Before advertising, I was a journalist.

monitor crew2

Bound by the border

Last weekend, I joined a group of former colleagues from The Monitor (read: first real job) to celebrate the wedding of two friends who now call Nashville home. More than a decade ago, our South Texas paths crossed as newly minted journalists in hot pursuit of a lead story and the Spanish language.  It was inside that McAllen, Texas, newsroom where lifelong friendships were born, and — as this weekend would prove — a certain romance blossomed.

My tenure as a copy editor and occasional reporter for the newspaper there only spanned 2002 to 2005, but as a young twenty-something, those years naturally provided me a great deal of personal and professional growth. Not to mention a whole lot of politics, religion, heartbreak and cheap Lambrusco. Cue Sarah McLaughlin.

In Tennessee, over a few glasses of much better wine, we reminisced about everything from our favorite musica en español to good ole Valley politics. Some remembered late nights sitting around empty pizza boxes awaiting the results of local elections. And I recalled writing headlines about some of those elected officials — many of them later mired in corruption scandals.  Others lamented long days in the field covering common border issues, like immigration, human trafficking and the drug cartels. One former colleague recounted the time a notorious gang member tripped over his shackles and fell on her as she sat in court to cover his capital murder trial in 2003. (The guy was executed just last month.)

But perhaps more important to our local readers was the other stuff. High school football. The daily crossword. Quinceañera announcements. Letters to the editor. And, of course, the obits. I spent countless Friday nights proofreading editorials, waiting for overtime scores, or poring over descriptions of lost loved ones. And I was smitten.

It’s been many years since I left the paper for a relationship with the web. The digital news cycle has long since transformed the role of newspapers, but The Monitor hangs on — keeping a vital pulse on the Rio Grande Valley and its community.  That newsroom is where I first learned the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over parts of Texas. That Dubya was re-elected president. That Elizabeth Smart was found alive. That the DC snipers were captured. That the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was much worse than anyone ever expected.

Many of the transplanted journalists I met in McAllen are now scattered across the country. Most have moved on to new fields as readers continue to abandon print for digital media. But on a recent Tennessee Saturday night, there was a damn good reason for a reunion:
Yankee girl marries Southern boy.

And just like old friends do, we picked up right where we left off — celebrating the new couple with the The Hora, a little two-step, y un poquito de Selena. Mozel tov, indeed.


For the love of SPAM


That’s Alice. She plays the canjo. Its long neck is made from reclaimed wood, then fitted with a single Banjo string and a can of SPAM. An empty can of the potted meat apparently produces better sound than, say, Campbell’s. In fact, each canjo is tuned to the key of D. I found Alice selling the instruments at Oktoberfest in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville on Saturday morning.