Regular readers of the ol’ “Inside Track” — and nowadays, in the cyberspace age, the “Freyne Land” blog — have noticed that yours truly has been “on vacation,” print-wise, and hasn’t posted a bloody item online since Town Meeting Day two weeks ago.
There’s a reason. Bear with me.
Yours truly started writing the “Inside Track” column back in 1981, in Burlington’s alternative weekly of the day, the Vanguard Press. I was a $95-a-week staff writer at that distinguished little pot-stirring publication.
The Queen City’s political scene had been turned upside down and inside out by the shockeroo 10-vote mayoral election upset pulled off by a screaming socialist with a thick New York accent. Burlington, quite simply, hasn’t been the same since Bernie Sanders won his first of four mayoral races.
Hey, whatever happened to “Lord Bernie,” as we used to call him in those days, anyway?
Oh, right. Ol’ Bernardo, as we call him now, went on to serve eight terms as Vermont’s congressman and currently, along with Patrick J. Leahy, makes up the Green Mountain State’s one-of-a-kind delegation in the U.S. Senate.
Back then, Burlington City Hall and the lively watering holes nearby were bursting at the seams with the political dirt — excuse me, the political intelligence of the day. The “Sanderista Revolution” called for a political column to dig it all up and spit it all out!
“Inside Track” was born, and we never lacked for material, given the talented and colorful cast of characters on the Vermont political stage in the 1980s and ’90s. It’s been a great ride — from King Richard, Earl of Shelburne, a.k.a. Gov. Richard Snelling, and Queen Madeleine, a.k.a. Gov. Madeleine Kunin, in the 1980s, on through the days of Mayor Moonie — Peter Clavelle — in Burlap, and Ruthless Ruth Dwyer, and Dr. Ho-Ho, excuse me, Gov. Howard Dean, in Montpeculiar.
Ah, the good old days, when AP, UPI and The Burlington Free Press had well-stocked, year-round news bureaus in the state capital! The Times Argus/Rutland Herald even had a reporter covering Burlington full-time. Competition was the name of the game.
“Inside Track” left the Vanguard in 1989, before the paper folded. Reemerged in Vermont Times in 1992, and jumped over to Seven Days, the new kid on the block, in 1995. Been here ever since. No columnist could have been given more freedom than yours truly was, by Seven Days founders and editors Paula Routly and Pamela Polston.
But times change. So does the news biz, and so do the actors on the stage.
Looking back, we would point to George “WMD” Bush’s 2004 reelection as president as an indication that things were going down the you-know-what. Fast. And yours truly wasn’t getting any younger. This baby boomer was hitting his mid-fifties.
Here in Vermont, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, a.k.a. Gov. Scissorhands, Ho-Ho’s successor, easily won reelection. And under the Golden Dome, the straightlaced Republican-born-and-bred Democrat, Rep. Gaye Symington, emerged as a new-style Speaker of the House. Unlike her predecessors, this Simple Symington finds “politics” to be beneath her. She’s has so far managed to lose to GOP Jim on all the biggies, such as health care and climate change. This despite having the largest Democrat/Progressive majority in history.
It was enough to make yours truly quit drinking. Literally. December 2, 2004. The last John Power Irish whiskey on the rocks at Finnigan’s. The College Street watering hole is under new ownership these days. The rumor on the street is, the Finnigan boys had to sell after we stopped occupying our seat at the bar.
Our health habits improved, but the Vermont political scene got increasingly boring. For the first time ever, the weekly column that used to gush out every Tuesday morning became a struggle, and one we dreaded.
Instead of bagging it and finding something new, however, yours truly simply let the depression roll in. After all, successful political columnists don’t give up a good thing, right?
The first warning sign was coming down with cancer back in January 2007. A fast-growing, fist-sized lymphoma under my breastbone. Untreated, the end would have been fast, but we love a fight. And after six months of heavy-duty chemotherapy up at the Mary Fanny on Hospital Hill, we won the round.
That’s when the second warning sign popped up, and a surprising one it was: OK, you beat cancer, Pedro, now what? Back to doing that which is making you miserable?
It’s taken a few months of deepening depression to realize the simple truth: Life cannot continue like this. And the magical words of a friend uttered last month — “You deserve to be happy” — have been ringing in my ears since she spoke them.
That’s why the column and the blog stopped two weeks ago. We finally acknowledged the unhappiness generated by writing them. And you know what? We haven’t felt this good in years!
Let’s be clear. Our health is excellent. And the writing will continue — it is the love of our life. But after more than 25 years, the curtain is going down on “Inside Track.” It’s time for a breather.
Fact is, there are a whole lot of other things we’ve wanted to write, and now we’re making the time to do so.
Editors' Note: Peter Freyne is retiring from "Inside Track," and we're gonna miss him. But we're leaving his blog, Freyne Land, up for now so that he may post from time to time. Whatever Peter does next, you'll read about it in Seven Days. Meanwhile, he promises to help us find, and groom, our next political columnist. Stay tuned...