joint assignments, coffee cup in tow and directions already programmed into the GPS? She claims Caltrain commuting in her future precludes her from the duty. Likely story.
What I should have asked instead is will you still do all the things I appreciate like beat me checking out the court filings on some mornings or send me more column topic ideas than I can possibly tackle or do justice to. School spanking a few months back — that suggestion was all her. Because I can’t think of anyone frankly who knows more about the intricacies of schools than her and I also can’t think of somebody else so willing to share in my sense of the weird or thought-provoking. Following Florida Man on Twitter? She completely understood why that was the best idea ever.
Will somebody else set up betting pools on whether a particular elected official notorious for tardiness will actually call back by deadline? And then there’s girl math — no offense men of the news room but you just don’t understand taking the price of an item and dividing it by the number of wears to justify any exorbitant price tag.
Trivia, complete with Price is Right rules for anything involving a number. Lamenting the lack of usable dry erase board pens. Understanding the obligation to play Words With Friends to while away the long council meeting hours. And the shorthand of time. No matter the job or industry, anyone who has worked a substantial stretch with another understands the benefit of saying everything without actually needing many words. Remember that weird political forum? Guess who just filed for council? Chloramine. ACORN. San Bruno. Safeway. Always, Safeway.
Who else will send me the photos of the cutest dogs ever and not judge me when I suggest my own furry companions are occasionally jerks. When Ollie, all four pounds of beige fur, first wiggled his way into my life, I brought him to the news room. She pounced on taking him for a walk but Oliver took a page from “The Jerk” and refused to budge. She was sweet enough to be unhappy. That’s the kind of person Heather is.
The fact she is leaving is not completely shocking. At some point, all journalists contemplate a world where we can take the crazy amount of knowledge we learn in this industry and parlay that into a trade with banker’s hours, wages that make Bay Area housing reachable and holidays off. I imagine the new schedule will also better accommodate her other loves, her husband and Make-A-Wish.
But selfishly all this new job nonsense is not better for me, the rest of the Daily Journal or the news beats which Heather made her own. Her replacement will undoubtedly do the same. We all have a first day somewhere, sometime. In the meantime, though, all we can hope for is the Heather Murtagh/Daily Journal reunion tour. I think I speak for everybody here when I say we wish Heather the best in everything. Really, though, what we really wish is that she was sticking around.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs twice a week. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com